Social Science Perspectives in Public Health

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSGA2PH4044

Semester and Year Offered: I Semester

Course Coordinator and Team:N. Nakkeeran

Email of course



  • To explore the interdisciplinary space at the intersection of social sciences and public health to see how they get positioned with respect to each other.
  • To engage with social science concepts and perspectives to understand and illuminate social roots of health and illness in society
  • To provide an understanding on Indian society to explain systematic differentials in health status across groups and to explore the institutionalised socio-economic and cultural mechanisms that perpetuate such differentials.
  • To provide a social science understanding of how society inscribes onto public health structures, processes, issues and solutions
  • To make a reflexive critique on public health education & research in India in terms of social composition of its leadership and its relevance to the most marginalized.

Course Outcomes:On completion of this course students are expected to

  • Gain knowledge of selected concepts, theoretical perspectives and methodologies from social sciences that aids enhanced understanding of public health
  • Appreciate the role of social, political and economic factors in constituting health of individuals and groups
  • Relate structural inequalities to production and sustenance of systematic health disparities
  • Gain cultural sensitivity to health concerns of diverse social /cultural groups
  • Appreciate the use of social science principles while designing and conducting public health research or in designing, implementing and evaluating public health interventions
  • Gain a critical understanding of the relationship between state and its citizens with respect to public health
  • Relate learning in this course with learning demands in other related courses such as ‘Introduction to Public Health Research’, ‘Health behaviour, promotion and health communication’, ‘Public Health Nutrition and Food Security’, ‘Sanitation, Water and Environment’, and ‘Law and public health’

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

This course will start with a very brief introduction to different social science disciplines emphasizing their respective unique spaces as well as their convergence while dealing with an interdisciplinary field like public health. It will critically discuss the possible ways social science (and its concepts) get positioned vis-à-vis public health; either as social science in service of public health or social science orienting the latter.Concepts like ‘social determinants of health’ and ‘social determination of health’ will be unpacked through substantive discussions on distributional and recognition based disparities in the backdrop of caste, gender, political economy as well as with a reference to state, citizens and health as a right, with a special reference to Indian society.The course will also include a reflexive critique on public health education and research in India in terms of social composition of its leadership as well as its relevance to the most marginalized in the country.The course will be transacted in about four modules as explained below:

Module 1: Introduction – Social science disciplines and public health

Brief introduction to different social science disciplines emphasizing their respective unique spaces as well as their convergence in understanding public health as an interdisciplinary field; elementary concepts in social sciences will be introduced, particularly keeping students from non- social science background; introduction to key social science concepts as well as to concepts within sub-disciplines such as ‘medical sociology’, ‘medical anthropology’, ‘health sociology’ and understanding their relevance and limitations in public health context; discussing possible ways social science gets positioned vis-à-vis public health; for instance social science either in service of public health or social science orienting the latter; a critical appreciation of ‘Social determinants of health’, and ‘social determination of health’; commercial determinants of health.

Module 2: Key social science concepts, theoretical perspectives and methodological contributions

Introduction to key social sciences perspectives and relating them to the context of public health through specific examples – positivism, constructionism, interpretivism, critical theory and anti-foundationalism; epistemological basis of different research methods in public health; idea of variables and measurement in public heath – relevance and limitations

Module 3: Understanding Indian Society

Social hierarchy and power relations and its relevance to public health – caste, gender and economic stratification; ethnic diversity; features of Indian rural and urbanization in India; ‘community’ in India, nature of development and marginalization; state, citizen, political class and governance; culture and identity – Food culture, caste and occupational restrictions

Module 4: A reflexive critique on public health

A critique on public health education, research, movements in India in terms of their relevance to epidemiological reality of the country over the decades since 1940s; a similar engagement with public health education & research in India in terms of social composition of its leadership and its relevance to the most marginalized.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • A term paper on importance of social science understanding in public health (40%)
  • Review of a book (40%)
  • Class test on social science concepts (20%)

Reading List:

