Health, Medicine, and Society [CRN 29370]

Discipline: Sociology
Instructor: Pitts-Taylor
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1530
End: 1650
Field Work: Day 6 | March 23, 2018 | South Africa
Prerequisites: One (1) introductory sociology course Download Syllabus


A sociological perspective on health and illness highlights the role of social, political and economic structures in shaping, defining, and treating bodily experiences from birth to death. This course will address key concepts in the sociology of medicine and examine health and illness from a range of perspectives and vantage points. We will explore health in relation to social norms, social inequalities, and social movements, and look at the role of medicalization, science and technology, and market relations in shaping the definitions and treatment of health and illness. We will also address health and illness as embodied experiences influenced by class, gender, sexuality, race and ethnicity, citizenship status and other social factors. In the first part of the course, we will compare biomedical and social models of health, illness and disability, explore processes of medicalization, and examine how social factors can influence morbidity and mortality. We will then consider how health issues are situated in social, economic, and environmental contexts, paying attention to the “local biologies” of specific countries that we will visit during the semester. We will also explore biomedicine through a transnational lens – for example, in global circuits of organ transplantation, medical tourism, and reproductive technologies.

Learning goals:

  1. Learn about key concepts in medical sociology and the sociology of health and illness
  2. Compare social and biomedical models of health, and examine the relationships between health and social inequalities in a variety of cultural contexts
  3. Explore “local biologies” – differences between cultures in experiences of health, illness, and disability
  4. Explore how transnational political, economic and social relations affect health and illness for different groups and populations

Field Work

Country: South Africa
Day: 6
Date: March 23, 2018

In this field class we will meet with a range of practitioners, activists and care workers who engage with HIV treatment and prevention. In the morning we will meet with the director of Langa Clinic, a public health clinic in Langa Township, and discuss the challenges of HIV care. We will also meet with a traditional healer, whose practice includes identifying signs of AIDS and making referrals to the clinic. We will also meet with a local activist for sex workers rights at a Ford-Foundation funded NGO (SWEAT), with youth leaders and a director at a local office of Love Life, an HIV prevention organization funded mainly by the South African government. We will end the day with a visit to Siyaphimbili Orphan Village to meet children who have lost parents to HIV.

Learning objectives:

  1. Learn about the health and social challenges for people with HIV in South Africa
  2. Learn about the challenges of healthcare delivery and social support for HIV patients in South Africa, including and the specific challenges for treating and supporting HIV positive children
  3. Explore the role of NGOs in local and national advocacy efforts for people with HIV