Medical discourse

James M. Wilce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Scopus citations


Discourse plays an important role in medicine, and medical discourse in the broadest sense (discourse in and about healing, curing, or therapy; expressions of suffering; and relevant language ideologies) has profound anthropological significance. As modes of social action, writing and speaking help constitute medical institutions, curative practices, and relations of authority in and beyond particular healing encounters. This review describes cultural variation in medical discourse and variation across genres and registers. It then surveys two approaches to analyzing medical discourse: conversation analysis (CA) and discourse studies echoing Foucault's work, attempting to spur dialogue between them. Such dialogue could be fruitful because, despite hesitancy to invoke macrosocial variables, conversation analysts as well as Foucaultian discourse analysts have reflected onmedical authority. Finally, the article reviews recent attempts to contextualize closely analyzed interactions-written exchanges as well as face-to-face clinical encounters-vis-à-vis the global circulation of linguistic forms and ideologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-215
Number of pages17
JournalAnnual Review of Anthropology
StatePublished - Oct 2009


  • Authority
  • Circulation
  • Conversation analysis
  • Interaction
  • Textuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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