Module 1

  • Brown, P., (ed.) Perspectives in Medical Sociology, Waveland Press, 2000.
  • Brown, P., “Naming and Framing: The Social Construction of Diagnosis and Illness” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, (1995, Extra Issue: Forty Years of Medical Sociology: The State of the Art and Directions for the Future) 1995: 34-52.
  • Coreil, J., Dyer, KE., Social Science Contributions to Public Health: Overview, International Encyclopedia of Public Health, Second Edition, 2, 2017, 599–611
  • Harrison, M., and Pati, B., (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.
  • Inhorn, MC., “Medical Anthropology at the Intersections”, Medical Anthropology Quarterly , Sep., 2007, New Series, Vol. 21, No. 3 pp. 249-255
  • Jane, CR, “A reflection on medical anthropology and epidemiology” Medicine Anthropology Theory v.4, no. 2: 50–59; 2017,
  • Kickbusch, I., Allen, L., and Franz, C., “The commercial determinants of health”, The Lancet Global Health, Vol.4 (12):E895-E896
  • Kleinman, Arthur, The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and The Human Condition, Basic Books, 1988
  • Marmot, M.,(2005) “Social determinants of health inequalities”, Lancet; 365: 1099–104
  • McKeown, T., The Role of Medicine: Dream, Mirage or Nemesis? Oxford: Blackwell, 1979
  • Mialon, M., “An overview of the commercial determinants of health”, Globalization and Health (2020) 16:74
  • Paul, BD., “Social Science in Public Health”, American Journal of Public Health, 46(11): 1956:1390 -96. 10.2105/ajph.46.11.1390
  • Paul BD., “Anthropological Perspectives on Medicine and Public Health”, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, (Medicine and Society) Vol. 346 (March) 1963: pp. 34-43
  • Singer, M., Baer, HA, Long D., Pavlotski A., Chapter 1: Introduction to the Anthropology of Health in Introducing Medical Anthropology: A Discipline in Action, (3rd Edn) Rowman & Littlefield, 2019:1-34.
  • Strauss, R., and Clausen JA., “Health, Society, and Social Science”, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, (Medicine and Society) Vol.346 (March) 1963: pp. 1-8
  • Weiss, MG., "Cultural epidemiology: an introduction and overview”, Anthropology & Medicine, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2001: 5-29
  • Wilkinson R, Marmot M. The Solid Facts. Copenhagen: World Health Organization, 2003.
  • Nguyen, VK., Peschard, K., “Anthropology, Inequality, and Disease: A Review”, Annual Review of Anthropology, 2003, vol. 32:447–74 doi: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.32.061002.093412

Module 2

  • Abraham, T., The Chronicle of a Disease Foretold: Pandemic H1N1 and the Construction of a Global Health Security Threat, Political Studies: 2011, Vol. 59, 797–812¸ doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9248.2011.00925.x
  • Armstrong, D., The rise of surveillance medicine, Sociology of Health & Illness, Vol 17, No.3., 1995
  • Baer, HA., The Misconstruction of Critical Medical anthropology: A Response to a Cultural Constructivist Critique, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 44, no. 10. Pp. 1565-73, 1997
  • Berkman, LF., Glass T., Brissette, I., Seeman, TE., “From social integration to health: Durkheim in the new millennium” Social Science & Medicine 2000, Vol. 51: 843-57
  • Bordo, Susan R. (1989) “The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist Appropriation of Foucault”. In S. Bordo and A. Jaggar, eds. GenderlBodylKnowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
  • Bryan S. Turner, Medical Power and Social Knowledge, London: Sage, 1987
  • Burns JK. (2009) “Mental health and inequity: a human rights approach to inequality, discrimination, and mental disability”. Health Hum Rights 11(2):19–31.
  • Conrad, J., The Shifting Engines of Medicalization, Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2005, Vol 46 (March): 3–14
  • Crotty, M. (1998). The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process. Australia: Allen and Unwin. (Selected chapters)
  • Douglas, M., “Introduction” and “Powers and Dangers” in Purity and Danger An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo, Routledge, London, 1966: 1-6; 95-114.
  • Freund PES., McGuire MB., Podhurst LS., “Chapter 1: A Sociological Perspective on Health, Illness and the Body”, and “Chapter 6: The Social Meaning of Sickness” in Health, Illness, and the Social Body: A Critical Sociology, Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice- Hall, 2003: pp1-9; 125-45
  • Good, BJ., “Chapter 1: Medical anthropology and the problem of belief”, in Medicine, Rationality and Experience An Anthropological Perspective, Cambridge University Press, 1993: 1-24
  • Lambert, H., and McKevitt, C., Anthropology in Health Research: from qualitative methods to interdisciplinarity, BMJ, 325(July) 2002: 210-13.
  • 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
  • Mule N, Ross LE, Deeprose B, et al. (2009) “Promoting LGBT health and wellbeing through inclusive policy development” Int J Equity Health8:18.
  • Scott, S., The medicalisation of shyness: from social misfits to social fitness, Sociology of Health & Illness Vol. 28 No. 2 2006 pp. 133–153 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9566.2006.00485.x
  • Szreter, S., “Rethinking McKeown: The Relationship Between Public Health and Social Change”, American Journal of Public Health, May 2002, Vol 92, No. 5:722-25
  • Ware, NC., Christakis, NA., Kleinman, A., “An Anthropological Approach to Social Science Research on the Health Transition” in Lincoln C. Chen, Arthur Kleinman, and Norma C. Ware (Eds.) Advancing health in developing countries: the Role of Social Research, Auburn House, New York, 1992: 23-38.
  • Weiss MG (2008) Stigma and the Social Burden of Neglected Tropical Diseases. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 2(5): e237. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000237
  • Zola, IK, Bringing Our Bodies and Ourselves Back In: Reflections on a Past, Present, and Future "Medical Sociology”, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 1991, Vol. 32 (March):1-16.

