Sharon Kaufman, PhD

Phone: 415-476-3005
Fax: 415-502-5208

Chair, Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine
Professor Emerita, Medical Anthropology

Curriculum Vitae Kaufman

Sharon Kaufman, PhD is Chair of the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Her work explores topics at the intersection of medical knowledge and society’s expectations for health. Her research has examined: the changing culture and structure of US medicine; health care delivery at the end-of-life; the relationship of biotechnologies to ethics, governance and medical practice; the shifting terrain of evidence in clinical science; practices of risk assessment; and mistrust of science.

The National Institute on Aging and the National Institute on Nursing Research at the NIH funded her research from 1983 – 2013. She is core faculty in the joint Medical Anthropology Program UCSF/UCB and works with medical and nursing students at UCSF. She lectures frequently at UCSF and UCB and mentors students, post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty from a variety of disciplines.

Her newest book, Ordinary Medicine: Extraordinary Treatments, Longer Lives and Where to Draw the Line (Duke U. Press, May 2015) is an ethnographic story about the dilemmas twenty-first century American health care poses. Centered on the intersection of medicine and our aging society, the book is about the structure and culture of the entire biomedical health care enterprise, from research funding for treatments, to what gets funded by Medicare, to what is considered standard and necessary and why, to what, ultimately, patients and doctors talk about, agonize over and decide to do. It reveals how the structure of the system determines so much of what happens to patients, doctors and families and why it is so difficult to see the line between ‘enough’ and ‘too much’ medical intervention.   By providing a map to the socio-cultural sources of our health care dilemmas, Ordinary Medicine offers a way to re-think and renew the goals of medicine, so that it can serve as a social good in the twenty-first century.

Her last book, …And a Time to Die: How American Hospitals Shape the End of Life (Scribner 2005; U. Chicago Press 2006),  describes the role of medical practice and hospital structure in organizing and naming life and death. Based on two years of ethnographic fieldwork in three California hospitals, the research was motivated by the growing cultural conversation of complaint in the US about overly-technological dying and the fact that solutions to the ‘problem’ of death were being articulated almost exclusively in terms of patient decision-making and the doctor-patient relationship, rather than in terms of the structural forces of American hospital culture which emphasize aggressive treatments up to the moment of death. The book won The New Millennium Award (2007) from the Society for Medical Anthropology for most significant contribution to anthropology and to a broad audience.

Her two previous books are: The Ageless Self: Sources of Meaning in Late Life (1986, cover review, New York Times Book Review and named one of best books in 25 years of University Press publishing) and The Healer’s Tale: Transforming Medicine and Culture  (1993, NEJM and JAMA reviews).

Selected recent publications:

2016  Kaufman, S. Ordinary Medicine: The Power and Confusion of Evidence. Medical Anthropology Theory, Sept. 13.

2016  Kaufman, S. Invited Book Review Essay.  Los Angeles Review of Books: The Work of the Dead, by Thomas Laqueur. March.

2015 Kaufman, S.  Medicare’s Next Half Century. New York Times Opinion. June 3, 2015

2015  Kaufman, S.  As vaccination rates dip, parents walk a tightrope between doubt and risk.  Health Affairs Blog, April 23, 2015

2014 Kaufman, S. Defining Death: Four decades of ambivalence. Huffington Post Science, January 17, 2014.

2013 Kaufman, S. Fairness and the tyranny of Potential in kidney transplantation, Current Anthropology, 54: Suppl 7:S56-66.

2011    Kaufman, S and W. Max. Medicare’s embedded ethics: The Challenge of cost control in an aging society.  Health Affairs Blog. March 28, 2011.

2010  Kaufman, S. Making Longevity in an Aging Society: Linking Medicare Policy and the New Ethical Field. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine,  53:3:407-424.

2010  Kaufman, S. Regarding the Rise in Autism: Vaccine Safety Doubt, Conditions of Inquiry and the Shape of Freedom. Ethos 38:1:8-32. (Feb 2010 special issue: Culture and Autism).

KaufmanOrdinaryMed   And a Time To Die

Last modified: September 15, 2016