le savoir vivant
You are here: UNIL > Programmes > Card-index course
Français | English   Print   

Card-index course

The construction of the body between medicine, health and society

Socio-histoire de la médecine et du corps

Responsible Faculty: Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (SSP)

Teacher(s): Francesco Panese

Validity: 2015 -> 2019

Course Timetable (Weekly)

Date Location Notice Topics Lecturer(s)
2019/2020 : Friday 12:15-14:00 (Weekly) Géopolis/1612     Noëllie Genre, Francesco Panese, Mélody Pralong


Spring semester
2 hours per week
28 hours per semester
Teaching language(s): French
Public: Yes
Credits: 0


Develop a critical understanding of the relationship between body, medicine and society, with a historical and contemporary prospect.

After completing this course, the student will be able to:
- Situate on the historical and sociological plans the systems of thought, practices and tools that characterize the scientific, medical and social "fabric of the human body".
- Conduct a literature search on a topic of her/his choice.
- Analyse primary sources (historical and/or contemporary) in relation to the topic of her/his choice.
- Make a personal or group original research on a topic related to or inspired by the general theme of the course.


This course is organized in 3 parts:

The FIRST PART is dedicated to explore four centuries of the history of the body shaped by medical knowledge and practice, with the objective of a good understanding of contemporary situations. We will see that the "body" and the "mind" as well as the "health" and the "disease" are socio-anthropological and socio-historical categories to which every society gives a specific form, including of course the Western society. We will focus in particular on the practices of knowing, preventing and caring for physical and psychological disorders, considering that these practices play a major role in the construction of the social world itself. We will argue that "medical systems" are privileged places for shaping individual and social bodies, as well as identities and individual and collective subjectivities.

The SECOND PART is devoted to case studies chosen by the students (by vote) among many proposals on various historical and/or contemporary themes, including: "pratiques de l'esprit humain", to use the beautiful title of a book of M. Gauchet and G. Swain; the history and current state of brain sciences; major transformations of contemporary knowledge and biomedical practices; the figures of patients today, between knowledge, recognition and biosociality* (*the formation of groups of people who share certain biological characteristics revealed by biomedicine); the moral dimensions of medicine and health, for example in the case of addictions; and other themes that may be proposed according to students' interests (see part 3).

The THIRD PART consists of the completion of the students' work, individually or in pairs. This year, we propose as a starting point the French illustrated monthly magazine "Réalités" (1947-1964), which dealt extensively with subjects related to the body, medicine and health in connection with the upheavals in society in the post-war period, with its procession of scientific innovations celebrating "medical progress". This abundant source concerns among other topics the modernisation of medicine and the emergence of major issues whose importance has progressed significantly in the public arena up to the present day.
In concrete terms, a very generous selection of documents from this magazine will be made available to you and you will be invited to develop your own exploration from this rich source. You will be invited to express your first ideas on the subject, to clarify them in a brief research outline and to carry out your work in the form of an essay, with the support of your teachers.

The course program as well as these three parts are described in a detailed guide (vademecum) distributed at the beginning of the course.

For more information, including before you register: francesco.panese@unil.ch, Noellie.Genre@unil.ch


The document is an individual work of about 20,000 signs, or by group of 2 people work of about 30,000 signs.
It may concern the deepening of one of the thematic entries of the course or on another subject related to the course, in agreement with the teachers.
It should take the form of a scientific article in the social and human sciences. It includes a presentation of the general theme, the identification of a specific question and an analysis constructed from primary sources (field materials of all kinds: observations, iconography, archive, etc.) and secondary sources (scientific work on the subject).


Chaque chapitre et étude de cas abordés en cours sont assortis de lectures complémentaire conseillées. Le corpus de textes est disponible en pdf sur myUnil.

Programme requirements


Canton de Vaud
Swiss University
Unicentre  -  CH-1015 Lausanne  -  Suisse  -  Tél. +41 21 692 11 11  -  Fax  +41 21 692 26 15