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Health Sociology Thematic Group

Aims and Objectives

The aims of the Sociology of Health Thematic Group are to:

  • support social and sociological research on health and medical issues
  • encourage and facilitate contact among academics and others researching in the field
  • encourage submission of papers to TASA conferences and HSR
  • provide an avenue for researchers to have draft papers informally reviewed by members
  • encourage postgraduate interest in the field of the sociology of health

Year established:

The Health Section of TASA was first established in 1967. It was known as the Medical Sociology Section, at a time when the national association was known as SAANZ (the Sociological Association of Australia and New Zealand). It was the first specialty section formed. You can read more on its history here.


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Past Events
Past Events

2021 Hope and Empathy in Uncertain Times (28-29 October 2021)

For information on this event, click on the orange button below:

Click here

2019 TASA Health Day Data, Technology and Sociology in the Age of Digital Health
Friday 29th November 2019, Western Sydney University (Paramatta)

The evolving landscape of digital health is of critical sociological importance. Technological advancement and datafication are rooted in the practices and organisation of health and care in contemporary society. Medical and health promotion rhetoric pushes the promise and benefits of these developments to health consumers and systems – including increased healthcare efficiencies, precision and ‘user engagement’. Sociologists however have drawn attention to significant issues of data misuse, privacy, surveillance, discrimination and responsibilisation.

We invite researchers and practitioners from sociology and affiliated disciplines to a critical discussion on emerging innovations, challenges and new directions for research, centring how sociological approaches to digital health can be mobilised for real-world impact.

Invited Speakers include Professor Alan Petersen, Professor of Sociology, Monash University, and Professor Deborah Lupton, SHARP Professor, UNSW, Sydney. Professor Petersen is an internationally renowned health sociologist at the forefront of debate about the development and use of health technologies and digital media. Professor Lupton is a leading international sociologist in critical digital health studies and understanding the more-than-human worlds of digital health. The day will include network opportunities and a workshop facilitated by Professor Lupton on innovation in understanding participation in more-than-human worlds.

2017 TASA Health Day

Mobilising health sociology for impact: How can complex understandings of injustice and inequality be used in policy and practice?

Friday 13th October 2017

University of NSW Kensington Campus, Room 221/223 Level 2, John Goodsell Building (map ref F20)

Concerning trends in health and social policy, such as cuts to foreign aid, mistreatment of asylum seekers, disinvestment in Aboriginal community controlled services, and the curtailing of public healthcare resources, suggest inequalities in health and healthcare are growing, despite decades of sociological analysis and activism. While the paradigm of ‘social determinants of health’ has provided an important framework for understanding these inequalities historically, there is a pressing need for sociology to engage with other disciplines to better understand the intersections between equity, complexity, and sociality in health and healthcare settings. Critically, sociological knowledge about injustice and inequality can be highly complex and thereby difficult for those working in policy and practice to translate and implement. We invite researchers and practitioners from sociology and affiliated disciplines to explore this gap and engage in a critical discussion on emerging intersections, innovations, and interventions in the theory and practice of health equity today, and to consider how a sociological approach can be mobilised in ways which are meaningful to health policy and practice.


Invited speakers: Speakers include Professor Katherine Boydell, Professor of Mental Health at the Black Dog Institute, and Associate Professor kylie valentine, Deputy Director of the Social Policy Research Centre, both of UNSW Sydney, and Honorary Associate Professor Toni Schofield, of the University of Sydney. Professor Boydell looks at how arts-based knowledge translation approaches can be used to engage diverse stakeholders on important healthcare issues. Associate Professor valentine draws on concepts and methods from the sociology of knowledge  to understand issues of social disadvantage and exclusion, while Associate Professor Schofield, author of A Sociological Approach to Health Determinants, explores how social dynamics shape health. The day will also include networking activities, and a workshop and discussion session on ‘justice through methodology’ facilitated by the Qualitative Research Network Hub (UNSW Sydney).

Health Day 2016 (NEXUS article)

2nd December, 2016

Health Sociology in the 21st century: Innovative Approaches

Dr Michelle Black, Australian Catholic University

Dr Ally Gibson, UNSW Sydney

Dr Sophie Lewis, UNSW Sydney

Hosted by the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in Melbourne, the TASA Health Sociology Thematic Group held a one-day TASA supported Health Sociology symposium entitled ‘Health Sociology in the 21st century: Innovative Approaches’ on the 2nd December, 2016. The theme of innovative approaches and methods in health sociology spoke to a growing interest in the use of new and emerging digital technologies, social media and audio-visual technologies into exploring the social contexts of health related behaviours. The event featured keynote presentations from Professor Deborah Lupton and Associate Professor Fran Collyer followed by a panel discussion on ‘Innovative approaches to research in health and society’ involving Professor Karen Willis, Dr Peta Cook, Professor Alan Petersen and Associate Professor Mark Davis. The event was well attended with over 50 registrants, and due to the TASA thematic group funding, conveners were able to subsidise registration for Research Higher Degree (RHD) students. This enabled a large number of RHD students to attend the event and to hear from high profile researchers of international renown. The event was also well attended by casual academics, health sociologists working outside the academy and early career researchers. A highlight of the day was a very popular networking lunch, providing a unique opportunity for new and emerging health sociologists to engage with more established researchers.

