21A.215 | Spring 2012 | Undergraduate

Disease and Health: Culture, Society, and Ethics


First Written Assignment

7+ typed pages

Session 8: Topics discussed in class

Session 10: paper due

Session 12: paper returned

Session 14: Revision due

Many authors we’re reading in this course deal with the concept of disease as culturally constructed or socially produced. These concepts are briefly described in Hahn, pp. 77–8:

The culture of a society constructs the way societal members think and feel about sickness and healing. That is to say, the members of a society are taught by others about different sicknesses and their names, their characteristic symptoms and courses, their causes and mitigating circumstances, their cosmological and moral significance, and appropriate responses.

The metaphor of construction suggests that reality is a structure of ideas built by society through social interaction that may include informal as well as formal education. The reality constructed by society makes sense of the experience of sickness and healing to its members.

The social production of disease refers to all the ways in which beliefs and patterned relationships produce events of sickness1.

Choose an example that illustrates either the cultural construction or social production of a specific disease. The verbs that illustrate the main contrast between cultural construction and social production in the above text have been bolded. Social production analyzes disease happenings, events, behavior. Cultural construction analyzes ideas, beliefs, values, representations of and about disease.

You may choose a current example or a historical example.

Also tell us why you find this particular example especially worthy of analysis and discussion.

In addition to your argument, tell us how your analysis fits with, or departs from, a conventional biomedical understanding of the disease.

All papers must cite at least three outside sources. These can be scholarly journals and books, or newspapers and magazines. If you use Internet sources, make sure the sites chosen provide reliable and objective (i.e., unbiased) information. You may cite class readings as well, in addition to the outside sources. Try to read critically; looking for bias, missing information, or evidence that people interviewed are simply taken at their word.

You must adequately reference your sources; see note on plagiarism in the syllabus. Proper, comprehensive citation most definitely includes sources on the Web. Any text you use that is not written by you must be cited, no matter what form it comes in. If you have any questions about how to do this, see or write me.

Examples of cultural construction can be found in the Supplementary Reading section under that heading. Articles about social production can be found in Supplementary Reading as well; however they are also found under other headings.

A general rule: late papers are automatically marked down unless arrangements are made at least 24 hours before due date. An extension will be granted if the 24+ hour deadline is met and if you indicate the new due date.

The description of cultural construction in the Hahn reading is exactly what the assignment asks for. However, his discussion of social production and mediation has proved too complicated for students to work with. The definition of social production above includes both of Hahn’s concepts. It is basically an expanded notion of epidemiology—all of the social factors that produce incidents of disease (“disease events”). You know what epidemiology is—the study of disease rates in populations (and their causes). Social production looks at the social factors, as opposed to the biological/geological/meteorological, etc. ones.

1 “Social production” here is not identical to Hahn’s definition.

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Spring 2012
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