Health and Society

H S 301 • Intro To Health & Society

29060 • Osbakken, Stephanie
Meets TTH 8:00AM-9:30AM SAC 1.402
(also listed as SOC 308S)
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The principle objective of H S 301/SOC 308S is to offer students a broad overview of health and society from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We will examine how social forces influence health and disease in U.S. society, including cultural, economic, and demographic considerations. We will explore why rates of disease vary among different populations and how cultural and structural inequalities shape access to healthcare and affect morbidity and mortality. How do economic factors, politics, public perceptions of morality, and historical biases against specific populations shape our modern-day understandings and experiences of health and illness? We will also examine how social forces shape the very definitions of health, illness, and disease categories, and thereby medical diagnoses and treatments. We will consider the social consequences of the commodification of healthcare and how new technologies are transforming our current healthcare system and the nature of the patient/physicianrelationship. Our course readings and discussions will help us address current bioethical controversies that continue to influence our beliefs about health and illness and shape our very understandings about human rights and personhood. This course is built around lectures (including guest lectures), class discussion, and film screenings and discussion.


By the end of this course, students will be able to:

• Analyze contemporary health issues from a variety of disciplinary and professional perspectives.

• Explain how social location, the media, and economic forces shape health behaviors and outcomes.

• Explain how social and cultural factors shape contemporary understandings and experiences of health and illness and death and dying in the U.S.

• Critically evaluate the assumptions, motives, and evidence that individuals and groups use to make specific claims about health and illness.


Gawande, Atul. 2014. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York:Metropolitan.

Marmot, Michael. 2005. The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health and Longevity. New York: Holt.

Course readings also include scholarly articles, book chapters, and other required readings available on Canvas.


This course is organized in a lecture format, but it is greatly enhanced by your participation. For variety’s sake, I will often incorporate short video-clips, group activities, and/or writing exercises in our class session. We will also spend considerable time each week discussing the readings and our own experiences, interests, and knowledge in this area. Please remember that discussions will only be as rich as you all make them, so it is essential that everyone come prepared to speak about the readings thoughtfully and critically. Your final evaluation for the course will be broken down as follows:

Attendance and Preparedness (10%)

Students are expected to attend class, read assignments before each class, and actively participate in classroom discussions during the week. Eight times during the semester the instructor will have students sign in on a class roster or complete a group assignment in the first few minutes of class. Students will be granted one unexcused absence with no penalty. If you have a university-related conflict or medical or family emergency that prevents you from attending class, alert your TA (providing relevant documentation) and you will not be penalized for a particular absence, but you must contact your TA in advance of missing class. NOTE: Tardiness will adversely affect your grade; students who arrive late risk missing this activity or sign-in sheet and will not be allowed to receive credit for the day.

Reading responses (10%)

Students are expected to keep up with the reading for the class. Six times during the course of the semester, I will pose a reading question on the course Canvas page relevant to recent reading. The questions will be posted on Sunday evening and students are expected to write a reading response of one page, double-spaced (between 250 and 350 words) and upload a copy to the Canvas page by 5pm on the Thursday that they are due. Responses will be graded as meets/exceeds expectations (100), meets minimum expectations (70), no credit (0). See course schedule for Reading Responses (marked RR).

Exams (60%)

Two exams (worth 30% each) will be given to assess your level of mastery of the course material, including assigned readings, lectures (including guest lectures), and in-class films and other media presentations. . Both exams will be a combination of multiple choice, true-false, fill-in-theblank, short answer, or short essay items.

Essay (20%)

Students are required to write one of two essay assignments offered during the term. The paper will be approximately 5 pages in length (not to exceed 6 double-spaced pages), and will answer a specific prompt related to course topics. Specific assignments will be posted to Canvas on the dates indicated below. Papers are due in class; electronic submissions of papers will NOT be  accepted. Due dates are firm. Five points will be deducted each day the paper is late, but papers will not be accepted if they are more than five days late. Late papers cannot be emailed or posted to Canvas, so it a student’s responsibility to submit a hard copy of his/her paper to the appropriate TA.


