Study-Unit Description

Study-Unit Description


TITLE The Body, Medicine and Health

LEVEL 05 - Postgraduate Modular Diploma or Degree Course



DESCRIPTION The study-unit will be divided into three topic clusters:

• The first part will offer a critical exploration of what it means ‘to be and to have a body’. This will focus, initially, on Descartes’s 'Cogito' as the foundational conceptual theory at the root of mind–body dualism within which much biomedical discourse is rooted. Merleau Ponty’s phenomenological concept of the ‘Lived body’ will then lead the way to exploring the relational, dynamic concept of embodiment, the ‘dys-appearing ‘ body (Drew Leder ) and reflexive embodiment (Nick Crossley).

• The second part of the study-unit focuses on the relationship between body, mind and culture. It aims to provide an introduction on the sociological and anthropological literature related to the body. By questioning the idea of the human body as a mere natural and biological object, it will be possible to understand the differences through which: (i) bodies are understood, perceived and experienced differently from one socio-cultural context to another (ii) bodies are treated and healed by different medical traditions around the globe.

• The third section will adopt a genealogical and social constructionist approach to the body, medicine and health. It will analyse the historically developing presuppositions, knowledge, practices and institutional relations that, over time, have structured medical practices and carved out the realm of normality. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s work on the birth of modern medicine, itself influenced by Georges Canguilhem’s work on normality and the pathological, and contemporary applications of it (Ian Hacking, Nikolas Rose), students will be guided through an analysis of the social and power dynamics of the “medical gaze”, the doctor-patient relationship, the social construction of the healthy and ill body, and biopower.

Study-unit Aims:

• To engage critically with ontological concepts of the mind/body and embodiment and to situate these within contemporary understandings of health and Illness;
• To offer an understanding of the body as more than a natural, biological and universal object;
• To explore the relation between body and culture;
• To explore the relation between different medical traditions and socio-cultural expectations towards the body;
• To critically understand how medical knowledge and practice is a powerful social activity that shapes and structures the government of life.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• apply and discuss the impact of mind-body dualism on the practice of medicine and use the concept of the lived body to focus on the lived experience of illness;
• discuss the relation between body and culture, and apply this to exploring different medical traditions and socio-cultural expectations towards the body;
• critically appraise power dynamics rooted in medical discourse, and identify and discuss practices of ''biopower' within contemporary medical settings and public health campaigns.

2. Skills
By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

• think critically about contemporary social issues and use classical/contemporary theory to address them;
• use online and library resources selectively and critically to augment study-unit material, navigate with confidence through online resources and understand how to distinguish between generic web sites and serious academic and professional tools;
• contribute effectively and confidently during focused group discussions, using logical arguments and applying the relevant theories;
• present a reasoned and well structured assignment on a set topic using recognized citation and referencing methods effectively and consistently;
• deliver a presentation of a set topic , working as a member of a team and using IT tools effectively.

All of these skills are transferable and will prove useful to students in a variety of fields.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:


- CROSSLEY, N., 2001. The social body: Habit, identity and desire. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage.
- SHILLING, C., 2012. The body and social theory. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage.
- LUPTON, D., 2012. Medicine as culture: Illness, disease and the body. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage.
- FOUCAULT, M., 2012. The birth of the clinic. New York: Routledge.
- FOUCAULT , M., 1977. “Part 3: Discipline,” in Discipline and Punish (New York: Vintage Books, 1995 [1975]), 135-194.


- CANGUILHEM, G., 2012. On the Normal and the Pathological .New York: Zone Books.
- FOUCAULT , M., 2014 ‘The politics of health in the eighteenth century,’ Foucault Studies Vol. 18 (2014): 113-127.
- GUTTING, G., 1989. ‘Clinical Medicine’ in Michel Foucault's archaeology of scientific reason: Science and the history of reason. Cambridge University Press pp. 111- 138.
- ROSE, N., 2009. The politics of life itself: Biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the twenty-first century. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.
- CROSSLEY, N., 2001. The phenomenological habitus and its construction. Theory and society, 30(1), pp. 81-120.
- LEDER, D., 1990. The absent body. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.
- WILLIAMS, S.J., 2003. Medicine and the Body. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: SAGE Publications.

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Lecture, Independent Study, Seminar and Tutorial

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation (20 Minutes) Yes 30%
Assignment Yes 70%

Gillian M. Martin (Co-ord.)
Gisella Orsini
Raymond Zammit

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the description above applies to study-units available during the academic year 2021/2. It may be subject to change in subsequent years.