Medical Anthropology

University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

The Joint UCB/UCSF PhD in Medical Anthropology is one of the pioneering programs in the discipline both nationally and globally. The program provides disciplinary leadership and an outstanding and comprehensive training leading to the PhD degree. No other program offers the Joint Program's combination of excellence in critical medical anthropology; psychiatric and psychological anthropology; gender and queer theory; disability studies; health, citizenship, immigration and the global; violence in wartime and peacetime as a medical topic; studies of science, technology and modernity; intersections of medicine and social theory; and innovative ethnographic scholarship.

Topics of active research include:

  • Violence and trauma
  • Psychiatric and psychological anthropology, ethnopsychiatry, and psychoanalysis
  • Genomics and ethics
  • Transplantation and organ and tissue commodification
  • Citizenship, immigration, refugeeism, and the body
  • Youth and child survival
  • Hunger, infectious disease, development, and governmentality
  • Traditional medicine and its modernity
  • Sexuality, gender, and the commodity form
  • Geriatrics and dementia
  • Death, dying, and the politics of "bare life"
  • Disability studies

The core faculty on the Berkeley side of the Joint Program form an organized research group called Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body. This group links medical anthropology, science and technology studies, postcolonial anthropology, disability studies, critical development and humanitarianism studies, psychological and psychoanalytic anthropology, and linguistic anthropology. There seven faculty members in the group:

  • Charles L. Briggs, Co-Director of Medical Anthropology, Co-chair of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, Equity Advisor for the Anthropology Department
  • Lawrence Cohen, Co-Director of Medical Anthropology, Director of Institute for South Asia Studies, Head Graduate Advisor for Medical Anthropology
  • Cori Hayden
  • Seth Holmes, Co-chair of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, and Co-director of MD/PhD Track in Medical Anthropology (UCB and UCSF)
  • Karen Nakamura, Director of Disability Studies Lab
  • Stefania Pandolfo
  • See also faculty on the UCSF side of the joint program in medical anthropology

Together with sociocultural colleagues at Berkeley and medical anthropology colleagues at UCSF and with graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in the Joint UCB-UCSF Medical Anthropology Program and in the Department of Anthropology, these scholars have created both the most diverse and the most contemporary program in the field.  Alumni from this program have moved on to leading positions across the country and the world and continue to move the field in new directions.

The expansion of traditional medical anthropology at Berkeley into Critical Studies in Medicine, Science, and the Body reflects several disciplinary breakthroughs associated with our faculty. Though variants of "medical anthropology" are almost as old as the parent discipline of anthropology, the field of Medical Anthropology emerged in post-war North America as an effort to link international public health, ethnomedicine, and allied social science in the service of the anthropology of development. The field shared both the promise and the limits of modernization theory more generally. Both the critical Marxist and symbolic/phenomenological/interpretive challenges of the 1970s and 1980s thickened debate, along with closer links to historical analyses of the scholarly medical traditions and the development of qualitative methodologies concurrent with the expansion of NIH, NIMH, and other governmental programs of research support.

Despite the rapid growth of the field at this time, most research remained auxiliary to the categorical if not the political and economic imperatives of biomedicine. With the arrival of Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Berkeley became a leader in defining "critically interpretive medical anthropology." Critical medical anthropology refused the theory/applied divide that characterized so many departments and programs, arguing the impossibility of separating "theoretical" debate in cultural anthropology and the human sciences on the one hand and more engaged commitment to the health and survival of communities and groups, on the other. Scheper-Hughes's articulation of a critical anthropology of hunger, as well as the violence continuum in times of war and of peace, offer powerful examples of the change in the field she was instrumental in creating.

The rise of this movement at Berkeley led to a period in the late 1980s and early 1990s with two dominant programs in graduate training, critical medical anthropology in the Joint Program at Berkeley and UCSF and interpretive medical anthropology at Harvard. Lawrence Cohen came from Harvard in 1992 to join Scheper-Hughes. Their teaching and joint research produced a critical and ongoing conversation bringing together the leading formations in the field. Cohen has worked to link debates between critical, interpretive, and biocultural medical anthropologies to broader theoretical questions of materialization that have emerged in feminist and queer scholarship.  Cohen has worked at this intersection on diverse topics, including aging, organ transplant and donation, gender and bodies.

The rapid growth of science studies and the increasing centrality of both science and the body to contemporary debate in the academy posed new challenges to medical anthropology. Paul Rabinow has studied the new genomics intensively, leading to multiple books and to the development of what he has termed "an anthropology of reason." Against too-easy criticism of scientific and medical practice that did not question what Michel Foucault called the "speaker's benefit" of the critic, Rabinow offered a method and a form of analysis that offered a way out of the endless battles of the "Culture Wars." Berkeley anthropology emerged as the most powerful alternative to the dominant approaches to the sociology of science and science studies. From the mid-1990s and on, these two streams of medical anthropology and the anthropology of reason have been in closer and sharper interaction. Far from pushing students towards either pole, the debate constituted a space for encouraging students to link critical, interpretive, and genealogic analysis.

