Concept of Health

Paper guidelines:


  • Students will discuss the concept of “health” from a variety of theoretical perspectives

including biomedicine, critical medical anthropology (CMA), and lay/popular beliefs about


  • Students will conduct an analysis of a current health issue using CMA
  • Students will consult primary sources, critically assess findings and compare results.
  • Students will develop competence in scholarly writing including the following: development

of a well-structured argumentative paper that contains a thesis statement; use of

introductory and concluding paragraphs; use of appropriate grammar; constructing wellstructured

sentences and paragraphs; and citation and references for primary source



In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, journalist Rebecca Skloot (2011) tells the story of

how the descendants of Henrietta Lacks come to terms with the story of her death from

cancer and the use of her cells for biomedical research. Essential to that story is the conflict

between the powerful biomedical system and the beliefs held by Henrietta’s family about

cancer and the body. Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) uses a theoretical framework that

is expressly political to analyze conflicts between biomedical practitioners and others (Baer et

al 2003).


Baer H, Singer M, Susser I. 2003. Medical Anthropology and the World System, 2nd Ed.

London UK: Greenwood.

Skloot R. 2011. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Broadway/Random House.


  1. Locate three examples from the book where the beliefs of a family member come into

conflict with those of a biomedical practitioner (doctor, nurse, researcher or other). For

each example:

  • Describe the belief system of the family member and speculate on how this belief

system may have been formed

  • Describe the belief system of the biomedical practitioner and speculate on how this

belief system may have been formed

  • Describe how these belief systems come into conflict
  • Describe the outcome of that conflict for both individuals
  1. Use a Critical Medical Anthropology (CMA) approach (such as that proposed by Baer et al

2003) to analyze the social relations described in the book. Consult CMA theorists and

researchers to support your arguments and use examples from Skloot (2011) to illustrate

your responses to the following questions:

  • Who has power over the agencies of biomedicine?
  • How and in what form is this power expressed?
  • How is power evident in the social relations described in the book?
  • What are the consequences for Henrietta’s family of the power relations that

characterize biomedicine?

  1. Describe an incident in the book where a biomedical practitioner acts differently,

overcoming the power relations typical of biomedicine in an effort to meet the family’s


  • Describe the incident
  • In your opinion, does this action make any difference for the family?
  • Why or why not?
  1. Provide a point-form outline indicating the responses and examples you will use to answer

questions 1 and 2 above. Provide 3 preliminary references from CMA theorists or

researchers that will support your arguments. The format for the outline is 1-2 pages

including references. The Term Paper Outline is due in class Oct 28.

  1. The format for the Term Paper is 8-10 pages (including title page and references) doublespaced,

12-pt font with minimum 2 cm margins. Provide a title page listing the name of the

assignment, your name, your student number, the course number, the instructor’s name

and the date. Use page numbers. In the body of the paper, use as many paragraphs as

necessary, but be sure to include introductory and concluding paragraphs. You may write

in the first person voice. You are required to consult a minimum of three (3) published

primary sources for your interpretations. Provide citations in text for these sources.

Provide a reference list. A Citation and Referencing Style Guide is provided on the next


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