The Anthropology of Health
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The Department of Anthropology at McMaster offers MA and PhD degrees in Anthropology, with a concentration in studies in the Anthropology of Health. This stream is integrated into an Anthropology Department where faculty and graduate students pursue a range of studies in archaeology, cultural and physical anthropology. The faculty share a number of interests; for example, critical theory, history, representation, applied research and the anthropology of public issues. The Anthropology of Health draws together core anthropology faculty and students interested in human biology, medical and physical anthropology. The stream takes advantage of the many links to other health research areas at McMaster and beyond, and encourages inquiry-based learning and research that is multi-disciplinary, participatory and collaborative in nature (Please see web links).
The main objective of our graduate program is to nurture and develop new generations of outstanding researchers and practitioners of anthropology. Our graduates enter academic employment and professional settings where they are called upon to perform a host of intellectual and practical tasks. Thus in addition to research skills, problem solving and critical analysis, we attempt to provide, through a variety of departmental activities (e.g. seminar series, symposia), an intellectual breadth that goes beyond the field in which the student is conducting research. We attempt to encourage flexibility and adaptability, in addition to sound judgement and intellectual spark.
The Anthropology of Health
Medical anthropology embraces a diverse array of studies: from how human biology and biomedical approaches assist in investigating illness and disease, to the analysis of the cultural and environmental factors that influence the perception of illness in individuals and populations. Understanding the cultural context of health, illness and healing is a central concern of medical anthropology. The meaning of individual illnesses and illness experiences, the values embedded in health policies, the perception of health systems and healing processes, and the beliefs and behaviours of populations that create the conditions for disease and disease transmission are culturally constructed and, therefore, open to critical analysis. The analysis and representation of individual experience, social processes, community history and economic and political environments are all relevant to the understanding of specific health issues.
The Anthropology of Health aims to bridge the boundaries between theory and practice and to equip students with an understanding of the range of theories and methodologies that can be brought to bear in the analysis of health-related phenomena. Faculty at McMaster have a diverse range of interests and theoretical perspectives, but we share a common concern for an engaged and critical anthropology that ultimately informs our understanding of how social and cultural determinants of health intersect and influence the health and well-being of individuals and communities.
Faculty and students in the Department of Anthropology conduct research in international and Canadian contexts, in urban and rural environments, and in clinical, laboratory and community settings. Medical Anthropology faculty and students have carried out research and fieldwork in many parts of the world, including Australia, Canada, Chile, France, India, Italy, Nepal, Thailand, and the United States. Our interests are wide ranging in scale – from the study of ancient DNA and molecular processes, through studies of illness experiences and health care settings, to the analysis of contemporary health policies in Canada and internationally. Faculty at McMaster share a common goal in the development of training programs that are critically engaged in the understanding of the meaning of health and illness cross culturally, and in improving the well-being of individuals and communities.
The main thematic areas of the program are:
Community and international health: behaviour, social change and health interventions; health impacts and policy; culture and the environment.
Health and gender; health through the life course
Historical perspectives: health, disease and the body.
The Anthropology of Health provides a learning environment in which students are encouraged and supported to pursue their individual interests. We encourage problem-based learning, individual and collaborative inquiry. Students receive assistance in developing their MA and PhD research proposals while participating in courses in medical anthropological theory and research methods. Within the department, students are exposed to teaching and learning environments that span traditional sub-disciplines. We encourage interdisciplinary approaches that involve other disciplines in social sciences, health sciences, humanities and sciences, as well as health and community organizations beyond the university. So as to foster inter-disciplinary perspectives on health, students are encouraged to take at least one course outside of the department (see Course Listings below.). Students interested in practicing anthropology in non-academic settings will find faculty who can assist them in finding short-term research practice. Students are encouraged to bring these experiences, or previous work-related experiences, into their course and thesis work.
