School of Social and Political Science

Sociology of Medicine


From the moment we are conceived to the time of our death, medicine plays a profound role in all of our lives. But how should we understand ‘medicine’ as a domain that has become so ubiquitous in the modern world? And how might social scientists study it?

We will explore the complex ways that medicine as professional practice, a system of knowledge, and a form of power, is shaped by and in turn shapes society. Focussing on seminal sociological studies of medicine; applied research and policy; key contemporary issues in biomedicine; the ‘pharmaceuticalisaton’ of society and the ethical consequences of new medical technologies we begin to critically engage with what medicine actually was, is and may become.

Students will be encouraged and supported to pursue their own interests. This will include a final essay on a topic of your own choice. In past years this has included: gambling and addiction; patient identities in relation to contested illness; prosthetics and bodily norms; disability and sexuality; digital technologies and the NHS; the role of the insurance industry in contemporary American healthcare.

Themes include:

  • Changing nature and role of medical professionals
  • Medicalization and (bio)medicalization of society
  • Experiences of health and illness
  • Interactions between patients and health professionals
  • Health social movements, patient organizations and activism
  • Emergence, regulation and consequences of new biotechnologies
  • Human enhancement, prosthetics and cyborgs

By the end of the course, you will have a good understanding of the historical context, core theoretical insights and practical application of sociological studies of Western scientific medicine. 

You will develop a critical appreciation of medicine that includes knowledge of how medicine has evolved and transformed over time, processes of medicalization, and (bio)medicalization, and the shifting challenges that traditional forms of medical power face, such as digital and biomedical technologies, health social movements and patient activism. 

In addition, you will learn how to interpret, evaluate, and use a wide range of different types of data, empirical material and arguments relating to the social dimensions of medicine, health and illness. 

You will be able to apply complex concepts and critical thinking to key contemporary issues and policy challenges pertaining to medicine

This is a level 10 course with 20 credits.

There will be 1 lecture and 1 tutorial per week in Semester 1.