Introduction to Health, Medicine and Society

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSGA1EL2024

Semester and Year Offered:III/IV Semester

Course Coordinator and Team:N. Nakkeeran

Email of course coordinator:


Aim:The course is expected to be interdisciplinary; drawing its core strengths from a range of social sciences disciplines in conjunction with the field of public health. The course will introduce key concepts around health, illness, disease, medicine and wellbeing and will try to emphasise how health and medicine in a society get inscribed and constituted by social institutions and processes. The course also will introduce to the students the key concerns around health in the country.

Course Outcomes:

  1. To understand ‘health and illness’ distinct from ‘medicine’
  2. To get introduced to the principal concerns around health in the country
  3. To provide an understanding on health that emphasises the role of social, political, economic and psychological factors in constituting health of individuals and groups
  4. To appreciate the role of culture, identity and power as individuals and groups experience and engage with medicine and health care systems.


Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

This course on ‘Introduction to Health, Medicine & Society’ is being introduced at the undergraduate level, juxtaposed with other social sciences courses, to open up this field for a wider and extensive exploration within social sciences education, with the hope that some of the these students would continue this exploration into their masters and higher degrees and meaningfully contribute to rearticulate the field of health in terms of theory and practice.

The course will be transacted in about four modules as explained below:

Module 1: Introduction to key concepts

In this module, key concepts around medicine, systems of medicine, illness, disease, wellbeing, care, healing, health equity, public health and the like will be introduced.

Module 2: Medicine and health

This module will especially focus on medicine as a concept and system of knowledge; its claim to explain and provide solutions to health and disease related aspects of human life and its limitations thereof.

Module 3: Social determination of health

Distributional aspect of health; factors, forces and processes that constitute differentials in health status and access to health care will discussed in this module. Health differentials across economic status, work, caste, gender, and regions/state will be highlighted.

Module 4: Meaning, experience and difference: health and medicine as lived experience

While the distribution based understanding of health focuses on ‘avoidable and unfair differentials’ with equity as the central thrust, a recognition based orientation focuses on cultural domination, non-recognition and the lived experience of stigma and discrimination.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Assessments 1 - 4: Class test of 15 marks each, a total of 4 such tests will be held, roughly once in three weeks. Questions in these will be from the compulsory readings meant for the respective module. This test will be for about 45 minutes each. This aims to make the students to devote time to the readings provided and develop a skill to read academic papers, reflect and review them (60%).
  • Assessment 5: An assignment expecting them to write an essay on a relevant topic / prepare poster / make a presentation (40%).


Reading List:

Module 1: Introduction to key concepts

  • Boyd, K.M., “Disease, illness, sickness, health, healing and wholeness: exploring some elusive concepts”, J Med Ethics: Medical Humanities 2000;26:9–17
  • Britten, N., “Patients' ideas about medicines: a qualitative study in a general practice population”, British Journal of General Practice, 1994, 44, 465-468.
  • Gilson, L., “Health Systems”, in Lucy Gilson (ed.) Health policy and systems research: A methodological reader, Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, WHO, 2012;23-6
  • Hofmann, Bjørn, “Disease, illness, and sickness” In The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Medicine Routledge,, Accessed on: 13 Apr 2019
  • Rovesti M, et al., “Health and Illness in History, Science and Society”, Open Access Maced J Med Sci. 2018 Jan 25; 6(1):163-165.
  • Seidlein, A.H., and Salloch, S., “Illness and disease: an empirical-ethical viewpoint”, BMC Medical Ethics 2019; 20:5


Module 2: Medicine and health

  • Colgrove, J. (2002) “The McKeown thesis: A historical controversy and its enduring influence”, American Journal of Public Health, 92, 5, pp. 725-729.
  • Das Gupta, Monica, “Public Health in India: Dangerous Neglect”, EPW, Dec, 3, 2005, 5159-65.
  • Helman, Cecil G., “Medicine and Culture: Limits of Biomedical Explanation”, Lancet 337(8749), May 4, 1991, pp. 1080-83
  • John, J., “Universal health care and nationwide public health: Tale of two declarations from one city”, Indian Journal of Medical Research, 134, Sep 2011, p.250-52
  • Link, B.G. & Phelan, J.C., “McKeown and the Idea That Social Conditions are Fundamental Causes of Disease”, American Journal of Public Health, May 2002, Vol 92, No. 5


