This course teaches some key social scientific tools, and considers their use as applied to contemporary public health issues, with a particular focus on surveillance and global health. We will consider social scientific research on a selection of topics such as medicalisation, public understandings of disease and contagion, risk, infectious disease surveillance and preparedness, transformations in digital epidemiology, empowerment and health equity as well as biosecurity and biodefence.

In examining this research we will be identifying some of the different (and sometimes competing) theories of power, risk, globalisation and embodiment being employed by medical sociologists and anthropologists. We will be examining what social science can contribute to key debates in public health and health governance.

This six-unit course can be taken as an elective towards the Master of Health Leadership and Management, the Masters of Public Health and the Masters of Global Health programs, and is one of the nominated courses for those studying for the specialisations in Health Promotion, International Public Health and Infectious Diseases. It is the stream defining course for the MPH plan in Social Research.

Mode of study

External (Distance) and Internal (Face-to-Face) classes on campus

Key contact

Assoc Prof Niamh Stephenson
Course Convenor
+61 (2) 9385 1281

Who should do this course?

We welcome students from any discipline and level of experience to contribute perspectives and understandings. In addition, we encourage you to engage with the material, ask questions, discuss relevant issues with teachers and colleagues, and regard the available literature with a critical eye.

Course outcomes

The overall aim of this course is to introduce you to the knowledge and skills required to understand and participate in applying current social science research and debates to public health and health governance issues.

This course is designed to enable you to:

  • identify and examine key debates in social scientific research on health
  • identify the implications of these debates for public health practice and research
  • develop a well-informed position on these debates
  • demonstrate an understanding of social and cultural research with relevance to public health and health governance practice and research.

Learning & teaching

You are probably already drawing on social science thinking and research in many different courses in the Masters in Public Health and/or Health Management and/or International Public Health and in your work in this field. This course provides you with the opportunity to critically engage with this important field of research. By gaining a deeper understanding of the issues and debates involved in the social sciences, you will be able to develop the implications of different theories for public health and health governance practice and research and to develop your own well-informed positions in these debates.

This course is taught as a series of seminars/webinars following lectures all of which focus on assigned readings. The teaching strategies are designed to facilitate the development of particular skills, including:

  • demonstrating your critical engagement with social research both in discussion and in writing (all assignments)
  • discussing your evaluations, interpretations and ideas with others (seminar participation)
  • discussing other people’s evaluations, interpretations and ideas with them (seminar participation)
  • selecting and analysing relevant literature in a way that explains the relevance and the development of your own position as you plan and write your essay (essay)
  • presenting and arguing your ideas and position (critical summary, presentation)
  • explaining the implications of your position for public health practice and research (essay).


Assessment Task 1 – Building seminar discussion
Weighting: 25%

Assessment Task 2 – Reflection on key reading
Weighting: 25%

Assessment Task 3 – Essay
Weighting: 50%

Readings & resources 

Learning resources for this course consist of the following:

  • course notes and readings
  • lecture notes (posted in Moodle)
  • lecture recordings (available in Moodle)
  • supplementary resources such as reading lists, videos, podcasts (available in Moodle).