PB422      Half Unit
Health Communication

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Martin Bauer


This course is available on the MSc in Behavioural Science, MSc in Gender, Development and Globalisation, MSc in Gender, Policy and Inequalities, MSc in Global Population Health, MSc in Health and International Development, MSc in Media, Communication and Development, MSc in Organisational and Social Psychology, MSc in Psychology of Economic Life, MSc in Social and Cultural Psychology and MSc in Social and Public Communication. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course centres on the application of societal psychology to the challenges of health communication in a global context. While considering both health and communication in their widest sense, we will focus on public debates and controversies involving ‘health issues’ in modern society. We will begin with an introduction to expert-based approaches to science and health communication, and consider health and illness in their wider societal context.

‘Health’ is a boundary object with many stakeholders: a major news value that evaluates scientific progress on health outcomes (health news); a criterion of societal modernisation and development (increasing life expectancy); the grievance of social movements against inequality (patient groups; AIDS campaign); a matter of risk communication in emergencies (epidemics, pandemics, nuclear accidents); a criterion to evaluate new technology on health risks (GM food, AI); an industrial sector (health business) and the NHS (public health systems); health is a life style (wellness); a consumer issue of food and service quality; ‘unhealthy behaviour’ inherits religious connotations (of ‘sinning’) in secular society; and health creates professional voices that enjoy high levels of trust and confidence as communicators in modern society (doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, pharmacists). The course examines different angles of the conversation of health in modern society and will enable participants to critical appraise health communication. Throughout, we will view individual studies of controversies in rapidly changing settings (Thalidomide, smoking & cancer, vaccinations, GM food, pandemics, quackery, pseudo-science, alternative medicine etc). 

Through lectures, readings and seminar discussions, we will encounter theoretical debates about health-related communication and behaviours, and the processes through which communication impacts on health. At the same time, we will consider the implications of these debates for health promotion campaigns, learning about real-world examples through guest lectures, and gaining hands-on experience in appreciating, designing and critiquing health communication in the 21st century.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 piece of coursework in the LT.

Indicative reading

Bauer MW (2015) Atom, Bytes and Genes – techno-scientific responses to public resistance, NY, Routledge.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality. New York, NY: Doubleday. [Social institutions, objectification, and socialisation.]

Bucchi, M., & Trench, B. (2014). Handbook of Public Communication of Science and Technology.  London:  Routledge.

Berry, D. (2007) Health Communication: theory and practice. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Crossley M. (2000) Rethinking health psychology. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Dixey, R. (Ed.) (2013). Health Promotion: Global Principles and Practice. Wallingford: CABI.

Gregory, J. & Miller, S. (1998) Science in public – communication, culture and credibility, Cambridge MA: Perseus Publishers.

Habermas, J. (1997). Theory of Communicative Action. Cambridge: Polity Press (2 Volumes) [Distinction between instrumental and communicative action.]

Hook, D., Franks, B. and Bauer, M. (Eds) (2011). Social Psychology of Communication. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Illich I (1975) Medical Nemesis – the expropriation of health, London, Calder & Boyars.

Jamieson KH, D Kahan and DA Scheufele (2017) (eds) Oxford Handbook of Science Communication; Oxford, OUP.

Nettleton, S. (1995). The sociology of health and illness. Oxford: Blackwell.

Obregon, R., Waisbord, S. (2012). Handbook of global health communication. Wiley-Blackwell.

Roedder S., Franzen, M., & Weingart, P. (Eds) (2012). The sciences’ Media Connection - public communication and its repercussions, Sociology of Sciences Yearbook 28, Dordrecht: Springer.

Seale, C. The Media and Health. Sage, 2002.

Tones K. and Green J. (2006). Health promotion: planning and strategies. London: Sage.


Essay (100%, 3000 words) in the LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Psychological and Behavioural Science

Total students 2019/20: 14

Average class size 2019/20: 14

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills