Fall 2017 - SA 360 D100

Special Topics in Sociology and Anthropology (SA) (4)

Social Aspects of Health and Sickness

Class Number: 2580

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 5 – Dec 4, 2017: Wed, 1:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    SA 101 or 150 or 201W.



A seminar exploring a topic not regularly offered by the department.


We often think of “health” as an objective state that can be measured, described, and managed. However, the definition, social use, and experience of health (or non-health) has changed over time, and varies across cultures and spaces. Focusing on different ways of being “outside” of health, that is, being “unwell,” this course will introduce students to the interdisciplinary field of Social Studies in Health and Medicine, which combines historical, literary, and social scientific study of “health”-related phenomenon. This course is designed to help students incrementally build and logically develop solid research and writing skills, including: close reading of theoretical texts; analysis of different academic genres; explanation ad application of key concepts to contemporary problems; systematic use of internet to research contemporary problems.

The course will unfold in four segments:
1) Classic works on “unwellness,” including Talcott Parson’s formulation of the “sick role,” Arthur Kleinman’s distinction between “illness” and “disease,” Susan Sontag’s identification of disease metaphors. Additional lectures and readings in history of disease.  

2) Plagues and public health. Apparently, humanity has always been subject to waves of mass disease, even if the understanding and definition of the cause of disease changed. In the mid-20th century, the United Nations created the World Health Organization. In this section, we will explore the history of the WHO and ask how the management of global disease has changed over time, both in relationship to evolving scientific understanding of disease and in relationship to political processes. In particular, we will focus on the construction of entire regions or peoples as “unwell.” Students will identify a specific “global health” issue to research, applying a key term from section 1.  

3) Women’s health. In the 19th century, middle class women were expected to be fragile creatures susceptible to “hysteria,” a mental disorder linked to women’s reproductive capacity. While medicine (supposedly) became scientific in the 20th century, the fields of gynecology and psychiatry both continued to work from implicit ideas about women’s physical and mental inferiority. In the 1970s, the Second Wave feminist movement redefined women as intrinsically healthy, or “well women.” This section we will add elements from social movement theory to understand the role of social movements have played in shaping ideas of “wellness.” Knowledge foundation: social movement theory; history of gender categories; rise of professions.

4) Unwellness topic of choice: Working in small groups, or alone, will follow the procedures used in section 3 to develop a paper on an unwellness topic of their choosing. Students will present their first draft to class for feedback.  

This course uses novels (including graphic novels), ethnographies, and social theory to consider the context in which we experience “sickness and health.” In addition to mastering basic concepts in the history of medicine, the social study of health and illness, and social movement theory, students will have an opportunity to produce both conventional research papers and creative works.


  • Short skill-building assignments (x 6) 60%
  • Narrative assignment 20%
  • Research paper 20%


1) Short, skill-building assignments  60%  

a. Library skills assignment 10%
b. Key term explanation 10%
c. Historical research on global health history 10%
d. Identification of contemporary problem 10%
e. Literature review of research on contemporary problem 10%
f. TBD assignment 10%  

2) Narrative assignment  20%  
Students will write a short play, short story, or graphic novel based on materials they find in popular media about a type of unwellness. This is not an assignment about personal experience, and the text must show how a key concept is used in exploring the case.  

3) Research paper  20%  
Using the short assignments in (1), write a 12 page research paper.  

Where a final exam is scheduled and you do not write the exam or withdraw from the course before the deadline date, you will be assigned an N grade. Unless otherwise specified on the course outline, all other graded assignments in this course must be completed for a final grade other than N to be assigned.

Academic Dishonesty and Misconduct Policy:
The Department of Sociology and Anthropology follows SFU policy in relation to grading practices, grade appeals (Policy T 20.01) and academic dishonesty and misconduct procedures (S10.01‐ S10.04).  Unless otherwise informed by your instructor in writing, in graded written assignments you must cite the sources you rely on and include a bibliography/list of references, following an instructor-approved citation style.  It is the responsibility of students to inform themselves of the content of SFU policies available on the SFU website: http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student.html

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html