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You are here: Home Boxes Box M - Some social theories and how they help you to understand the determinants of health
Box M - Some social theories and how they help you to understand the determinants of health Print E-mail

Ontario Public Health PractionersWhich social science we turn to, and which of its theories we believe, dictates how we think problems — such as the disparities that determine health — should be addressed. Each social science discipline offers many theoretical perspectives and concepts that can be used to explain social disparities and the social determinants of health.

One natural source of ideas for population health is sociology, which studies patterns of human behaviour, individuals’ relationship to society and the nature of society itself. Which sociological theories you adopt will shape your interventions.

Your intervention will also be shaped by whether you take a positivist approach (that is, observation-based and scientific) or a constructivist approach (which believes reality is independent but its meaning is constructed by human thought).

Some positivist approaches explain social inequalities as society's way of rewarding people differently according to the work they do. Others see poverty and wealth as the fundamental economic structure of society. Others believe society is a struggle among unequal groups (divided by class, race, and religion) perpetually competing for power and wealth.

Constructivists, on the other hand, believe individuals create society as they act in socially meaningful ways. They see the social world as constructed and negotiated, not predetermined. All participants jointly define a situation and actions are developed through negotiation, compromise and adjustment.

Last Updated on Monday, 01 June 2009 08:16