Health Policy/Health Activism

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses
Intermediate—Year

How does your race, class, gender, and where you live and work influence whether you get sick? Why does the United States spend more on health care than other countries, yet rank relatively low on many measures of good health? How likely is it that you will have access to health care when you need it? Can we make affordable health care available to more people? What do we mean by “public health”? What is the role of government in providing health care or managing the health of populations? In this course, we will investigate these questions directly and by studying health social movements. Health activists have not only advocated for particular diseases and research funding but also have sought to reduce stigma, uncover health disparities and environmental injustices, and democratize medical research. In the first semester, we will study examples of health social movements, the history of health-care reform, and the social basis of health disparities: how social inequalities such as race and class lead to unequal patterns of health and illness. In the spring semester, we will broadly consider health and health care as an economic and cultural system: interactions among hospitals, insurance companies, and the pharmaceutical industry; the influence of capitalism and profit seeking on our health and health care; and the complex history of public health as both a progressive agent of the social good and as a system of social control and differentiation. To illustrate these themes, we will examine debates over topics such as obesity, vaccination, and the ethics of medical research. Throughout the year, we will explore broad questions of social justice, inequalities, governance, activism, and the environment through the lens of health. Open to sophomores and above. Previous coursework in the social sciences is not required.