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Unit information: Sociology of Health and Illness in 2020/21

Unit name Sociology of Health and Illness
Unit code SOCI20035
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
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


The unit provides an introduction to the conceptual tools and theoretical models required for understanding the social recognition 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, ethnicity and religion. Drawing on international research and on case studies, it analyses the significance of culture in understanding experiences and perceptions of health and illness.

Aims of the Unit:

  • 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. distinguish between medical and sociological understandings of health and illness
  2. develop sociological insights into issues of health, illness and medicine
  3. analyse the relationship and tensions between culture and concepts of health and disease.

Teaching details

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Details

25% poster and 75% essay (2500 words)

Assessments test ILOs 1-3 above

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