Faculty of Arts


Sociology of Health, Illness and Medicine


This course presents a conceptual and topical overview of the sociology of health, illness and medicine (sometimes referred to as medical sociology). Medical sociology is one of the fastest growing subfields in sociology, and is so large that no single course could cover it in its entirety. By necessity, this course leaves many topics virtually untouched. For example, we will not address mental health/mental illness, or bioethics. We will instead focus on a number of topics that have concerned the field in the past, and some that have emerged more recently as central concerns.

Specific topics to be addressed include:

  • Social factors that contribute to disease (i.e., the “social production of disease”)
  • The unequal distribution of disease
  • The social construction of “illness” (i.e., the process by which a condition comes to be seen as a medical problem)
  • The social construction of treatment practices
  • Patient experiences of illness and healthcare
  • The social organisation of medicine
  • Alternative ways of organising healthcare

By the end of this course, it is expected students will understand:

  • The differences between “disease” and “illness”
  • The social factors that contribute to the onset of disease
  • The social forces that shape what comes to be seen as a medical problem
  • The social forces that shape how medicalised conditions come to be treated
  • How patients view illness and their role in the health care process
  • The social forces that have mediated physicians’ hold on power
  • The key dimensions used to evaluate a nation’s health care systems
  • How to use those dimensions to compare the healthcare systems of at least two different nations

This is an exciting time to be studying health, illness and health care as medical systems throughout the world are experiencing significant challenges and prospective change.

 Learning objectives for this course

  • To have you think critically about both definitions of health and illness, as well as the current organisation of our healthcare system
  • To explore the structural relations of power that shape disease prevalence, and analyse how those structures reproduce power and inequality
  • To develop a sociological understanding of our healthcare system. Who benefits from the current system? Who doesn’t? And why?
  • To deepen our appreciation for the value of sociology and sociological perspectives in examining our world
  • To have you reflect on your own experience of health, illness and health care. This includes reflecting on how the course’s knowledge can alter your life in the future
  • To have you develop your own personal philosophy about health, illness and health care
  • To have you develop skills to better follow and participate in contemporary debates about health care
  • To improve critical reading and critical writing skills (I’ll offer learning strategies throughout the semester)


Quizzes, writing assignments and a final test

Availability 2021

Semester 2


Coordinator(s) Dr Manuel Vallee


Readings will be available through the TALIS reading list for this course.


Coursework + exam


SOCIOL 333: 15.0 points


30 points at Stage II in Sociology, or SOCSCIPH 200

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