Module 3

  • Acharya SS., (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.
  • Aloysius, G., “Caste in and above history”, Sociological Bulletin 48(1&2):1999
  • Addlakha R. (2008) “Disability, gender and society”, Indian J Gend Stud 15(2): 191–207.
  • Jodhka, SS., Caste in Contemporary India, Routledge, 2017. (Selected Chapters)
  • Menon, N., and Nigam, A., Power and Contestation: India since 1989, Zed books, London, 2007
  • Mosse, D., Caste and development: Contemporary perspectives on a structure of discrimination and advantage, World Development, 110(2018): 422-436
  • Swaroop. K., and Lee, J., “Caste and COVID-19: Notes on Sanitation in a Pandemic”, Economic & Political Weekly (March 27), 2021 vol LVI(13): 35-41.
  • Thapa, R., et al. “Caste Exclusion and Health Discrimination in South Asia: A Systematic Review” Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health 1–11, 2021,
  • Zurbrigg, S., Rakku’s Story: Structures of Ill-Health and the Source of Change, 1984, Bangalore (

Module 4

  • Amrith, S., “Aspects of Social History of Medicine: Political Culture of Health in India A Historical Perspective”, Economic and Political Weekly January 13, 2007:114-21
  • Arunachalam, N., “Does India perform medical research in areas where it is most needed?” National Medical Journal of India, Jan-Feb 1998;11(1):27-34.
  • Bangdiwala SI, Tucker JD, Zodpey SM, Griffiths S, Li L-M, Reddy KS, et al. Public health education in India and China: History, opportunities, and challenges. Public Health Rev 2011;33:204-24.
  • Brown, P. and Zavestoski, S., “Social movements in health: an introduction”, Sociology of Health & Illness Vol. 26 No. 6 2004: 679–694
  • Brown, TM., Fee, E., “Social Movements in Health”, Annu. Rev. Public Health 2014. 35:385–98
  • Dandona, L., Sivan, YS., Jyothi, MN., Udaya Bhaskar, VS., Dandona, R., The lack of public health research output from India, BMC Public Health, 2004 Nov 25;4:55. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-4-55.
  • Dobe, M. Public Health Education in India – Reforms or Revolution?. J Public Health Pol 37, 263–269 (2016).
  • George, S., Caste and Care: Is Indian Healthcare Delivery System Favourable for Dalits?, Working paper 350, The Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, 2015
  • Priya, R., Jain, A. and Sundararaman, T. (2010) Mapping Public Health Education in India: Institutions & Courses: A Survey Across Fifteen States, New Delhi: National Health Systems Resource Centre, NRHM, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India
  • Sharma, M., Bhatia, G. The voluntary community health movement in India: A strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. J Community Health 21, 453–464 (1996).
  • Shukla, A., Phadke, A., “Health Movement in India“,Health Action, Vol. 12, No. 12, December 1999, pp. 6-9,