In a world of linking new genomics, bioinformatics, and pharmacotherapy to corporate medicine and public-private hybrid structures internationally, "bioethics" has become ever more ubiquitous and empty a critical practice. The question of ethics and more generally of human and non-human futures links the current work of Cohen, Rabinow, Scheper-Hughes, and Hayden. Cori Hayden (former Director and current core faculty member of the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society), along with colleagues at Berkeley and UCSF, has continued to develop new approaches to the social studies of science, including bioethics.  Her work on global and Latin American pharmaceutical politics, intellectual property, and the ethics of clinical trials has led to new understandings of privatization and “public-ization,” the “popular” and populism, and relationships between distinction and copying.

To the question of ethics and to the related investigation of trauma, loss, and healing, Stefania Pandolfo brings a rigorous anthropological conversation incorporating contemporary philosophy, psychology, psychoanalysis and her field research in a Moroccan psychiatric hospital.  Pandolfo's work provides a bridge allowing for analysis linking medical anthropology and recent social theories of language, melancholy, and the body. Pandolfo has offered extensive training to graduate students in the anthropology of psychology, psychiatry, and medicine, linking a reexamination of existential psychiatry and a close engagement with the work of scholars from Benjamin and Blanchot to Freud, Lacan, and Binswanger to both Mahgrebi and European clinical and theoretical work. 

The strong center of gravity in psychological and psychiatric anthropology is expanded by the work of Scheper-Hughes on emotions and critical psychiatry as well as of Karen Nakamura on mental illness and related social movements.  Nakamura’s work has served as a nexus for gender and queer theory, psychological anthropology, and disability studies at Berkeley.  Along with others in the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society’s Disability Studies Cluster, she has helped build one of the world’s most active, engaged and diverse networks for disability studies. 

By tracing genealogies of the unexamined imbrication of theories of language, knowledge, performativity, and representation with research on biomedicine, public health, and traditional medicine, the Joint UCB-UCSF Medical Anthropology Program enables students to critically synthesize linguistic and critical medical anthropology in such a way as to transform both realms of anthropological inquiry. Charles L. Briggs has explored these connections through research on narrative and statistical representations of epidemic disease in Latin America; urban violence and its problematic representations; and a five-country study of how understandings of health, disease, citizenship, and the state are profoundly shaped by media coverage of health, all in collaboration with Clara Mantini-Briggs.

In addition, Charles L. Briggs and Clara Mantini-Briggs study challenges to neoliberal health policies and new understandings of health, citizenship, and the state emerging from revolutionary healthcare in Venezuela.  Also at the intersection of health and citizenship, Seth Holmes studies labor, health, and health care in the context of transnational im/migration and food systems.  Against this background, he has explored the ways in which perceptions of race, class, and citizenship play into (and, at times, challenge and resist) the naturalization and normalization of social and health inequalities. Holmes also studies the ways in which health professionals come to understand and respond to social difference and the ways race and racialization function differently in the lives of indigenous Mexican immigrant youth depending on spatial and social context.

Other Berkeley anthropology faculty bring important resources to graduate student training in the critical analysis of medicine, science, and psychiatry. Laura Nader was instrumental in helping to define the field and remains a leading scholar of medicine and the state. Stanley Brandes has studied many topics of relevance to the field, including alcohol and culture and questions of death and the body.  Aihwa Ong helped define the field of global anthropology and continues to work on biotechnology in various sites in North America, Southeast Asia, and China.  Mariane Ferme has analyzed and written on global health and development, including epidemics, outbreaks and their responses.

Our program is deepened by strong relationships with colleagues asking related questions across the Berkeley campus in units including History, English, Political Science, Sociology, City and Regional Planning, Comparative Literature, Gender and Women Studies, Critical Theory, Public Health and beyond.  In addition, our colleagues on the UCSF side of the Joint Program contribute cutting-edge anthropological work on global health, humanitarianism, critical studies of racialization, metrics in the health sciences, urban health, social studies of science and genetics, gender and health, aging and death, dental health, ethics of research and care, and medical history.  The breadth and depth of our core faculty at Berkeley, our links with colleagues across the Berkeley campus, and our close educational and research collaboration with faculty on the UCSF side of the Joint Program make this one of the broadest and most dynamic contexts for medical anthropology in the country and the world.