Professor Deborah Lupton’s keynote address focused on the ways in which digital technology intersects with people’s experiences of health and illness and the practices of medicine ranging from people’s use of wearable technology, self- tracking devices to virtual medical training. She argued for the need to look at digital media as socio-cultural artefacts and critically examine the social, cultural, political and ethical implications of their use, including potential unintended consequences such as increasing social disadvantage, inequality and discrimination. Following the presentation, Prof Lupton facilitated a workshop whereby participants were tasked with the design of an ideal personal data machine to collect data on oneself and a personal data machine to collect data on someone else. The activity required us to think outside the box, and resulted in varied and innovative proposals. A popular inclusion in the event program was a networking lunch, in which participants attended a speed dating activity facilitated by Associate Professor Fran Collyer. This provided for some lively conversations and collaboration between students, early, mid and established career researchers about their shared research interests and ideas.

In A/Prof Collyer’s keynote presentation, she posed the question: what do we mean when we talk about innovation in health research? She presented a systematic review of published sociological work applying methodological innovation or using innovative methods. A/Prof Collyer’s presentation invited debate as to why, in spite of low cost, ease of use, and our increasing use of online spaces, there is such little uptake of online methods and approaches. The audience were invited to reflect on the merit of using ‘innovative’ methods in place of the ‘old’ qualitative techniques favoured by health sociology researchers.

In the afternoon panel discussion four high profile researchers drew on their diverse program of work and showcased and provided insights into their use of innovative approaches in health sociology. In a very engaging presentation, Prof Willis emphasised the importance of thinking about which methods are most appropriate to use to answer the guiding our research. Dr Cook shared insights from using participant photographs in an exhibition to engage community members in discussions about their thoughts on growing older. Prof Petersen, noting the increasing emphasis by funding bodies on innovation,  drew attention to the poor definition of the concept of ‘innovation’, in that it is not well related to context, or the translation of research. Prof Petersen also levelled criticism at methodologies that are fetishised within the discipline – namely the overuse of grounded theory. Drawing on the example of narratives of ‘super bugs’ and antimicrobial resistance, A/Prof Mark Davis ended with a discussion of how the method can be used to gauge public sense-making and response to issues represented as ‘health risks’.

In conclusion, the event opened our minds to the possibilities for utilising digital technologies, social media, online portals, visual methods and big data in health sociology research. The key message is that the ‘old’ research methods are still useful, but can be synergised with new methods, such as social media data, cultural probes, and digital ethnography. We look forward to seeing these ideas being incorporated into future research. The Health Thematic Group conveners would like to acknowledge the support of TASA, making the event possible by a 2016 TASA Thematic Group Grant.

Health Day 2015

The Politics of Knowledge in Health Care:

Science, Evidence and Experience

26 June

Newcastle Museum

Held at Newcastle Museum on 26 June, this symposium set out to explore how questions around what counts as evidence are negotiated, resolved and reinforced within different health care practices and contexts, and what the implications are for professions, patients and publics.

The event was supported by the Faculty of Education and Arts at the University of Newcastle along with TASA, and saw 40 delegates attend from 14 different universities and the public sector.

The funding awarded by TASA was used to create postgraduate travel bursaries, enabling five postgraduate members to come from interstate to attend the symposium.



The day kicked off with three keynote talks:

  • Professor Kevin Dew (Victoria University of Wellington, NZ) presented findings from several empirical studies to explore the categorisation work that is undertaken in different settings where health care decisions are made: in the home, in GP consultations, and in multi-disciplinary team meetings in hospitals.
  • Dr Peta Cook (University of Tasmania) discussed the way ‘the public’ is constructed through public consultations on new technologies.
  • Professor Karen Willis (Australian Catholic University) presented new findings from a project examining the rationales people use in Australia when deciding whether to take out private health insurance and how these map onto the public rhetoric around health care choice.


After lunch, a series of shorter papers continued to develop the theme of contested knowledge, provoking lively discussion.

  • Christy Newman (UNSW) discussed the experiences and perspectives of people living with HIV who choose not to take prescribed treatments.
  • Emily Hansen (UTas) considered how GPs justify decisions not to follow evidence-based guidelines in an effort to treat patients more holistically.
  • Jennifer Smith-Merry (Sydney) explored the new occupational role of Support Facilitators in mental health work in relation to work on the sociology of knowledge and the professions
  • Scott Fitzpatrick (UON) critically examined the social and political implications of using personal stories in new suicide prevention initiatives, in the context of the history of suicidology.
  • David Levy (Sydney) focussed on complementary medicine and the meaning it has for patients
  • Monique Lewis (Griffith) discussed the way in which complementary medicine is represented in the media
  • Caragh Brosnan (UON) considered the interaction of complementary medicine and knowledge production within universities


Professor Evan Willis (La Trobe) took the floor at the end of the day as invited discussant.  Professor Willis emphasised the importance of sociologists remaining impartial when studying debates over health care, and made a plea for greater theoretical engagement in health sociology. What emerged over the course of the day was a sense of how the politics of knowledge are implicated not just in health care but in social science too.