Module 3: Social determination of health

  • Acharya S., (2010) “Caste and Pattern of Discrimination in Rural Public Health Care Services” in Thorat S and Katherine S Newman (eds.) Blocked by Caste-Economic Discrimination in Modern India. Oxford University Press, pp: 208-252.
  • Baru, Rama, (2003) “Privatisation of Health Services: A South Asian Perspective”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 38, No. 42 (Oct. 18-24), pp. 4433-4437
  • Carr, S., Unwin, N., & Pless-Mulloli, T. (2007). An Introduction to Public health and epidemiology, (Chapter 7:83-96) New York: OUP.
  • Harrison, M., and Pati, Biswamoy, (2009) “Social history of health and medicine: Colonial India”, in Biswamoy Pati and Mark Harrison (eds.) The Social History of Health and Medicine in Colonial India, Routledge: London, 1-14.
  • Marmot, M., (2005) “Social determinants of health inequalities”, Lancet; 365: 1099–104
  • Singer, M., (2004) “Social origins and expressions of illness”, British Medical Bulletin 69: 9–19 DOI: 10.1093/bmb/ldh016


Module 4: Meaning and experience of medicine, health and illness

  • Addlakha R. (2008) “Disability, gender and society”, Indian J Gend Stud 15(2): 191–207.
  • Burns JK. (2009) “Mental health and inequity: a human rights approach to inequality, discrimination, and mental disability”. Health Hum Rights 11(2):19–31.
  • Kleinman, A., (1985) “Interpreting Illness Experience and Clinical Meanings: How I See Clinically Applied Anthropology” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 3: 69-71 Accessed on 14-04-2019
  • Krieger, N., (2004) “Embodiment: a conceptual glossary for epidemiology” J Epidemiol Community Health, 59:350–355. doi: 10.1136/jech.2004.024562
  • Mule N, Ross LE, Deeprose B, et al. (2009) “Promoting LGBT health and wellbeing through inclusive policy development” Int J Equity Health8:18.
  • Synnott, A., and Howes, D., (1992) “From Measurement to Meaning. Anthropologies of the Body” Anthropos, Bd. 87, H. 1./3:pp. 147-166 Accessed on 14-04-2019


Additional references

  • Bryan S. Turner, (1987) Medical Power and Social Knowledge, London: Sage.
  • Freund P.E., et al., (1999) Health, Illness and the Social Body Englewood Cliffs, NJ: PrenticeHall.
  • Helman, Cecil G., “Disease versus illness in general practice”, Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners, September 1981, pp 548-51
  • Kleinman, Arthur, (1988) The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and The Human Condition, Basic Books.
  • Marmot M., Wilkinson R. G., (eds), (1999) Social Determinants of Health, Oxford: New York.
  • Marmot, M., Friel, S., Bell, R., Houweling, TAJ, and Taylor, T., (2008) “Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health”, Lancet 372: 1661–69
  • McKeown, T., The Role of Medicine: Dream, Mirage or Nemesis? Oxford: Blackwell, 1979
  • Paul, Benjamin (ed.) (1955) Health, Culture and Community: Case Studies of Public Reactions to Health Projects., New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
  • Tulchinsky, T.H., and Varavikova, E.A., “What is the ‘New Public Health’?”, Public Health Reviews, Vol. 32, No 1, 25-53
  • World Health Organisation, “Chapter one: Why do health systems matter?” The World Health Report 2000: Health Systems: Improving Performance, 2000;1-19.
  • World Health Organization (2001) The World Health Report: Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope. Geneva: WHO.