SOC08012 2017 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
2017 - Full Academic Year 2017-18
End Term
9999 - The End of Time
Gwen Scarbrough, Dr. Jacqueline O'Toole
Programme Membership
SG_HJOIN_H08 201700 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Humanities in Joint Majors: Sociology and Politics SG_HJOIN_H08 201900 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Humanities in Joint Majors: Sociology and Politics SG_HJOIN_H08 202100 Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Humanities in Joint Majors: Sociology and Politics

This module will examine theoretical and applied debates in the areas of health and illness. It is concerned with all those aspects 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, and parents and of course 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. (Domain: 1.18, 4.1)


Understand lay health beliefs, lifestyles and risk. (Domain: 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. (Domain: 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 (Domain 2.6, 4.1, 4.3)

Teaching and Learning Strategies

Teaching and learning strategies are interactive, peer-based and delivered in a group format.

Module Assessment Strategies

There are two components to the assessment:

  • Class Presentation
  • Case Study

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

Class Presentation: Domain 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:Domain 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. It aims to develop in students the ability to critique the neo‑liberal emphasis on the individual as being entirely responsible 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 a number of current health care issue in contemporary Western societies including the ‘obesity’; health across the life-course; and health funding. We will also address the consequences of dominant understandings of health and illness for policy responses 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 studied aspects of illness, it has only been relatively recently that they have turned their attention to the development of the 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 take account of lay perspectives. We also address how 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 its relationship to health status.

Experiences of Chronic Illness and Disability

, 2006:71). Sociologists have become increasingly concerned with experiences of illness where illness is seen as both NettletonMany 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 (private trouble and of much public concern. We investigate two main ways sociologists have addressed chronic illness: functionalism and interpretivism. The former includes analysis of the 'sick role' and the latter draws explicitly from Arthur Frank (1995) narratives 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 conceptualised 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 Class Presentation Continuous Assessment Project 40 % Week 6 1,2
2 Case Study Continuous Assessment Assessment 60 % End of Semester 3,4,5

Full Time Mode Workload

Type Location Description Hours Frequency Avg Workload
Lecture Flat Classroom Lecture 2 Weekly 2.00
Total Full Time Average Weekly Learner Contact Time 2.00 Hours

Module Resources

Non ISBN Literary Resources

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

Davis-Floyd, R. (1992) Birth as an American Rite of Passage. Berkeley: University of California Press 

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

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 

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

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

Palmer, G. (2009) The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad for Business. London: Pinter and Martin 

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

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

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

Other Resources

Sociology of Health and Illness (Journal)

Gender & Society (Journal)

Additional Information

Detailed Readings will be indicated in class