autumn 2020
HEL-3005 Society, Culture and Public Health - 10 ECTS

Application deadline

Applicants from Nordic countries: 1 June for the autumn semester.

Applicants from outside the Nordic countries: 15 April for the autumn semester.

Type of course

This course is mandatory for students at the Master's degree programme in Public Health. Course students may be admitted if total number of students do not exceed the regulated 30 number of students at the course.

Admission requirements

Admission criteria: The same as for the Master's programme in Public Health. See the programme page. Application Code: 9371 (Nordic applicants).

Course content

The course offers a theoretical framework for critical reflections of issues related to social and cultural aspects of health, illness, sickness and disease.

The main topics are:

  • What creates health and illness? Medical and social determinants of health, with a focus on social determinants of health, and how the health of the population is connected to social, political and material conditions.
  • Social and geographical inequalities in health, what they look like, why they emerge, and how they can be reduced.
  • Different perspectives on health and illness, including the relation between biomedical, cultural and experiential perspectives.
  • Cultural perspectives on health and illness, related to three dimensions: cross-cultural differences, historical differences and differences between lay and professional perceptions.
  • Modern western conceptions of health and illness and medicalisation: expressions, driving forces and implications.
  • The importance of cultural sensitivity in health-related work and  conceptions of health and illness in the indigenous Sami population.
  • Cultural understandings of professional knowledge and the practice of public health.

Objectives of the course

Knowledge and understanding

Students are expected to understand

  • how public health work builds on knowledge, assumptions and views about causes of diseases, and the role of the state in health promotion and disease prevention
  • how perspectives and theories from different scientific disciplines form the scientific basis of all public health related work
  • the relationship between culture, society and public health
  • social determinants that shape the health of a population
  • the relationship between health and society
  • socio-economic inequalities in health: what they look like, why they emerge, and how they can be reduced, and
  • the cultural dimension of health and illness and public health work.

Skills and competences

Students are expected to demonstrate ability to

  • reflect on public health issues on the basis of sociocultural perspectives, theories and explanations of health and illness
  • reflect on policy implications of different perspectives of health and illness
  • reflect on the culturally and historically contingency of conceptions of health and illness, and
  • to discuss public health issues on the basis of sociocultural perspective on health and illness.

General Proficiency

Students are expected to

  • obtain proficiency about how professional knowledge and clinical practice are influenced by the cultural context in which it is created and embedded; how all professional knowledge and practice of health professionals have normative elements, and why knowledge about the people and their culture is of vital importance for all who work with public health issues, and
  • develop respect for the intrinsic value of human beings, and tolerance for variations in human lifestyles.

Language of instruction and examination


Teaching methods

Lectures, video-presentations and organised group sessions during two 4 day long seminars, in addition to use of online learning management system. Attendance to lectures and seminars is mandatory. The lectures are given in English.


Obligatory assignment:

Home assignment (a written essay) on a given topic (2-3,000 words), written in English. The students will be given one week to write the home assignment. This paper is compulsory, and has to be written individually. The home assignment should be handed in online. The assignment will be graded as approved or not approved. Attendance to lectures and seminars is mandatory.


The final exam consists of an individual take home exam on a given topic. The writing time is 2 weeks and the text should not exceed 2500 words (excluding references). The exam is to be handed in online as specified in the exam text. Students must have delivered and gotten the obligatory assignment approved before taking the exam. Language: English. Grading scale: A-E equals passed, F equals failed.

If a student fails the course, an examination re-sit will be organised. Students with valid absence from the exam will be offered a re-scheduled examination. See examination regulations.

  • About the course
  • Campus: Tromsø |
  • ECTS: 10
  • Course code: HEL-3005
  • Tidligere år og semester for dette emnet