Course: Political Economy of Public Health

  • Course Home
  • Syllabus
  • Schedule
  • Case Studies
  • Want to stay in touch?

    1 + 1 =  


Course Description

Public health has been defined by the institute of medicine as "What we as a society do to ensure the conditions in which people can be healthy." (Emphasis added). Although it is possible to make populations healthy without broad participation of society, these top down strategies are limited in a 21st century epidemiology characterized by complex, multisectoral problems like obesity, injury, violence, substance use, and environmental degradation. Countermeasures are all likely to be politically contested. By focusing on the genesis of political will through engagement strategies, the course enlarges the toolkit of public health professionals. The course discusses ways the future of public health can institutionalize regular and consistent solutions to complex public health problems.

Course Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Articulate the difference between top down and bottom up approaches to public health practice and why both approaches are necessary.
  2. Explain the obstacles that impede success in community engagement for public health and how to overcome them.
  3. Describe ways to make community-engaged public health practice routine inside the constraints of heath systems dominated by curative services.
  4. Identify best practices in coalition building in a community around improvements in public health.
  5. Evaluate prospects for community building as a standard approach to PH.
  6. Explain the difference between versions of rescue that dehumanize and versions that humanize.
  7. Identify modes of public health that oppress those they are meant to help.
  8. Appraise the pros and cons of interventions and programs as the currency of PH.
  9. Describe Unintended Negative Consequences of Programs, Campaigns, and Top Down Life Saving (Millions at a Time).

Assignments and Rationale:

70% of the grade will depend on reading the assignments before each class and engaging in class discussion. There will be one assignment in week 5 to read and extract meaning from a hospital's Community Health Needs Assessment. The purpose of this assignment is to evaluate the prospects for hospitals to become meaningful players in the political economy of public health. The final assignment in week 6-8 is centered around a Case Study in Community Building. Students will post their assessments of the prompts in the case study in written and recorded Voicethread posts.

Reading List

(2011, June). CDC Principles of Community Engagement (2nd Edition). Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from:

Bishai, Kuan, Shah, Geiss, Thompson. (2019). The art of convening: A Baltimore case study of Communities of Change. Creative Commons License. Retrieved from:

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Hofrichter, Richard, and Rajiv Bhatia. "Tackling health inequities through public health practice." Washington: National Association of County and City Health Officials and Ingham County Health Department. Retrieved January 14 (2006): 2010.

Hunter, D. (2015). Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow. Denver, CO: Veterans of Hope.

Kania, John, and Mark Kramer. "Collective impact." Stanford Social Intervention Review (2011): 36-41. Retrieved from:

Labonte, Ronald. "Community, community development, and the forming of authentic partnerships: Some critical reflections." Community organizing and community building for health 2 (2005): 82-96 in Minkler, Meredith, ed. Community organizing and community building for health and welfare 3rd Ed.. Rutgers University Press, 2015."

Prybil, Lawrence, et al. "Improving community health through hospital-public health collaboration: Insights and lessons learned from successful partnerships." (2014). Retrieved from:

Purnell, D. (2017). Radical Political Action. Boston Review. Retrieved from:

Shiffman, J (2014, Nov) (A). Knowledge and the Exercise of Power in Global Health. International Journal Health Policy Management 3(6): 297-299

Shiffman, J. (2015, July) (B). Global health as a field of power relations. International Journal Health Policy Management 4(7): 497-499

Szreter, Simon. "The Importance of Social Intervention in Britain's Mortality Decline c. 1850? 1914: a Re-interpretation of the Role of Public Health." Social history of medicine 1.1 (1988): 1-38.

Taylor, Daniel C., and Carl E. Taylor. Just and lasting change: When communities own their futures. JHU Press, 2016.

Class Overview

Week One: Mutual Liberation

Week Two: From mutual liberation to community building

Week Three: Who, How, What, Where

Week Four: Obstacles

Week Five: Case Studies: Neopatricians in London

Week Six: Case Study 2: Baltimore C4C

Week Seven: Student Voice

Week Eight: Student Voice