Special Research Initiatives and Opportunities for Graduate Students
Faculty are currently involved in several initiatives that can provide graduate and post-graduate students with interesting research and training opportunities.
Dawn Martin-Hill, Anthropology and Indigenous Studies and Wayne Warry, Anthropology, along with Dr. Harriet MacMillan, Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, and Pediatrics, and Kue Young, Public Health Sciences, University of Toronto (Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk at McMaster) are engaged in the development of a Joint University of Toronto-McMaster program to develop Aboriginal health research capacity in Ontario. Funded by CIHR’s Aboriginal Capacity and Developmental Research Environments (ACADRE) program, the initiative links the Anthropology Department with The Department of Public Health Sciences, other Ontario universities and Aboriginal communities. The program offers training opportunities and scholarship support to graduate students pursuing Aboriginal health research, with the ultimate goal of establishing a cadre of researchers in Aboriginal health, especially researchers of Aboriginal heritage.
The Centre was established in 1999 with Canada Foundation for innovation funding by Professor Shelley Saunders, who held the Canada Research Chair in Human Disease and Population Relationships. The establishment of this Institute, the only one of its kind in Canada, provides students with the unique opportunity to receive graduate training (MA, PhD, Postdoctoral) in ancient and forensic DNA analysis, and in molecular anthropology. Dr. Hendrik Poinar, trained in molecular anthropology, was hired in 2003. Dr. Poinar is expanding the graduate training in molecular anthropology and developing an exciting number of research projects on ancient DNA.
Ellen Badone has studied the social and cultural context of death and dying in Brittany, France with an interest in gerontology and medical anthropology. She has also worked on illness narratives and the relationships between alternative healing and the biomedical system in Brittany. Other research concerns pilgrimage and healing, focusing on various Catholic shrines in France.
Hendrik Poinar is a molecular evolutionary geneticist and biological anthropologist by training, who uses both chemical and molecular techniques to elucidate the state of preservation within forensic, archeological and paleontological remains. He addresses evolutionary and anthropological questions, such as the "relatedness" of Archaic humans and Neanderthals from a genetic standpoint, sex and diet from prehistoric Native Amerindian hunter-gatherer populations using coprolites samples, and the timing and origin of HIV using archival blood and brain tissue samples.
Ann Herring specializes in the anthropology of infectious disease, historical demography and the relationship between environment and health. She has written extensively on health and disease in Aboriginal communities.
Tracy Prowse is a bioarchaeologist who investigates diet and health in Roman populations through palaeopathological and isotopic analysis of bones and teeth. She is currently excavating a Roman period cemetery at Vagnari in southern Italy.
Tina Moffat is a medical/biological anthropologist whose research focuses on child health & nutrition, environment and urban ecosystem health, both internationally (Nepal and India) and locally. Currently, she is researching school-aged child nutrition and poverty in Hamilton, Ontario.
Wayne Warry is an applied medical anthropologist whose research concerns the health and well being of Aboriginal communities, both on and off-reserve. He is interested in the development and evaluation of culturally appropriate health interventions, health care systems and Aboriginal health policy in Canada and abroad.
Other Medical Anthropologists at McMaster University
Celia Rothenberg, Department of Religious Studies
Karen Trollope-Kumar, Research Associate, Department of Anthropology
Health-Related Graduate Courses
ANT 705 Advanced Skeletal Biology
ANT 709 Medical Anthropology
ANT 711 Advanced Topics in Physical Anthropology
ANT 715 Readings in Physical Anthropology
ANT 718 From Cradle to the Grave: Anthropological Demography
ANT 728 Applied Anthropology
ANT 739 Anthropology of Infectious Disease
ANT 786 Ritual and Symbolic Healing (cross-listed with Religious Studies)
Other Departments at McMaster with Health-Related Graduate Courses *
Clinical Health Sciences
School of Geography and Geology
Health, Aging and Society
* Please note that permission to take these courses must be obtained from the instructor in the relevant department.