SOC08009 2016 Health, the Body and Society

General Details

Full Title
Health, the Body and Society
Transcript Title
Health, the Body and Society
100 %
Subject Area
SOC - Sociology
SOCS - Social Sciences
08 - NFQ Level 8
05 - 05 Credits
Start Term
2016 - Full Academic Year 2016-17
End Term
9999 - The End of Time
Dr. Jacqueline O'Toole
Programme Membership
SG_WSOCI_H08 201600 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Social Care Practice SG_HEARL_H08 201700 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Humanities in Early Childhood Care and Educ SG_HSOCI_H08 201700 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Social Care Practice SG_HEARL_H08 201800 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Early Childhood Care and Educ SG_HSOCI_H08 201900 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Social Sciences in Social Care Practice

This module will examine theoretical and applied debates in the areas of health and illness. It is concerned with all those apsects of contemporary social life which impinge upon well-being throughout the life-course demonstrating that from the moment we are conceived to the time that we die, social processes impact on our health and well-being. Most of us will carry out health work at some stage in our lives which may take the form of caring for relatives, children, partners, parents and of oucrse ourselves. It is the sociological analysis of topics such as these which form the core of this module. The sociology of health and illness must also be understood in terms of its relation to the dominant paradigm of Western medicine: biomedicine. This module explains how many of the central concerns of the sociology of health and illness have emerged as reactions to and critiques of this paradigm.

This module maps to the CORU standards of proficiency below:

 ‑ Domain 1: Professional Autonomy and Accountability

 ‑ Domain 2: Communication, Collaborative Practice and Team working

 ‑ Domain 3: Safety & Quality

 ‑ Domain 4: Professional Development

 ‑ Domain 5: Professional Knowledge and Skills

Learning Outcomes

On completion of this module the learner will/should be able to;


Critique the main features of biomedicine


Explain the main theoretical underpinnings of the sociology of health and illness (Domains 1.18, 4.1)


Understand lay health beliefs, lifestyles and risk (Domains 1.15, 2.6, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 5.5, 5.7, 5.15, 5.17).


Conceptualise experiences of chronic illness and disability (Domains 1.8, 2.6, 2.16, 3.6, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 5.5, 5.7, 5.15, 5.17).


Delineate key debates in sociology of the body (Domains 2.6, 4.1, 4.3).

Teaching and Learning Strategies

Teachiing and learning is interactive, peer based and delivered in a group format.

Module Assessment Strategies

The module assessment allows for assessment of CORU Standards of Proficiency as follows:

There are two components to the assessment:

Class Presentation (Domains 1.8, 1.15, 1.18, 2.6, 2.16, 3.6, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 5.5, 5.7, 5.15, 5.17)

Case Study  (Domains 1.8, 1.15, 1.18, 2.6, 2.16, 3.6, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4, 5.5, 5.7, 5.15, 5.17)


Repeat Assessments

Major essay

Indicative Syllabus

This module builds upon previous modules concerned with understanding care, applied social policy, health and sociology. It aims to develop in students the ability to critique the neo-liberal emphasis on the individual as being entirely reponsible for their health care, on the inequalities associated with health and on dominant assumptions in both the medical and social models of care. The module will focus on one main health care issue of much debate in contemporary Western societies and use it to frame the module and to examine the main elements of the sociology of health and illness: 'obesity'. We will also address the consequences of dominant understandings of health and illness for policy repsonses nationally and internationally. Students will be encouraged to select their own health issue and present a project on the topic.

The Social Construction of Medical Knowledge

Here students are introduced to the biomedical model underpinning Western medicine. We will address the assumptions under which this model has persisted including the mind/body dualism; the mechanical metaphor; the technological imperative; reductionism; and the doctrine of specific aetiology. Drawing from Foucault and feminist writings, we challenge these assumptions and explore how discourses and power have intersected to generate dominant paradigms.  

Lay Health Beliefs, Lifestyles and Risk

Lawton (2003) explains that while sociologists have long studies aspects of illness, it has only been relatively recently that they have turned their attention to the development of a sociology of health. However, there is much discussion in society today addressing questions on what is health, how can I be healthy, what is a healthy lifestyle? In this section, we explore the concept of health arguing that such exploration must tkae account of lay persepctives. We also address ho people maintain health through an examination of lifestyles. Finally, a key facet of contemporary societies is a concern with risk. We explore definitions of risk drawing from Beck and Giddens and look at it's relationship to health status.

Experiences of Chronic Illness and Disability

Many argue that in Western industrialised societies, chronic conditions are becoming increasingly common. Such conditions have massive implications beyond biophysical changes. But biophysical changes have significant social consequences. In this section we examine how illness reminds us that the 'normal' functioning of our minds and bodies is central to social action and interaction (Nettleton, 2006:71). Sociologists have become increasingly concerned with experiences of illness where illness is seen as both a private trouble and of much public concern. We investigate two main ways sociologists have addresssed chronic illness: fucntionalism and interpretavism. The former includes analysis of the 'sick role' and the latter draws explicitly from Arthur Frank (1995) narraitves of illness.

The Sociology of the Body

The importance of the body to the sociology of health and illness is in many ways very obvious. Illness can limit the functioning of the body. Health is increasingly concpetualised in terms of body maintenance: dieting, exercising, avoidance of unhealthy products. Medical science has enabled individuals to completely alter the body in ways previously unimaginable. This section explores the tensions evident in how we regulate, manage, dispose of, display, work and look upon bodies. In particular, we return to a central theme in this module: how medical and scientific descriptions of the biological basis of bodies are socially constructed and may be used for ideological purposes such as maintaining of widespread inequalities in health.



Coursework & Assessment Breakdown

End of Semester / Year Formal Exam
100 %

Coursework Assessment

Title Type Form Percent Week Learning Outcomes Assessed
1 Presentation Presentation Continuous Assessment Group Project 30 % Week 6 1,2
2 Case Study Select a Health Topic Continuous Assessment Essay 70 % End of Term 3,4,5

Full Time Mode Workload

Type Location Description Hours Frequency Avg Workload
Lecture Lecture Theatre Lecture 2 Weekly 2.00
Tutorial Flat Classroom Discussion 1 Weekly 1.00
Total Full Time Average Weekly Learner Contact Time 3.00 Hours

Module Resources

Non ISBN Literary Resources

Nettleton, S. (2013) The Sociology of Health and Illness. Cambridge: Polity. 3rd Edition

Peterson, A. and D. Lupton (1996) The New Public Health. London: Sage

Williams, S. and G. Bendelow (1998) The Lived Body. London: Routledge

Gatrell, A. and S. Elliott (2009) Geographies of Health. London: Wiley-Blackwell. 2nd edition

Germov, J. and L. Williams (2008) A Sociology of Food and Nutrition. London: Oxford. 3rd edition

Frank, A. (1995) The Wounded Storyteller. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Share, P., M. Corcoran and B. Conway (2012) A Sociolgoy of Ireland. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. 4th edition

Cleary, A. and M. Treacy (1997) The Sociology of Health and Illness in Ireland. Dublin: University College Dublin Press

Hyde, A. (2004) Sociology for Health Professionals in Ireland. Dublin: IPA



Other Resources

Sociology of Health and Illness (Journal)

Gender & Society (Journal)

Body & Society (Journal)

Additional Information

Detailed Readings and Reports will be indicated in class.