Master of Arts in Anthropology: Medical

The medical anthropology program at Wayne State is the oldest in the country and the past editorial home of Medical Anthropology Quarterly: The International Journal for the Analysis of Health. Medical anthropologists conduct research, teach and engage in practice relating to health and the ways in which health is maintained, experienced, promoted and threatened in groups past and present throughout the world.

The faculty and students in medical anthropology at Wayne State share a common commitment to documenting, understanding and addressing how health and illness are produced in different communities, cultures and societies. They study how health problems, health inequalities and health systems are shaped by and reflect specific historical, geographic and political-economic contexts and change over time.

Using methods drawn from ethnography, biomedical and epidemiological research alike, faculty and students work to generate empirically grounded, conceptually sophisticated, analytically powerful accounts of people's words and deeds, their aspirations and struggles, their suffering and efforts to address it. They situate these experiences with health and illness within the increasingly interconnected global environment. Funding from NIH, NIMH, CDC, EPA, MDCH and a range of local foundations has supported research by the WSU medical anthropology program.

A key focus of attention at Wayne State is public anthropology. By this, we mean a commitment to translate scholarship to address social problems. To this end, we engage in research that focuses on problems of immediate social significance as well as those whose relevance engages scholarly debates and issues. We encourage student involvement in community issues. In pursuit of this goal, we offer a joint doctoral degree in anthropology and social work. The joint social work/anthropology (SWAN) Ph.D. program draws on the strengths of these disciplines to create a single doctorate degree with a global and urban emphasis.

The public focus of medical anthropology is enriched by our location in Detroit. Urban settings and Detroit, in particular, are important centers of innovation and problem-solving for health-related issues. At a global level, international policy and humanitarian organizations, governments and a variety of funding agencies are increasingly focused on issues raised by the rapid urbanization of the world's population. Detroit exemplifies some of the challenges of growing urbanism. Detroit is undergoing changes that are garnering national and international visibility. Long known as an iconic city of postindustrial decline, Detroit is increasingly seen as a frontier for experimentation in urban recovery, particularly in areas such as land and water use and food security.

Program goals

  • To train students in interdisciplinary scholarship and service that is grounded in ethnographic theory and practice
  • To encourage students to explore the social, cultural and political practices shaping health and illness, including health disparities
  • To foster collaborative and interdisciplinary scholarship and policy initiatives that lead students to engage with both public and private health institutions, NGOs, advocacy and activist groups and a range of researchers across the disciplines

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Why study medical anthropology?

  • Qualitative perspective: By documenting individuals' experiences and understandings of health and illness, medical anthropologists shed new light on the complex meanings of suffering and well-being.
  • Critical perspective: By asking questions about how personal experiences are related to large-scale aspects of political economy and culture, medical anthropologists offer critical insights on rethinking and improving policy, treatment and care.
  • Holistic perspective: By considering how health and illness relate to other aspects of life (like labor, politics, kinship and religion), medical anthropologists provide holistic understandings that go beyond diagnostic categories.

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Areas of specialization

  • Aging and the life course
  • Care and caregiving
  • Chronic illness
  • Culture and disability
  • Death and dying
  • Environmental health
  • Global health
  • Health and human rights
  • Health care organization
  • Health disparities
  • Infectious disease
  • Urban health

Learn more about our research in medical anthropology


Contact 💬

Anthropology Advising