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Health and Society

H S 301 • Intro To Health & Society

29535 • Palmo, Nina
Meets TTH 12:30PM-2:00PM WCH 1.120
CD SB (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 340 • Cancerland

29545 • Osbakken, Stephanie
Meets TTH 9:30AM-11:00AM BUR 214
CDWr (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 • Valuing Mental Health

29550 • Cousins, Kurt
Meets T 5:00PM-8:00PM RLP 0.108
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Please check back for updates.

H S 341 • Health And Justice

29555-29565 • Smith, Nicole
Meets MW 11:00AM-12:00PM PAR 201
(also listed as PHL 325J)
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Mass disparities exist in the health of humans across the globe. It may seem obvious from a moral point of view that if we can do something to alleviate the global and local disparities in health and access to healthcare, that we should do something about it. Once we scratch the surface of this apparent truism, however, we find a number of assumptions in need of defense. What would ground such an obligation after all? Do humans have a right to health? If so, do they also have a right to healthcare? It may seem that these two concepts are intertwined, but consider an analogy. Someone’s right to life makes it impermissible to kill that person (unless you would be justified in doing so, say, in a case of genuine self-defense). Nevertheless, the right to life plausibly does not entail that you are obligated to protect or preserve the life of everyone who has such a right. Similarly, if humans have a right to health, then it would be impermissible to undermine their health. But it is a different question whether individual’s are obligated to protect and preserve the health of others by, for example, ensuring their access to healthcare. The course will evaluate rights-based arguments, among others, that aim to show the injustice of current disparities in health. Proponents contend that we do have a moral obligation to secure health and access to healthcare across racial, gender, socio-economic, as well as national boundaries.

H S 378 • Seminar In Health & Society

29575 • Palmo, Nina
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM GAR 2.128
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Please cconsult with the academic advisor for more information.

H S 378 • Seminar In Health & Society

29580 • Swearingen, William
Meets M 3:00PM-6:00PM RLP 1.102
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Please cconsult with the academic advisor for more information.

H S 378 • Seminar In Health & Society

29570 • Osbakken, Stephanie
Meets TTH 11:00AM-12:30PM BUR 214
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Please cconsult with the academic advisor for more information.