Margaret Lock


Margaret Lock is a
Margaret Lock
Bronfam Professor in Social Studies in Medicine at McGill University, and affiliated with their Department of Social Studies of Medicine and Department of Anthropology. Lock received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, and is known for examining the body in relationships with health and illness, new technologies, and culture. Her work has focused on comparative medical systems in regards to transitional life periods, especially aging and death, and on how biomedical technologies such as genetic testing are impacting societies. Lock is currently interested in the anthropology of biomedical technologies and of genomics, and her most recent work explores how molecular biology is changing Alzheimer’s disease. Lock is considered one of the most distinguished medical anthropologists in the field. Her influence can be seen in her contributions to health policy debates in North America, Europe, and Japan, and her impact on how people approach medical and ethical issues.

Research & Work

Lock’s work began by looking at different medical systems in Japan, [1] and she soon began comparing these systems to experiences in the US. Lock’s research interests have focused on periods of life transitions in humans, such as reproduction and aging. Her most significant breakthrough as a scholar occurred when she began to compare cultural understandings of menopause in Japan with those in North America. Her 1993 book, Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America, discovered that there were not just cultural differences in how women looked at and felt towards aging, but that there were biological differences as well.[2] Women were symptom-reporting differently; specifically, most women from the United States reported many hot flashes, while women 1in Japan did not experience them at all or only rarely. Lock argued that these were not solely because of cultural context, but that there was something different about women’s bodies because of their culture and environment. Although the exact mechanism for this change is unknown, Lock believes it likely stems from the diets of Japanese women that are high in fish and soy, thereby impacting their biology and their menopause.[3]

Lock’s discovery pushed her to define the term local biologies. Local biologies is a concept that “creat[es] the argument that the coproduction of biologies and cultures contributes to embodied experience, which, in turn, shapes discourse about the body.”[4]

Lock’s second major area of research began to examine how biotechnologies have blurred what is life and death, what is natural. Focusing on another transitional period in human life, death, Lock sought to understand how cultures socially define and understand death. Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death[5] uncovered that even medical doctors trained in Western biomedicine did not agree to when death occurred. Some argued death was when the heart stopped, and others argued that death was when the brain ceased to function. The ability for biomedical technologies to keep bodies in liminal states of being alive and yet possibly dead, has also pushed Lock to explore the ethics of biomedicine.

Lock has now shifted her research to look at how genetic testing is introduced to and affects individuals and families, specifically with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. The idea of epigenetics helps to support her concept of local biologies, and Lock hopes to explore how molecular genetics is shifting the view of genetic determinism.[6] These research inquiries also question how the idea of “population risk” is being understood at the individual level.

Lock has also significantly contributed to theory in Medical Anthropology throughout her career. Two major areas of contribution include her work in understanding the mindful body with Nancy Scheper-Hughes, and in defining social suffering, with Arthur Kleinman.

The concept of the mindful body, developed by Scheper-Hughes and Lock, claims that bodies can be viewed from three perspectives: individual body-self, social body, and body politic.[7] This approach was constructed to argue that the conception of the body can be very different depending on who is looking at the body, and to push medical anthropologists to explore these ideas.

The idea of social suffering, spearheaded by Arthur Kleinman, claims that,[8] claims social suffering can occur through the large-scale structural violence caused by systems of power that people find themselves trapped in. This theory has been important in theories of political economy and critical medical anthropology.


Margaret Lock

Lock was born in England and met her future husband, Richard Lock, in San Francisco. Richard was the captain of the Cambridge University Judo team and heading to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. After experiencing Japan, Lock chose to make that the focus of her studies. The Locks transferred to the University of California, Berkeley where she switched majors from biochemistry to anthropology, specializing in Japanese culture and health. The couple moved between California and Japan, and had two children.[9]

In 1977, Lock took a position at McGill University, where she remains today. Lock is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and an Officier de L’Ordre national du Québec. Over the course of her career she has received numerous awards and honors including:

2010 Appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada
2008 Career Achievement Award of the Society of Medical Anthropology, American Anthropological Association
2007/8 Participant on CBC radio program Ideas
2005 Named a Grande Montréalaise, Secteur Social
2005 Turdeau Foundation Fellowship
2005 Canada Council for the Arts Killam Prize
2003 Robert B. Textor Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology, American Anthropological Association1
2002 Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize
1997 Prix Du Québec, domaine Sciences Humaines
1997 Wellcome Medal of the Royal Anthropological Society of Great Britain

Her book Encounters with Aging received six awards, including the Staley Prize of the School of American Research, the Canada-Japan Book Prize, and the Wellcome Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. Her book Twice Dead has also received numerous awards including the Sociology of Health and Illness Book fo the Year from the British Sociological Association and the Robert B. Textor and Family Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology from the American Anthropology Association.

