MF9185 – Critical perspectives on health and disease

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Course content

Most researchers in the medical and health sciences focus on health and disease, either directly or indirectly. But what do these basic concepts mean and what do they entail?  Arguing that there is hardly a single answer to these questions, this course explores a variety of theories and perspectives on health, sickness, and suffering. Specifically, the course will critically examine the various ways in which human health and disease is understood and engaged with in medicine, biology, and epidemiology, as well as from historical, epistemological, anthropological and sociological perspectives.

The objective of the course is to make you able to view medical and health research in a broader perspective, see your research questions in new light, and add to your abilities to interpret data.

Learning outcome

This course will give you knowledge about

  • various conceptions, definitions and explanations of health and disease
  • historical perspectives on health and disease
  • power and knowledge related to health and disease
  • issues of equity and justice related to health and disease
  • critical perspectives on health governance
  • gendered perspectives on health and disease
  • minority perspectives on health and disease
  • critical perspectives on diagnoses and diagnostic systems
  • critical perspectives on evidence and clinical guidelines related to health and disease
  • anthropological and sociological perspectives on the body, health, and sickness

This course will give you skills to

  • identify and apply a range of perspectives in reflection on health and disease (and on basic concepts more generally)
  • consider own and others’ research questions and research undertakings in the light of critical theories
  • draw on critical perspectives when analysing and iterpreting data

General competence
This course will give you knowledge and skills that are helpful in

  • exercising theoretical reflexivity
  • planning research and analysing data
  • maintaining a critical attitude to established conceptions and paradigms in the life sciences and in health care


PhD candidates at UiO will have first priority at admission to this course.

PhD candidates admitted to a PhD programme at UiO apply in StudentWeb

Applicants who are not admitted to a PhD programme at UiO must apply for a right to study in SøknadsWeb before they can apply for PhD courses in medicine and health Sciences.


The course entails a mix of lectures, discussions, group work, and presentation of reflection notes.

You have to participate in at least 80 % of the teaching to be allowed to take the exam. Attendance will be registered.


Take-home course exam: write an essay that discusses your own research in the light of the perspectives discussed in the course. The essay should be between 7 and 10 pages and be submitted within 3 weeks of the end of the course. Use Times New Roman font size 12, line spacing 1.5).

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The exam paper is in English, but it is optional for the candidate to answer the exam in Norwegian or English

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a pass/fail scale. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Spring 2019


Every spring

Teaching language