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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Off the Beaten Course: ANTH 537

Medical anthropology explores folk healing traditions, disease ecology and the complexities of health care.
By SDSU News Team

Off the Beaten Course is a series that delves into SDSU's course catalog to share unique and non-traditional classes.

Course title: Medical Anthropology
Professor’s name: Elisa Sobo

1) What inspired you to create this course?

This is an important course for any anthropology department. When I arrived at San Diego State University, nobody was teaching it regularly. As a card-carrying medical anthropologist myself, I seized the opportunity.

2) What can students expect to learn from this course?

In the course, we learn the basics of medical anthropology, such as folk healing traditions and disease ecology and query the complexities of health care delivery today. We discover how people get sick and how they get well (and stay well) in many contexts and under various local and global constraints. We also examine some of the ramifications that our embodied existence has for social experience. A key take-home lesson is that modern or mainstream biomedicine is as full of culture as any "witch doctor" curing ceremony.

3) What makes this course different from similar courses?

Medical anthropology is different from other SDSU courses that consider medicine because it surveys how health and illness are conceived and handled cross-culturally. While we do explore modern Western healthcare, we also consider other heath traditions — and we consider the cultural aspects of modern medicine as well.

It turns out that the average modern medical provider has more in common with your stereotypical witch doctor than you might imagine! And there are things modern medicine can learn from traditional healers — things that can enhance our well-being to a greater degree than materialist science.

It's also different because of my extensive experience not just as a medical anthropologist (which I've been for 25 years and counting), but as an applied medical anthropologist with experience working in the healthcare sector. For instance I worked at Rady Children's and for the Veteran's Health Administration prior to joining the faculty here at SDSU. So in addition to learning about things that are intellectually interesting, we also learn about how to apply new-found knowledge proactively. For example, last year students focused on pediatric vaccine uptake which, as the Disneyland measles outbreak demonstrated, is a pressing public health issue.

4) Is there one day on the syllabus for this course you most look forward to? If yes, why?

In many ways, the last few days are the most exciting because students are presenting their term projects and they always produce amazing work. I also enjoy the "ah-ha" moments that come when students are able to see certain forms of resistance to modern medicine or health-related practices in cultural context.

5) What’s your favorite thing about teaching this course?

It allows me to focus on the area of anthropology in which I specialize — what can be better than that?