Features In the Journals

A medical anthropology canon?

The latest issue of Anthropology and Medicine includes the first of a series of articles called “The Canon,” each of which will feature “a reappraisal of a past text of what may be considered (unfashionably) canonical, classical or at least of continuing interest in medical anthropology or cultural psychiatry.”  The first is a piece by Roland Littlewood on W.H.R. Rivers’ Medicine, Magic and Religion, often described as “a founding text for medical anthropology,” (Littlewood 2010).

The editors of Anthropology and Medicine invite reviewers to write about any of the books listed below — or to suggest others.  Here is the list:

Would others add different texts to this list — perhaps key articles as well?  Do we even have need of a “canon” in medical anthropology or are discussions of texts which have continued relevance for our field  important whether or not we label them “canonical”?

4 replies on “A medical anthropology canon?”

Strathern's 'Gender of the Gift' is rather oddly placed here (though it is of course a brilliant text). Much more appropriate for the 'med anthro canon' would be 'Reproducing the Future,' or perhaps 'After Nature.'

On the psychiatry front Jeanne Favret-Saada's Deadly words: witchcraft in the bocage (1980). The section where she explores the medical records from the local psych facility and elucidates it with her field work on unwitching has always impressed me.


The notion of a "canon" seems somewhat antithetical to a lot of the important arguments and interventions represented by this list of texts and anthropological studies of science, technology and medicine more generally. The absence of Emily Martin's The Woman in the Body is also surprising.

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