Learning Medical Anthropology through the Coronavirus

5 Student Essays from Copenhagen

Teaching “Introduction into Medical Anthropology” in the Midst of an Unfolding Pandemic

By Anna Mann


At the Department of Anthropology in Copenhagen, like in many other places, a course “Introduction into Medical Anthropology” started at beginning of February. Each Friday, we, a group of engaged BA and MA students and one lecturer, met to become puzzled and learn/teach about concepts to grasp health, illness and healing in its social and cultural context.

While we progressed from Evans-Pritchard to Lévi-Strauss to Mol and Mattingly, we witnessed at the same time how “the coronavirus” emerged around us. From one week to another the cough that one of the students had was no longer innocent, but made her write an email to the lecturer asking whether she was still allowed to come to class. One of the Italian exchange students excitingly announced that she might send us pictures from “the red zone” in which her parents lived and which she planned to visit the following week. But she never went there due to the increasing spread of the virus. And when the Danish prime minister announced on the evening of the 11th March that the universities would be locked down from the next day 17:00 o’clock onwards, we realized that the class on the 6th March had been our last one with physical contact.

Anti-Covid-19 measures by the Danish government in front of our department in Copenhagen, 6 March 2020. Copyright: Anna Mann.

However, “the coronavirus” was not only a phenomenon that affected our daily lives. With the recently discussed anthropological concepts and tools, we recognized how it also was a phenomenon through which scientific facts, illness and health, prevention and cure, the nation state and citizenship became and are still becoming reconfigured. Wasn’t this what medical anthropology is all about? Like lecturer elsewhere, I changed the obligatory readings and assignments and offered the students the possibility to write an essay on “something” related to the coronavirus. Five essays have resulted from this, which, I hope you will enjoy reading.

Wherever you are, stay safe and take care there.






Anna Mann is a PostDoc researcher at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen. She currently investigates the crafting of “quality of life” for people, who have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, in everyday life and medical practices in Austria. Her work contributes to ongoing discussions in medical anthropology and science and technology studies on care, the good, and living with chronic disease. Mail: am@anthro.ku.dk


The Coronavirus in the Welfare State

By Julia Haugaard


When the Danish government started taking initiatives in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus it was with appeals to classical social democratic values such as the community spirit, and social solidarity. In this essay, I explore how the government’s reaction to Covid-19 can reveal something about state-citizen relations and the legacy of the social welfare system.

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“Fratelli d’Italia, l’Italia s’è desta!”[1]

The Awakening of a new Italian Nationalistic Sentiment in Facing the Covid-19 Pandemic

By Simona Bianchi


Lets wave proudly our Tricolore. Lets intone fiercely our national anthem. Unite, responsible, brave

Giuseppe Conte, Italian Prime Minister[2]


People hanging the Italian national flag out of their windows in various Italian cities. Source: Twitter: @massc0, Last access: 27/04/2020

Introduction: #Unitimalontani (united at distance)

Belonging and being belonged. We are a people of artists and we should never forget about it”.[3]


Italy, 13 March 2020, 6pm. The sun is slowly setting on a ghost-like country. But a sudden, unexpected noise re-awakes people’s terrified hearts: it is more than a voice, more than a call, more than a song… “Fratelli d’Italia”, the national anthem, resounds through the emptiness of Italian cities, shading a new light on the up-coming darkness of the night.

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How the Corona Crisis brings Guilt and Blame into our Everyday Lives. Reflections on Social Interactions in Danish Society during the Pandemic

By Johanna Louise Skovsende


The coronavirus comes with new social codes. In Denmark the word “samfundssind”, that loosely translates to social solidarity, sets the tone for many of the current norms and ideals. “Stay home, keep a distance, show samfundssind” is frequently heard in the Prime Ministers’ press conferences, in news articles and on social media. In the Danish newspaper Politiken, a journalist appeals to make samfundssind the word of the year:

“It is now that we, as average citizens, have to choose the persons we want to see in the mirror until the pandemic eventually runs out and the world returns to normal […]”  (my translation)

As stated in the article, samfundssind is about showing our worth as citizens in this challenging time and while it constitutes a positive message in a time of crisis – we are fighting a common enemy in solidarity – it also injects uncertainty, guilt and blame into our social interactions. This is my experiences as a Danish student living in Copenhagen.

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Italian Narratives about Medical Staff during Covid-19 Emergency

By Giorgia Govi



During the last weeks, medical staff who work in hospitals in Italy have become a crucial figure in the Italian fight against coronavirus’ spread throughout the country. Their importance was recognized also before this difficult situation, but now doctors, nurses and health professionals in general are considered by the Italian population as heroes. I wish to investigate how these narratives are constructed by considering how the incessant labor of the Italian medical staff is perceived by the country’s population. For doing so pictures and quotes taken from social media, both uploaded by nurses and other citizens, will be used. I will also link these narratives to the work of Somatosphere’s blog, which recently has focused on coronavirus’ issue, from an anthropological point of view.

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COVID-19 and the Starvation of Information it feeds into

By Anne Sofie Beer


In light of the COVID-19, Danes have become information-starving (informationshungrende), one article suggests. This is evident in the way webpages from official authorities such as the Danish Health and Medicine Authority and the Police have crashed on more than one occasion due to increased access rates (ibid.). Moreover, a national corona-hotline has been established, in which people can pose all their COVID-19 related questions. This also relates to the numerous articles in which experts answer questions such as: Can we still throw a family birthday party? Can my children play with other children? Am I allowed to give my husband a hug? Can we go to a restaurant? Is it possible to get contaminated from the milk carton in the supermarket? Moreover, both TV2 and DR, the biggest television broadcasters in Denmark, offer live updates on the pandemic. The reason for this great request for information is simply that: ”We want certainty in an uncertain situation.”, as an article concludes.

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