Individual and popular representations of illness

The purpose of this module is to introduce participants to the tools, particularly the interpretive approach, that medical anthropology offers to analyze and consider the means by which individuals explain to themselves and interpret their own illness episodes or that of others.

Medicine and Humanities modules focus on philosophy, ethics, history, arts and literature as they relate to the practice of medicine. Prepared by specialists in medical and human sciences, these modules aim to provide a basis of support for knowledge and reflection so that students and health care professionals are able to develop their vision of disease and care from a bio-psycho-social perspective within a wider field of knowledge.


The author
Having completed a doctoral degree in anthropology, in 2016, Mathieu Bujold pursued a post-doctoral degree with the Department of Family Medicine at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine. His research interests include medical pluralism and the development of patient-centered interprofessional models of care.

The module’s objectives are:

  • Introduce the basic concepts of interpretive medical anthropology.
  • Differentiate between the medical, signified and socialized dimensions of illness.
  • Explore explanatory models and semantic network of illness.
  • Emphasize the use and applicability of these concepts in the clinical and the research contexts.


This module is an adaptation of chapter 3 of Bujold, M. Le patient intégrateur : analyse de l’articulation d’une pluralité de voix/voies dans une clinique integrative québécoise. Anthropologie. Ste-Foy: Université Laval. (2011) p. 512. Translations were done by the author or translator and are not authorized translations.



Throughout the module, we invite you to PAUSE AND REFLECT in order to reinforce what you have learned. Take the time to write down your answers and ideas. An answer is given by the expert to help you deepen and ground your reflection. It is not meant to challenge the value of your personal answer but is there to offer new directions.

We also invite you to take personal notes using the “Note Taking” tool on the right.

Subject matter expert: Mathieu Bujold PhD
Concept Development and Project Management: Isabelle Burnier, MD, M.Ed
Editorial Committee: Jean Roy, MD, Diane Bouchard-Lamothe, M. Sc.S.
Programming and Graphic Design: Medtech, University of Ottawa
Production: november 2016