Major Publications

2010 An Anthropology of Biomedicine, with Vinh-Kim Nguyen. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

2009 Handbook of Genetics and Society: Mapping the New Genomic Era. Edited with Paul Atkinson and Peter Glasner. New York: Routledge.

2007 Susceptibility Genes and Embodied Identity, with Julia Freeman, Gillian Chilibeck, Miriam Padowsky and Briony Beveridge. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 21(3): 256-276.

2003 Remaking Life and Death: Towards an Anthropology of the Biosciences, edited with Sarah Franklin. Santa Fe: School of American Research.

2002 Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2001 The Tempering of Medical Anthropology: Troubling Natural Categories. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 15: 478-492.

2001 Menopause, Local Biologies and Cultures of Aging. Margaret Lock and Patricia Kaufert. American Journal of Human Biology, 13(4): 494-504.

2000 On Dying Twice: Culture, Technology, and the Determination of Death. In Living and Working with the New Medical Technologies: Intersections of Inquiry. Margaret Lock, Allan Young and Alberto Cambrosio eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 233-262.

1997 Social Suffering, co-edited with Arthur Kleinman and Veena Das. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1993 Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1993 Knowledge, Power and Practice: The Anthropology of Medicine and Everyday Life, edited with Shirley Lindenbaum. Berkeley: University of California Press.

1980 East Asian Medicine in Urban Japan: Varieties of Medical Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press

Online Resources

McGill University Faculty Page - Margaret Lock - Read Lock’s faculty biography from McGill University, full book list, and selected publications.

Canada's Social Science and Humanities Research Council Award Page Read about Margaret Lock's Gold Medal for Achievement in Research.

National Women's Health Network An Interview with Margaret Lock. Discusses Japanese culture and menopause.

CBC - How to Think About Science Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's interview with Margaret Lock. With a free account, you can listen to her entire interview.

Further Reading

2010 Postgenomics, uncertain futures, and the familiarization of susceptibility genes. Social Science and Medicine. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.01.053

2007 Biosociality and Susceptibility Genes: A Cautionary Tale. In, Sahra Gibbon and Carlos Novas eds., Revisiting Biosociality. London: Routledge pp. 56-78.

2005 Alzheimer's Disease: A Tangled Concept. In Complexities: Beyond Nature and Nurture. Susan McKinnon and Sydel Silverman, eds., New York Routledge pp.104-138.

2002 The Alienation of Body Tissue and the Biopolitics of Immortalized Cell Lines. In Commodifying Bodies. N.Scheper-Hughes and L. Wacquant, eds., London: Sage Publications, pp. 63-92.

2000 Introduction. In Living and Working with the New Medical Technologies: Intersections of Inquiry. Margaret Lock, Allan Young and Alberto Cambrosio, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.1-16.

2000 The Quest for Human Organs and the Violence of Zeal. In Remaking a World: Violence, Social Suffering, and Recovery. Veena Das, Arthur Kleinman, Mamphela Ramphele and Pamela Reynolds, eds. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 271-295.

1999 The Problem of Brain Death: Japanese Disputes about Bodies and Modernity. In The Definition of Death: Contemporary Controversies. Stuart J. Youngner, Robert M. Arnold and Renie Schapiro, eds. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 239-256.


  1. ^ Lock, Margaret. (1980) East Asian Medicine in Urban Japan: Varieties of Medical Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. ^ Lock, Margaret. (1993) Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  3. ^ Lock, Margaret. (1993) Encounters with Aging: Mythologies of Menopause in Japan and North America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  4. ^ Lock, Margaret. (2001) The tempering of medical anthropology: Troubling natural categories. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 14(4):478-492.
  5. ^ Lock, Margaret. (2002) Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  6. ^ Lock, Margaret. (2005) Eclipse of the gene and the return of divination. Current Anthropology, 46(Supplement): S47-S70.
  7. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy and Margaret M. Lock. (1987). The mindful body: A prolegomenon to future work in medical anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 1(1): 6-41.
  8. ^ Kleinman, Arthur, Das Veena, and Margaret Lock (eds.) Social Suffering. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  9. ^ Haldane, Maeve. (2008) Anthropology Meets Medicine. University Affairs. Retrieved from