Spring 2024 - SA 218 D100

Illness, Culture and Society (A) (4)

Class Number: 4809

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 8 – Apr 12, 2024: Thu, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Stacy Pigg
    Office Hours: 1-2 pm Thursday in person, or zoom via appointment



Health and well-being are social experiences. How do assumptions about the body, the self, and social relations operate in medical spheres? Introduces anthropological perspectives on illness and healing as a means of exploring the social existence of the body. Students with credit for SA 460 when offered as Medical Anthropology are not eligible to take this course for further credit.


How do humans organize action in the face of pain and affliction? This course explores the cultural and historical specificity of being sick and seeking care, drawing on a range of questions and perspective developed through anthropological research on medicine. We pay close attention to how disease is lived, known, and treated, looking  at how the viewpoints of healers or caregivers differ from those of the sick person. Our syllabus explores contested or hard-to-diagnose medical conditions, allowing us to ask what these conditions reveal about otherwise taken-for-granted aspects of things medical. By regarding both sickness and medical care as thoroughly social processes, we will learn to discern the factors beyond-the-individual that entwine illness and healing with issues of morality, social control, legitimation and marginalization.

COURSE FORMAT: This is a discussion-based course rather than a lecture-based course. You will need to set aside weekly out-of-class study time to read and prepare required notes, due before each class. Completion of this pre-class work will count for half your total semester grade. In-class we will engage in a variety of activities to develop your skills for engaging with course materials through slow and curious attention.

Overall, this course teaches students to work with richly contextualized, specific case studies as a source for broad, conceptual and comparative insights that can enhance your ability to understand multiple, intersecting, open-ended social processes. The goal is to equip you with tools of observation and inquiry that you can carry forward into novel situations.



At the end of this course students should be able to:

  • Notice and describe how medical interactions look from different actors’ points of view, applying insights and techniques from anthropological research
  • Recognize social forms, assumptions, conventions, and contradictions embedded in medical care and in views of illness and the body; describe in writing how these shape interactions in clinical encounters
  • Identify and discuss key concepts (presented in this course) that medical anthropologists use to articulate the social and cultural patterns and processes at work in medical situations
  • Describe how relations of power operate in clinical interactions and medical situations
  • Apply concepts from this course effectively to understand fresh examples and situations drawing from anthropological perspectives shown in course materials
  • Make connections between your personal experience and the lives of others by noticing both similarities and differences
  • Use a variety of note-taking and reflection techniques to deepen comprehension of both scholarly and public commentary about illness, health, and healing
  • Communicate clearly and effectively in written expression and interpersonal dialogue


  • Weekly Tasks (workbook): required worksheets/reading responses and in-class activities. These submissions are graded as complete or incomplete. Your final letter grade for this component is based on total number of satisfactorily completed tasks. This is an effort-based grading system that acknowledges and rewards your weekly preparation work and your participation in class 50%
  • Exam (in class) 25%
  • Group project (with individual component) 10%
  • Article/reading discussion essay 15%


Grading: Where a final exam is scheduled and the student does not write the exam or withdraw from the course before the deadline date, an N grade will be assigned. Unless otherwise specified on the course syllabus, all graded assignments for this course must be completed for a final grade other than N to be assigned. An N is considered as an F for the purposes of scholastic standing.

Grading System: The Undergraduate Course Grading System is as follows:

A+ (95-100) | A (90-94) | A- (85-89) | B+ (80-84) | B (75-79) | B- (70-74) | C+ (65-69) | C (60-64) | C- (55-59) | D (50-54) | F (0-49) | N*
*N standing to indicate the student did not complete course requirements

Academic Honesty and Student Conduct Policies: The Department of Sociology & Anthropology follows SFU policy in relation to grading practices, grade appeals (Policy T20.01), and academic honesty and student conduct procedures (S10‐S10.05). Unless otherwise informed by your instructor in writing, in graded written assignments you must cite the sources you rely on and include a bibliography/list of references, following an instructor-approved citation style. It is the responsibility of students to inform themselves of the content of SFU policies available on the SFU website.

Centre for Accessible Learning: Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need classroom or exam accommodations are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (1250 Maggie Benston Centre) as soon as possible to ensure that they are eligible and that approved accommodations and services are implemented in a timely fashion.

The Sociology and Anthropology Student Union, SASU, is a governing body of students who are engaged with the department and want to build the SA community. Get involved!  Follow Facebook and Instagram pages or visit our website.


Activities in the Course meetings assume prior completion of the preparatory work (reading, viewing, listening to podcasts, assigned notes)



Scanner app for smartphone, or access to a scanner


You will need both books. Hard copies will be easier for you to use for assignments but both books are available for purchase as e-books.

- Meghan O’Rourke (2022) The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness. Riverhead Books. ISBN-13:978-0399573309 ($24.95)

- Brian Fies (2011) Mom’s Cancer ABRAMS Comic arts. ISBN-13: 9780810958401 (new, $16.95)

- Other course readings (articles, news reports) available electronically via SFU library reserves


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html