Claire Wendland

Professor and Chair of Department


5436 Sewell Social Science Bldg.

Claire Wendland


Joined UW-Madison faculty in 2005
Also Appointed in: Obstetrics & Gynecology; Medical History and Bioethics


Claire Wendland CV

Areas of Focus

Cultural anthropology, Medical anthropology, Africa, Malawi


African Studies Program; Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies; Global Health Institute; Global Studies


As a medical anthropologist, I focus on the globalization of biomedicine, particularly in Africa. Related work includes the anthropology of reproduction, sexuality and the body. My first book, A Heart for the Work: Journeys through an African Medical School, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2010. That book explores the experiences of medical students learning to be doctors in Malawi, and argues that their responses challenge several longstanding assumptions about biomedicine and about African healing. My current research project looks at changing concepts and loci of risk in childbirth in southeast Africa, in a setting in which very high maternal mortality rates force professionals and lay people alike to develop explanations for the link between birth and death. I seek to understand how the narratives of maternal death they produce reflect experiences of a rapidly changing social, economic, and biomedical context.

Selected Recent Publications

2020 Mkandawire-Valhmu, Lucy, Nancy Kendall, Anne Dressel, Claire Wendland et al. Women’s work at end of life: The intersecting gendered vulnerabilities of patients and caregivers in rural Malawi. Global Public Health 15(7):1062-1072

2019 Wendland, Claire. Physician anthropologists. Annual Review of Anthropology 48: 187-205

2018 Wendland, Claire. Who counts? What counts? Place and the limits of perinatal mortality measures. American Medical Association Journal of Ethics 20(3):278-287.

2017 Wendland, Claire. Legitimate care, dangerous care, and childbirth in an urban African community. In African Medical Pluralism, editors Carolyn Sargent and William Olsen, pp. 244-260. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

2017 Wendland, Claire. Opening up the black box: Looking for a more capacious version of capacity in global health partnerships. Canadian Journal of African Studies 50(3):415-435.

2016 Peters, Rebecca Warne and Claire Wendland. “Up the Africanist”: the possibilities and problems of ‘studying up’ in Africa. Critical African Studies 8(3):239-254 DOI 10.1080/21681392.2016.1244945

2016 Wendland, Claire. Estimating death: a close reading of maternal mortality metrics in Malawi. In Metrics: What Counts in Global Health, editor Vincanne Adams, pp. 57-81. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


I teach an introductory course in medical anthropology, a graduate seminar in anthropology and international health, and various courses in the anthropology of Africa and in general cultural anthropology. I also have an interest in ethics and have taught both anthropological ethics and bioethics courses.