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School of Environment, Education and Development

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BA Geography with International Study
Combine a degree from one of the world's top ten schools for geography with a year abroad.

BA Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Social Constructions of Health and Disease

Unit code GEOG30451
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes

Overview

The way that a society responds to both diseases and health disorders reflects its fundamental socio-cultural, political and ‘moral’ values and, in this way, many diseases can be said to be ‘socially constructed’. This course examines the varied ways in which health and diseases have been socially constructed in order to develop a better understanding of different societies. The course will be divided into two sections:

Part I: Representations of Health, Illness and Disease: The first part of the course looks at how we ‘make sense’ of health, illness and disease by considering the representations of medicine, illness and disease in popular culture and the media. We will explore the iconography of illness and disease and ‘Illness as metaphor’ in an attempt to construct a ‘post-medical’ medical geography.

Part II: The Body and Disease: A number of conditions are explored to reveal a wider understanding of society and the ways that people construct ‘knowledge’ and ‘awareness’. In particular, we will look at the ‘addicted’ body (alcohol and drugs), the ‘deviant’ body (eating disorders; schizophrenia and psychiatric disorders) and the ‘sexual’ body (Sexually Transmitted Infections including HIV/AIDS). In each case, we can explore the ways in which the social constructions of these conditions reflect broader issues of power, exclusion and identity.

 

Aims

  • to examine the ways in which our understanding of diseases and health disorders are socially constructed in both time and space
  • to explore the social constructions of health and disease in order to gain a better understanding of society
  • to consider the ways in which health policy is formulated in light of social, cultural and political values
  • to develop an awareness of how social constructionist approaches can be applied to a range of different contexts
  • to develop skills including critical thinking, written and oral presentation skills, information handling skills, teamwork, self-awareness and empathy.

 

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course unit, you should be able to:

  • recognise and appreciate the validity of alternative explanations of understandings of health in both social, spatial and temporal contexts
  • collect, interpret and analyse a wide range of different kinds of geographical evidence including texts and images to show how our representations of diseases and other health disorders are socially constructed
  • appreciate the ways in which geographical knowledge and ideas are socially constructed in both space and time
  • think critically and laterally about ideas in geography and in the wider social environment

Syllabus

The way that a society responds to both diseases and health disorders reflects its fundamental socio-cultural, political and ‘moral’ values and, in this way, many diseases can be said to be ‘socially constructed’. This course examines the varied ways in which health and diseases have been socially constructed in order to develop a better understanding of different societies. The course will be divided into two sections:

Part I: Representations of Health, Illness and Disease: The first part of the course looks at how we ‘make sense’ of health, illness and disease by considering the representations of medicine, illness and disease in popular culture and the media. We will explore the iconography of illness and disease and ‘Illness as metaphor’ in an attempt to construct a ‘post-medical’ medical geography.

Part II: The Body and Disease: A number of conditions are explored to reveal a wider understanding of society and the ways that people construct ‘knowledge’ and ‘awareness’. In particular, we will look at the ‘addicted’ body (alcohol and drugs), the ‘deviant’ body (eating disorders; schizophrenia and psychiatric disorders) and the ‘sexual’ body (Sexually Transmitted Infections including HIV/AIDS). In each case, we can explore the ways in which the social constructions of these conditions reflect broader issues of power, exclusion and identity.

Teaching and learning methods

The course unit will be delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars. Each of the teaching weeks will involve both a two hour lecture and a one hour seminar, including debates, discussions and DVDs. You will be required to undertake work in both peer study groups and individually outside of lectures. A high level of active involvement is required by all students who take this course unit.   You will be asked to reflect on your own experiences and understandings of disease and be expected to make links between that knowledge and the academic literature.  

Lecture slides, reading lists and other materials to support the course will be available through the Blackboard pages. You will be expected to contribute to online discussions via Blackboard.

Seminars will include student-led discussions of readings, practical exercises, debates and exam/coursework preparation. Students will be expected to read at least two papers per week for these discussions and to present their thoughts and reflections on these papers at the weekly seminar; student-led discussions of policy documents or media sources related to health issues; or the showing of a film relevant to the course themes.

 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

During this course unit, you will be encouraged to develop the following abilities and skills:

  • critical thinking, reflection, self-awareness and an ability to take responsibility for your own learning
  • information handling skills, evaluation and analysis of different kinds of evidence,
  • an ability to assess the merits of contrasting theories, explanations and their policy implications
  • an ability to develop, articulate and sustain logical, structured and reasoned arguments in both written and oral contexts;
  • self management, time management and an ability to take responsibility for your own learning
  • an awareness of your responsibility as a local, national and international citizen and an interest in lifelong learning.

Assessment methods

This course unit will be examined by a two hour examination (67%) and piece of coursework (33%) completed during the semester. The coursework takes the form of a 2500-word essay in which you ‘Suggest how the representations of a disease (or health-related condition) reflect wider socio-cultural values within a particular society’. This coursework will require skills in critical thinking, reflection, information handling, evaluation and analysis of different kinds of evidence and an ability to assess the merits of contrasting theories and explanations. Your coursework should demonstrate independent study and your skills and abilities in developing, articulating and sustaining a logical, structured and reasoned argument.

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided in the following ways during this course unit:

  • During seminar discussion sessions, verbal feedback will be provided on critical reading and understanding
  • Verbal feedback will be provided through Q&A, discussion and interactive activities within lectures, along with discussion of video clips and web resources
  • Written feedback will be provided on the coursework essay
  • Written and verbal feedback on a mid-term examination (formative assessment)
  • Verbal feedback will be provided on any course unit issue through consultation hours and in seminars

Recommended reading

Gesler, W.M. & Kearns, R.A. (2002) Culture/Place/Health. London: Routledge.

Gilman, S.L. (1988) Disease and Representation: Images of Illness from Madness to AIDS: Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Kearns, R.A. (1993) ‘Place and Health: Towards a Reformed Medical Geography’, Professional Geographer, 45, 139-47.

Lupton, D. (2012) Medicine as Culture: Illness, Disease and The Body in Western Societies. London: Sage [3rd Edition].

Smyth, F. (2005) ‘Medical Geography: therapeutic places, spaces and networks’, Progress in Human Geography, 29(4), 488-95.

 

Useful web resources

  • World Health Organisation http://www.who.int/
  • United Nations http://www.un.org/esa
  • Department of Health http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/index.htm
  • Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/

 

Key Journals

Health and Place,

Social Science and Medicine,

Sociology of Health and Illness

 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Independent study hours
Independent study 168

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Fiona Smyth Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Timetable
Comprises of Lectures and Seminars. Please refer to course content information for further details.

Timetable TBC

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