H S 310P • Physical Activity/Society

29065 • Twito, Samuel
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM RLP 0.112
(also listed as SOC 302P)
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The principle objective of Physical Activity in Society is to understand the way in which people are physically active in a social context - primarily in the United States.  We will examine how social forces influence physical activity including cultural, economic, historical, and demographic considerations.  The course examines physical activity on both the individual- and population-levels to better understand benefits and barriers to activity through the social context.


By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Analyze contemporary issues in physical activity from a variety of disciplinary and professional perspectives. 
  • Understand physical activity on both the personal/individual level as well as the population level.
  • Critically evaluate (and convey through writing) the assumptions, motives, and evidence that individuals and groups use in discussing physical activity. 
  • Use autoethnography to understand contemporary issues.


A reading schedule and associated assignments (see next section) is available on Canvas via weekly modules (including articles).  There is no required textbook for the course, but required articles can be purchased in a coursepack if students wish.

[See the preliminary reading list at the end of this document]


This course is organized in both lecture and discussion formats. We will spend considerable time each week discussing the readings and our own related experiences, interests, and knowledge in this area.  Please remember that discussions will only be as rich as you all make them, so it is essential that everyone come prepared to speak about the readings thoughtfully and critically. Specific details on assignments (including rubrics) are available on Canvas.  Your course grade will be broken down as follows:

Class Preparedness (10%) 

Weekly reading checks will be due on Canvas 24 hours before class time.  These responses will cover class readings for that week.  They include two parts: 1) an open-book short reading comprehension quiz (one multiple-choice question per reading) and 2) a discussion question you will post about each reading.  You will receive credit for correct multiple-choice answers and for submitting your discussion questions.  This both serves to help orient you in the material as well as guide how I structure our lecture and discussions that week.

Short Exams (20% - 2 x 10% each)

Two short exams will be given throughout the semester.  They will cover reading and lecture material for the first and second half of the course.

Physical Activity Autoethnography Semester Project (70%)

Our class is built around analysis of physical activity in society through participant observation and reflection (in the form of an autoethnography).  You are required to participate in any physical activity of your choice (with my approval) at least twice a week for the duration of the semester and keep an electronic journal (shareable through Google Drive) of your experiences.  This activity can be done alone, with friends or classmates, but your analysis must be your own. 

Throughout the semester, we will introduce small assignments that focus on specific elements of the activity with an emphasis on critical critique of the activity (e.g. who participates, how is knowledge created and accessed, how is the activity represented historically and currently, etc.).  Furthermore, small assignments and the overall project should reflect an understanding of how your chosen activity is experienced across many people (the population and society) as well as how you or another individual experiences the activity.  Finally, you will assess yourself physically both objectively and subjectively at the start and end of the semester.

I will periodically check in on your journal and these small assignments to see how you are progressing.  Only the final report will be graded.  A hard copy of the final report is due one week from the end of class.  The last class days will be an opportunity for you to present your experience and findings to your peers.

Overall semester averages will earn the following letter grades:

93-100:  A                   90-92.9:  A-

87-89.9:   B+               83-86.9:  B                  80-82.9:  B-

77-79.9:   C+               73-76.9:  C                  70-72.9:  C-

67-69.9:   D+              63-66.9:  D                  60-62.9:  D-                0-59.9:  F

 Course grades will be assigned strictly according to this scale, rounded to the tenth place (so 92.7 earns an A-, not an A; 89.9 earns a B+, not an A-).


H S 340 • Cancerland

29075 • Osbakken, Stephanie
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM BUR 214
(also listed as SOC 320C)
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Course Description 

This course will allow students to explore the social and cultural terrain of cancer research, treatment, and public policy in the United States.  We will begin the course by asking, “what is cancer,” and what shapes our collective understandings of it as a disease in American society?  As we begin our exploration, we will read historical accounts of cancer, review epidemiologic and demographic data, and consult biomedical and oncological frameworks to set the stage for our social scientific investigation.   

 We will then consider how social, cultural, economic, and political forces shape the incidence and prevalence of cancer, as well as how these social forces shape research, diagnosis, and treatment of various manifestations of this disease.  To this end, we will spend several weeks exploring how the social determinants of health influence cancer in society.  How do race/ethnicity, social class, gender, and sexuality shape our collective conversations about cancer, individual and group cancer risk, cancer research agendas, and individual experiences of cancer diagnosis and treatment?  We will also consider how the broader forces of environmental deregulation and economic inequality exacerbate cancer risk for different individuals and groups.

