This interdisciplinary program brings together insights from a wide variety of academic disciplines to explore human health through a Bachelor of Arts program focusing on social science and liberal arts approaches. In contrast to a natural science approach, it examines how health and disease are not just rooted in biology, but are also shaped by social and cultural influences.  

In the program, students examine how health is influenced by global, national, regional, and local forces. These forces include biocultural variation, sociocultural conceptions, social inequalities, political and economic processes, geospatial diversity, and planetary health. Marshalling scholarship from the social sciences and liberal arts, the program offers students the opportunity to learn how experts from different disciplines approach questions of health, healing practices, and health care. Students enrolled in the major or minor may go on to pursue careers in public health, global health, health care management, research, education, policy, advocacy, law, nonprofits, social entrepreneurship, industry, or other career areas.


Student Perspectives

  • Madison Shaffer

    A passion for equitable health care access lead to Fulbright

    “I’ve focused my education on inequity in any way that comes about, but the biggest issue for me is public health and the social conditions and determinants of health, and I think land is a really big part of that,” explains Madison Shaffer ’20, a graduating health and society major and recent Fulbright Research Award recipient to Malawi.

    Expanding on work she began while studying abroad in Kenya, Shaffer’s Fulbright research will explore gender inequities of land rights in Malawi—where, like in Kenya, legal efforts have been made in recent years to promote women’s land rights. Despite these policies, however, “There are still customary practices in place in these communities that override that legal language,” she says. In fact, around 70 percent of households in Malawi rely on women’s income from agricultural labor, but fewer than 20 percent of those households sit on land controlled by women who either work or live on it.

    “If you have access to an economic resource like land, you’re going to feel more empowered in your own health,” she says. In fact, everything from physical safety and mental health to food access can be tied to land ownership. To improve conditions for these women, Shaffer will focus on collecting their stories through interviews and questionnaires.

    “I want to see if women feel like they can access land, and if they can’t, what are the barriers that they have realized or experienced in their lives? If I can record that and piece it together, it would be helpful in moving discussions forward of more equitable land laws in Malawi and in other countries in Africa that are experiencing similar problems,” she says.

A Social Science Perspective on Health

As a complement to STEM's approaches to health in the natural sciences and to clinical approaches in applied health professions, the HSOC degree provides a critical social science perspective on health and healing in human populations. Social science adds deconstructionist, constructionist, and political economy frameworks to the picture. These frameworks point to clues for detecting the ways in which all knowledge, including scientific and clinical knowledge, is shaped by different perspectives, values, priorities, identities, cultural frameworks, social conventions, scientific paradigms, and social, political, and financial interests.

Health from a Social Science Perspective

Overall the curriculum emphasizes social determinants of health as an overarching framework to analyzing and understanding human health.

Social science frameworks:

  • give us insight into how health and healing are defined, perceived, and enacted in different ways depending on the cultural and/or social setting, and
  • help us to see how health and healing practices are influenced by historical legacies, cultural traditions, ecological settings, social institutions, political and economic systems, and geospatial entanglements, and 
  • allow us to examine how and why access to health and health care is often unevenly distributed along the lines of race, ethnicity, nationality, region, class, gender, age, and sexual orientation within and across populations.