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Unit information: Sociology of Health and Illness in 2015/16

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Unit name Sociology of Health and Illness
Unit code SOCI30059
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Saffron Karlsen
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

The unit provides an introduction to the conceptual tools and theoretical models necessary for understanding the social production of health and illness. These are contrasted with the nature and role of medical knowledge and its application in treatment. The unit examines social, economic and political explanations of illness and the importance of social divisions such as class, gender and ethnicity in both local and global contexts. Drawing on international research and on case studies, it analyzes the significance of culture in understanding experiences and perceptions of health and illness. The unit provides a basis for further study of this field in year 3 and also engagement with a substantive area which applies core concepts in sociology.


  • to explain the bio-medical hegemony and challenges presented by different models of health and illness
  • to review the principal contributions of sociology and identify the social origins of patterns of health and illness
  • to present a critical perspective on the concept of social causation of health and illness
  • to introduce the concept of culture in relation to health and illness.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  1. Identify and critically engage with the distinctions between medical and sociological understandings of health and illness
  2. Use their conceptual knowledge to develop an empirically grounded understanding of issues of health, illness and medicine
  3. Analyse the relationships and tensions between culture and concepts of health and disease and illustrate through the use of case studies.

Teaching Information

1hr lecture and 2hr seminar.

Assessment Information

Formative: 1500 word essay or equivalent (for both level 5 and level 6)

This will address learning outcomes 1 and 2.

Summative: 3000 word essay (for both level 5 and level 6)

This will address learning outcomes 1-3.

Reading and References

  • Michael Bury and Jonathan Gabe ,The Sociology of Health and Illness- A Reader, Routledge: London, 2004
  • Cecil Helman, Culture, Health and Illness, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000
  • Sarah Nettleton, The Sociology of Health and Illness, Polity, 2013
  • Kevin White An Introduction to the Sociology of Health & Illness, Sage, 2008
  • Basiro Davey, Alastair Gray & Clive Seale, eds, Health and Disease: a Reader, Open University Press, 1995
  • Ellen Annandale, The Sociology of Health and Medicine: a Critical Introduction, Polity Press, 1998