Bioethics Blogs

Theorising Health Inequalities — A special issue of Social Theory & Health by Aaron Seaman

The current issue of Social Theory & Health is a special double issue on theorizing health inequalities. Comprising eleven articles, the issue developed out developed out of a 2012 symposium held at the University of Edinburgh, entitled “Where Next for Health Inequalities?” As guest editors Katherine E. Smith and Ted Schrecker write in their introduction (the full text of which is freely available):

Lewin (1951, p. 169) famously reflected that there is ‘nothing more practical than a good theory’. Yet in health inequalities research, and public health more broadly, the number of theoretical contributions pales in comparison to the ever-growing number of empirical studies. It is certainly true that most of these empirical studies are informed by social theory in that many employ indicators of social categories that reflect theoretical ideas sketched out by Marx, Engels and Weber (see Kapilashrami et al and Scambler and Scambler, this issue) but these theoretical underpinnings are rarely acknowledged, interrogated or considered in any detail. Where theoretical frameworks have been applied to the study of health inequalities, this has often been with the purpose of trying to understand, or help analyse, pre-existing data sets or findings, rather than to inform decisions about how we study, and try to tackle, such inequalities or to develop theoretical approaches that are specifically intended to help us better understand health inequalities as a phenomenon. The collection of articles in this special issue is an attempt to begin redressing the empirical bias described here; to demonstrate some of the practical implications that social theories have to offer those seeking to better understand, and tackle, a social problem as complex and persistent as health inequalities; and to illustrate the indispensability of theory in generating new hypotheses for empirical research, both qualitative and quantitative.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.