A special issue of Health Sociology Review (Vol 25:2) includes some of the papers from this event:

Health Day 2014

The Value of Health:

The Refiguring of Health and Health Care Under Neoliberalism

28 November

University of South Australia


Picking up one of the central threads from the main TASA conference held earlier in the week – the impact of neoliberalism on society – this symposium examined whether, why and how health and health care are being redefined amid neoliberal reforms in Australia and overseas. This was an especially timely discussion, as 2014 marked the thirtieth anniversary of Australia’s universal health insurance scheme, Medicare, and saw heated debate over the proposed introduction of patient co-payments in Australian primary care.

Speakers and audience members discussed neoliberalism’s impact in a range of health care contexts, and considered the question of what sociologists can or should do to promote different ways of valuing health now and in the future.

Funding from TASA was used to support keynote speaker travel and to offer two postgraduate bursaries. UniSA kindly provided the venue.


The day began with a keynote presentation by Professor Fran Baum, Director of the Southgate Institute of Health, Society and Equity at Flinders University.  Professor Baum focused on the nexus between health and politics by considering the big picture of the social determinants of health.  The discussion then moved on to findings from interviews with former Australian health ministers, and new research into cuts to community health services in South Australia.  Professor Baum also touched on her activist work with the People’s Health Movement

This address was followed by four papers:

  • Ally Gibson (UQ) argued for a more nuanced analysis of illness culture by discussing social constructions of breast cancer within neoliberal western society, the implications of the ‘pink ribbon’ culture, and issues centred on individual responsibility and empowerment, consumerism and self-determination.
  • Merrilyn Crichton (CSU) explored the impact of neoliberalism on mental health care provision by examining the push to promote eHealth options for mental health services and treatment in rural and regional Australia. The commodification of health and social support was discussed in relation to the findings of a qualitative study.
  • Edgar Burns (La Trobe) also discussed issues concerning mental health care provision. Here, the focus was on regional / rural issues and the complex concept of co-location in terms of joint service provision. Issues explored included substance abuse, unemployment and homelessness.
  • Kathryn Dwan (ANU) compared the histories of general practice in Australia and the Netherlands, given the strong primary health care systems in both countries have developed differently according to relationships between the state, the medical profession and civil society.

The final keynote speaker was Kevin White, Reader in Sociology at ANU, who sparked controversy with his argument that neoliberalism is not as useful a concept as capitalism, and that the types of health inequalities currently experienced are reflections of continuing class differences rather than being a new phenomenon.

The day was brought to a close by a panel comprising Kevin WhiteA/Prof Alex Broom(UQ), Prof Stephanie Short (Sydney) and Prof John Germov (Newcastle) who discussed the positive and negative aspects of neoliberalism – conceptually, and in terms of real world implications for health and health care.

Health Day 2013

Commemorating 50 years of TASA and Health Sociology in Australia: The 2013 TASA Health Sociology Thematic Group Seminar (ACU, NSW, July 8)

Health Day 2010

2010 Health Day

Professor Rick Iedema at the lectern, (front, from left: Professor David Pilgrim, Dr Rowena Forsyth, Professor Stephanie Short and Dr Katherine Carroll

At the TASA Annual Conference in December 2010, we held our annual Health Day at Macquarie University. This was a successful event, with two panel presentations. The first Panel was ‘Doing Sociology With Medicine: Challenges and Opportunities for Research and Teaching’ with speakers:

  • Professor David Pilgrim, Professor of Mental Health Policy in the School of Social Work at of the University of Central Lancashire
  • Professor Stephanie Short, Professor of Health Sciences and Associate Dean at the University of Sydney
  • Dr Rowena Forsyth, a Research Fellow in the Northern Clinical School at the University of Sydney
  • Dr Katherine Carroll, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney
  • Professor Rick Iedema, Professor of Communication in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney

The second panel was titled ‘Reflections on the Field: The Early Years and Progress in the Sociology of Health, Illness and Medicine’. Speakers for this event were:

  • Professor Dorothy Broom, of the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University
  • Professor Anne Rogers, Professor of the Sociology of Health Care at the University of Manchester
  • Professor Jeanne Daly, a Fellow of the Public Health Association of Australia and Editor of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

Thank you to all our speakers and participants.

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Group Conveners:

Zhaoxi Zheng
Zhaoxi Zheng
University of Queensland

Miriam Dillon
Miriam Dillon
University of Queensland

Laetita Coles
Laetitia Coles
University of Queensland

Health Conveners

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