Skip to main content

What is unique about a social science focused MA in global health?

Effective global health policy, research, and practice calls for a dual perspective that brings together the public health sciences with the interdisciplinary study of society, culture, relationships, and experience—a view that moves beyond biomedical definitions of health and disease to include local understandings and considerations of how broader contexts and determinants shape illness and wellbeing. A social science emphasis can be qualitative or quantitative (or mixed) and be exploratory, conceptual, or empirical. Many social science-oriented global health researchers use participatory and community-based methods and they advocate for and empower vulnerable or oppressed communities to speak out or make changes (see Greenhalgh 2018). This is a human-centered approach—a paradigm that places people at the core of global health inquiries.

There is a paradox in global health. Successful community health programs require locally informed solutions, not a global one-size-fits-all magic bullet. Social science trained global health professionals have the theories and methods needed to help planners, policymakers, researchers, and healthcare providers interpret how culture, social structures, political-economic forces, and globalization shape vulnerability, experiences of illness and healing, and how people understand health services. Besides attending to local perspectives, expectations, and concerns, a social science approach can, for example, attend to:

  • Risk perceptions and illness experiences
  • The role of ethnicity, gender, and social class
  • Marginalized, oppressed, and discriminated populations
  • Caregiving practices and help-seeking behaviors
  • The accessibility of services
  • The movement of people and resources
  • Inequalities
  • The legacies of colonialism and other historical forces and events
  • Structural violence and social suffering
  • Political discourses
  • The impact of loans, policies, conditionalities, conflict, and trade on health
  • The assumptions shaping policies and practices
  • The unintended consequences of interventions and policies
  • How representations can stigmatize people and shape healthcare access

Want to learn more? 
What Have the Social Sciences Ever Done for Equity in Health Policy and Health Systems? (Greenhalgh 2018)

Global Health: Why Cultural Perceptions, Social Representations, and Biopolitics Matter (Nichter 2008)

Reimagining Global Health: An Introduction (Farmer, Kleinman, Kim, Basilico 2013)