Living & Dying:
Communication, Media & Politics of Medicine

Course Description:  

This advanced studies course serves as a foundation for better understanding how illness and disability are constructed and experienced within and beyond the clinic, hospital or laboratory. In this course, students will analyze the frames commonly used to engage with concepts such as health, life, death, and our bodies. With a strong emphasis placed on the processes of construction and representation that happen vis-à-vis media, we will also consider the politics of such constructions and the impact they have on how we understand ourselves and our world.

Learning Goals:  

In this class, you will further hone the analytical skills developed during your time at UCSD in order to examine how concepts such as disease, health, and the body are constructed by the practices and discourses of biomedicine, culture, and media. You will learn to critically analyze authors’ arguments and evaluate the supporting evidence to strengthen class discussion and your own writing. In addition, you will develop research and writing skills that help to identify how disability, illness, and health are (in part) socially constructed. By employing the tools of cultural criticism, you will learn to denaturalize (or to make strange) the familiar and the taken for granted.

Schedule of Classes:

Class 1: Introduction to course and key concepts.

In-class reading and discussion:

  • Sontag, Susan. (1979). Illness as metaphor (1st Vintage Books edition. ed.). New York: Vintage Books.
  • Grigely, Joseph. (2006). Blindness and Deafness as Metaphors: An Anthological Essay. Journal of Visual Culture, 5(2), 227-241. doi: 10.1177/1470412906066908
  • Friedman, Lester D. (2004). Introduction: Through the looking glass; Medical culture and media Cultural sutures: Medicine and media (pp. 1-11). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

In-class screening:

  • Glee, “Wheels”:  Season 1, Episode 9


Class 2: Defining complex terms and outlining their stakes.

  • Boyd, K. M. (2000). Disease, illness, sickness, health, healing and wholeness: exploring some elusive concepts. Medical Humanities, 26(1), 9-17. *Read until the “Religious Ideas” header.
  • Kleinman, Arthur. (1988). The meaning of symptoms and disorders, in The illness narratives: Suffering, healing, and the human condition (pp. 3-29). New York: Basic Books.

In-class screenings:

  • How Healthy Living Nearly Killed Me
  • Grey’s Anatomy: Season 5, Episode 23, “Here’s to future days” [Selections]
  • Big Bucks, Big Pharma [Selections]


Class 3: The impact of images: Visual evidence and scientific looking

  • Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2001). Chapter 8: Scientific Looking, Looking at Science, in Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture, p. 279-312.

In-class screening and handout:

  • Hall, Stuart (Writer). (2002). Representation & the media. In S. Jhally (Producer). Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation.


Class 4: Media, advertising and news: An introduction to health and media

  • Miah, Andy, & Rich, Emma. (2002). Chapter 33: The Body, Health and Illness. In A. Briggs, & Cobley, P. (Ed.), The media: an introduction: Pearson Education.
  • Ostherr, Kirsten. (2004). "Invisible Invaders": The Global Body in Public Health Films. In L. D. Friedman (Ed.), Cultural sutures: Medicine and media (pp. 299-314). Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

In-class screening and handout:

  • The Doctor (1991), directed by Randa Haines [selections]


Class 5: Media, advertising and news: Monsters on Screen

  • Clarke, Stephanie Brown. (2004). Frankenflicks: Medical Monsters in Classic Horror Films. In L. D. Friedman (Ed.), Cultural sutures: Medicine and media (pp. 129-148). Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
  • Belling, C. (2010). The Living Dead: Fiction, Horror, and Bioethics. Perspectives in biology and medicine, 53(3), 439-451.

In-class screening:

  • Finish: The Doctor (1991), directed by Randa Haines [selections]


Class 6: Media, advertising and news - Television Doctors

  • Vandekieft, Gregg. (2004). From City Hospital to ER: The evolution of the television physician. In L. D. Friedman (Ed.), Cultural sutures: Medicine and media (pp. 215-233). Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.
  • Second Half: In class midterm exam. Bring 2 unmarked blue books.


Class 7: Media and our relationship to our bodies and selves

  • Bordo, Susan. (1993). Reading the slender body Unbearable weight: Feminism, Western culture, and the body (pp. 185-212). Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Crawshaw, P. (2007). Governing the healthy male citizen: Men, masculinity and popular health in Men's Health magazine. Social Science & Medicine65(8), 1606-1618.
  • Davis, K. (1999). 'My Body is My Art': Cosmetic Surgery as Feminist Utopia? In J. Price & M. Shildrick (Eds.), Feminist theory and the body: A reader (pp. 454-465). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Class 8: Media and our relationship to our bodies and selves continued

  • Longmore, P. K. (1987). Screening stereotypes: Images of disabled people in television and motion pictures, in Images of the disabled, disabling images, 65-78.
  • Garland Thomson, R. (2000). Staring back: Self-representations of disabled performance artists. American Quarterly, 52(2), 334-338.

In class screening:

  • Interview with Mary Duffy
  • Murderball [Selections]
  • What’s Eating Gilbert Grape  [Selections]


Class 9:  Media Activism

  • Cartwright, L. “Community and the Public body in Breast Cancer Media Activism,” Cultural Studies, 12 (2), 1998, (117-138)
  • Gillett, J. (2003). Media activism and Internet use by people with HIV/AIDS. Sociology of health & illness, 25(6), 608-624.
  • In class activity: Library research presentation by Gayatri Singh, UCSD Communication librarian. Meet in Library Classroom 1 (Room 274) in Geisel after lunch break.


Class 10: Final Presentations and Final Exam Review Session