At the same time, research continues to show that lifestyle factors and behavioral choices shape cancer risk across socio-demographic groups in the United States. How does stress increase one’s risk for cancer, and what dietary and exercise choices help reduce one’s risk of cancer?  We will explore these questions from a sociological perspective, ever mindful of the structural constraints that make healthy choices easier for certain demographic groups.  

 Next, we will investigate how cultural ideas and social norms shape our understanding of different cancer diagnoses, treatment options, and the experience of cancer.  We will examine how the politicization of health care in contemporary society shapes our understandings of cancer and cancer treatment. Specifically we will consider how cervical cancer prevention efforts have been politicized in the HPV vaccine debates and how defunding Planned Parenthood would have effect of decreasing access to routine cancer screenings for many poor and minority women.  

 We will conclude the class by exploring how a cancer diagnosis shapes one’s identity or sense of self by considering how the newly diagnosed experience the “sick role” both in biomedical arenas and in their social circles.   By the end of the course, students will not only be well versed in recent cancer scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, but they will also be well prepared to ask and answer their own social research questions about cancer and other medical conditions as they pursue their scholarly interests in the health sciences. 


Attendance (5%)

Attendance is mandatory in a discussion-based, writing intensive class. You can miss two classes without penalty during the term. Absences #3, #4 will result in a 10-point deduction from this portion of your grade and a loss of participation points for the day. For absences #5 and beyond, I will deduct 10 points from your final course grade for each additional absence.

Participation in Class (20%)

Students are expected to have read all assigned readings before each class period and participate actively and respectfully in class. Students are also required to post two discussion questions to Canvas each week on weeks when readings are assigned. 

Leading Discussion (10%)

Students will be asked to co-facilitate a discussion once during the semester.

Short Writing Assignment (5%)

Students will write a 2-3 page (double spaced) short paper as a response to a cancer-related news article, drawing on specific sources assigned for the course. 

Paper #1 First draft (15%)

Students will write a 5-6 page paper (double-spaced) that applies course concepts and theories to

an analysis of a specific social or cultural issue relating to cancer research or treatment.

Peer Review Reports (5%)

Paper #1 Revised Draft (20%)

Paper # 2 (20%)

Students will write a 5-6 page paper (double-spaced) that applies course concepts and theories to a social or cultural issue relating to the experience of cancer. 




H S 340 • Climate Change And Health

29070 • Swearingen, William
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM RLM 5.126
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Please check back for updates.

H S 340 • Economic Sociology Of Hlth

29080 • Palmo, Nina
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM RLP 0.104
(also listed as SOC 322J)
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This course provides a look at the economics of health and health care through a sociological lens. In neoclassical economics, rational behavior and market transactions provide an efficient allocation of goods and services. From a sociological perspective, markets are social institutions that are shaped by the cultural, political, and historical environments in which they operate.   This course will examine how the multidimensional nature and distribution of health and health care are shaped by a variety of social and economic factors. Throughout the course, students will gain an understanding of the power of incentives, markets, and cost-benefit analysis, as well as the limits of these tools, in creating effective health care policy.     The first part of the course will examine how social environment shapes health and health behaviors and how health disparities are viewed from sociological and economic standpoints. The second part of the course will focus on the institutions that regulate access to health care and the historical developments that led to these arrangements.   Topics include:   - Gender, race, and class differences in health - The creation and reproduction of health disparities - Health behavior and externalities - The demand and supply of health care - Moral hazard, adverse selection, and health care insurance - Health insurance and the labor market - Problems of uninsurance - History of health care reform - Comparative health policies.

H S 378 • Seminar In Health & Society

29095 • Palmo, Nina
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM RLP 0.106
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Please cconsult with the academic advisor for more information.

H S 378 • Seminar In Health & Society

29105 • Osbakken, Stephanie
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM BUR 214
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Please cconsult with the academic advisor for more information.

H S 378 • Seminar In Health & Society

29100 • Swearingen, William
Meets M 3:00PM-6:00PM BUR 214
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Please cconsult with the academic advisor for more information.