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Social health: rethinking the concept through social practice theory and feminist care ethics
  1. Joshua Paul1,
  2. Sibille Merz1,
  3. Andreas Bergholz1,
  4. Franziska König1,
  5. Julia Weigt2,
  6. Astrid Eich-Krohm2,
  7. Christian Apfelbacher2,
  8. Christine Holmberg1
  1. 1 Institute for Social Medicine and Epidemiology, Medizinische Hochschule Brandenburg CAMPUS GmbH, Neuruppin, Germany
  2. 2 Faculty of Medicine, Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg Institute of Social Medicine and Health Economics, Magdeburg, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Joshua Paul, Institute for Social Medicine and Epidemiology, Medizinische Hochschule Brandenburg CAMPUS GmbH, Neuruppin, 14770, Germany; joshua.paul{at}


The social sciences have long shown that health is not born of pure biology, empirically (re)centred the social and material causes of disease, and affirmed the subjective experiences of disease. Disputed both in popular and academic discourses, social health has variously attempted to stress the social aspects of health. Existing conceptions remain analytically limited as they are predominantly used as descriptors for populational health. This article theorises social health as an analytical lens for making sense of the relations, affects and events where health unfolds and comes into expression. Drawing on social practice theory, feminist care ethics and posthumanism this conceptual paper re-imagines how social health might be conceived as lived social practices anchored in care. Care within our framework acknowledges the unavoidable interdependency foundational to the existence of beings and stresses the ‘know how’ and embodied practices of care in the mundane in order to emphasise that care itself is absolutely integral to the maintenance of social health. The article argues that health needs to be understood as a verb intrinsically (re)made in and through social contexts and structures and comprised of meaningful, human-human and human-non-human interactions. Ultimately, in theorising social health through mundane care practices, we hope to open up research to making sense of how the doing of health unfolds inside often banal, patterned forms of social activity. Such taken-for-granted social practices exemplify the often overlooked lived realities that comprise our health. To understand health in its own right, we argue, these everyday practices need to be interrogated.

  • Public health
  • social anthropology
  • sociology
  • medical anthropology

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  • Contributors JP conceptualised and drafted this article. JP is responsible for the overall content as guarantor namely full responsibility for the finished work, and controlled the decision to publish. Content was further developed in discussions with CH and SM. All drafts were read by the research team and feedback was provided.

  • Funding This project is supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research, grant number 01KI20117.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were not involved in the design, or conduct, or reporting, or dissemination plans of this research.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.