How to combine sociology with biology – and why do it?

David Blane is professor emeritus of Imperial College London and professorial research associate of University College London. Former (2008-2012) deputy director of ESRC International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS), his interests include health inequalities, social gerontology and life course research.

Here, in the latest of our biosocial blogs, Professor Blane gives his ‘how to’ on combining sociology and biology in research.


Rudolf Virchow was a physician who believed that “Medicine is a social science; and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale”.

Rudolf Virchow

Rudolf Virchow

In 1848 he served on a commission of investigation into an epidemic of typhus in Prussian Upper Silesia. His report identified the social conditions there that made typhus (a louse-borne disease) endemic, and periodically epidemic, and wrote a social prescription to eliminate these circumstances by building roads, schools, democracy and jobs. As well as being one of the founders of public health, Virchow was a medical specialist in pathology, which he saw as the way to understand the link between social conditions and disease. Continue reading