HAR6016: Sociology of Health and Illness

The Sociology of Health and Illness module is led by Jennifer Burr and Barry Gibson. It runs in the Spring semester and is worth 15 credits.


The Sociology of Health and Illness module is led by Jennifer Burr. It runs in the Spring semester and is worth 15 credits.

It is one of the modules on:

This module is available as a CPD option

This module is available University-wide in any year as a DDP module


The sociology of health and illness involves studying how society is structured by looking at the patterns of relationships that have an existence over and above individuals.

In this respect it looks at how health is distributed as a consequence of how people are related to each other in a number of ways. This involves looking at how for example social class and gender relations result in varying patterns and experiences of health.

The sociology of health and illness module goes well beyond this however. In this module you will also undertake a journey to study social organisation.

We will be exploring how our very ideas about health can be controlled and manipulated, and how these ideas are historically located.

Beyond this sociology is also the study of what things mean to people. A large part of the sociology of health and illness involves understanding how people relate to each other both rationally and emotionally through what things mean for them.

We will explore how the meaning of health can shape encounters with various health professionals including doctors, health promoters, dentists and various different therapists.

The module does not require any prior knowledge of sociology and is structured for students who are not from a social science background. However, we do welcome students from a range of disciplinary backgrounds.


The aims of the module are to;

  • Develop a critical awareness of the sociology of health and illness including its relevance to health policy;
  • Introduce key themes of the sociology of health and illness;
  • Assemble key debates and discussions within the sociology of health and illness relevant to key components of public health;
  • Evaluate and assess core aspects of the sociology of health and illness relevant to public health;
  • Explore one application of the sociology of health and illness to public health in depth.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate the skills to be able to review and assess a range of issues in the sociology of health and illness that are relevant to a self directed and defined problem;
  • Show how an awareness of theoretical positions can enhance the exploration of a topic or problem in public health;
  • Engage critically and independently in debates related to the sociology of health and illness and how these can help us evaluate public health problems;
  • Produce a detailed work centred around a sociological exploration of a particular issue in public health.

Teaching methods

This module consists of 12 sessions. Each session consists of a discussion forums lasting one hour and 45 minutes.

The purposes of the forums are to introduce key concepts and theories, identify foundational assumptions and substantive ideas. We will also be seeking to illustrate the application of these assumptions and ideas to problems in public health.

The sessions will focus on developing students’ ability to

  • employ sociological arguments
  • interact through the medium of sociology
  • assemble and organize sociological approaches to a problem
  • encouraging the acceptance of different perspectives on a problem with the purpose of exposing hidden points of meaning
  • challenging our own perspectives and taken for granted assumptions about a problem or area
  • criticising both public health policy and sociological perspectives on health and illness

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it is up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research, funding changes, professional accreditation requirements, student or employer feedback, outcomes of reviews, and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

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