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Admission to the University

Applying for Graduate Admission

Thank you for considering UC Berkeley for graduate study! UC Berkeley offers more than 120 graduate programs representing the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary scholarship. The Graduate Division hosts a complete list of graduate academic programs, departments, degrees offered, and application deadlines can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Prospective students must submit an online application to be considered for admission, in addition to any supplemental materials specific to the program for which they are applying. The online application and steps to take to apply can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Admission Requirements

The minimum graduate admission requirements are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;

  2. A satisfactory scholastic average, usually a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale; and

  3. Enough undergraduate training to do graduate work in your chosen field.

For a list of requirements to complete your graduate application, please see the Graduate Division’s Admissions Requirements page. It is also important to check with the program or department of interest, as they may have additional requirements specific to their program of study and degree. Department contact information can be found here.

Where to apply?

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page.

Admission to the Program

The Department of Anthropology at Berkeley, and the Graduate Group in Anthropology at the University of California at San Francisco, currently offer a joint PhD in medical anthropology. Students may apply to enter the program through either the Berkeley or the San Francisco campus but not to both. The point of entry determines the student's home base during the program. Financial aid, primary advising, and other routine services are provided by the campus through which the student enters the program. All students, however, benefit by taking required coursework on both campuses and by the participation of the faculty on both sides of the program on all qualifying examinations and on the doctoral dissertation committees. The degree is the same and bears the name of both campuses.

Applications to all graduate programs are considered once each year for admission the following fall semester. The application period opens in early September, and the deadline for receipt of both department and Graduate Division applications is December 1. Applications are screened by the anthropology faculty, and selections are made on the basis of academic excellence, letters of recommendation, relevant experience, a strong statement of intellectual and professional purpose, and GRE scores (which are now optional).

The minimum requirement for admission to the Berkeley doctoral program in anthropology and in medical anthropology is a BA. The UCSF program in medical anthropology requires a master's degree in anthropology or a related discipline, or a postbaccalaureate professional degree.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Normative Time Requirements

Normative Time to Advancement

Normative time to advancement is three years of coursework.

Normative Time in Candidacy

Normative time in candidacy is one to two years of dissertation research, and one to two years of writing the dissertation.

Total Normative Time

Total normative time is 6 years.

Time to Advancement


ANTHRO 240AFundamentals of Anthropological Theory5
ANTHRO 240BFundamentals of Anthropological Theory5
Select one of the following:
Topics in Medical Anthropology [4] (UCB)
ANTHRO electives per approved study list

Foreign Language(s)

In addition to English, the program requires at least one other language. This language may be a language of international scholarship, a literary language, or a field language. The required language must be directly relevant to the research.

Field Papers

Students will write two field statements on topics in medical anthropology (for example, comparative medical systems, the anthropology of the body, reproduction, psychiatry and anthropology, political economy of health, science and biotechnology, or shamanism). The third field statement is usually on the student's chosen ethnographic/geographical area (for example, Latin American peasants, urban India, or post-colonial southern Africa). Each field statement is prepared with a faculty sponsor. Medical anthropology students usually work with three professors from the Anthropology Department. Field statements should not exceed 20 pages, excluding the bibliography.


The dissertation prospectus is the intellectual justification and research plan for the dissertation. Medical Anthropology students must get their prospectus signed by all three dissertation committee members and file it at the end of their third year, either before or after the PhD oral qualifying examination. There is no designated length for a medical dissertation prospectus, but the average proposal should be about 10-12 pages plus bibliography.

Time in Candidacy


When the student has passed the oral qualifying examination, submitted his or her dissertation prospectus, proposed his or her dissertation committee (see Dissertation Committee below) he or she may be advanced to candidacy for the PhD by the dean of the Graduate Division.


This committee typically consists of four professors: the student's adviser as the committee chair, an inside member from the UCB Anthropology Department, an inside member from the Medical Anthropology program at UCSF, and an outside member from another department at UCB. The dissertation committee chair and the outside member must be members of the UCB Academic Senate.

Required Professional Development


Students are encouraged to serve at least two semesters as a graduate student instructor (GSI) in the course of earning the PhD. The department believes it is training its students to be college and university professors with a high regard for excellence in teaching as well as research. GSI-ships in Anthropology are awarded to students at least once in their careers as graduate students and students are also encouraged to apply to other departments on campus.


Medical Anthropology

Contact Information

Department of Anthropology

232 Anthropology and Art Practice Building

Phone: 510-642-3391

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Co-Director, Equity Advisor

Charles L. Briggs, PhD

307 Anthropology & Art Practice Bldg

Co-Director, Head Graduate Advisor

Lawrence Cohen, PhD

319 Anthropology & Art Practice Bldg

Graduate Student Affairs Officer

Tabea Mastel

213 Anthropology & Art Practice Bldg

Phone: 510-642-3406

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