Research Committees


Published in ISA Bulletin number 33, year 1983
Prepared by Mark G. Field, Retired Chairman


At the IVth World Congress of Sociology held in 1959 in Milan (Italy), a section was devoted to the "Application of Sociological Knowledge to Medicine", a typical illustration of the concept of Sociology in Medicine (rather than Sociology of Medicine). 

It was chaired by George Reader with Mary Goss as the rapporteur. Thus, the Committee can trace its origins back 23 years ago. At the Vth Congress held in Washington in 1962, there was an informal discussion, this time on the Sociology of Medicine, with five papers, again chaired by George Reader, with Samuel Bloom as rapporteur.

In January 1963 an official recognition of the group as a Sub-Committee of the ISA was given. Thus, technically and formally, the Committee is in its second decade.

In July 1963, a mail ballot led to the election of George Reader as Chairperson and Elliot Freidson as Vice-Chairperson and Secretary. 

There were 12 persons in the group from nine different countries. In 1965, there were 16 persons in the Committee from 15 countries. 

Elliot Freidson became Chairperson in 1966 (at the VIth Congress in Evian) and remained in that position until the VIIth Congress held in 1970 in Varna. At that time, the following Steering Board was appointed: Mark G. Field as Chairperson, Magdalena Sokolowska as Deputy Chairperson, Robin Badgley as Secretary, George Reader, Manfred Pflanz and Derek Gill as the other members of the six person board.

One of the main activities of the Committee was to encourage the formation of "working-groups" to carry out collaborative international and comparative research projects. After Varna, 12 such groups were recognized and they served, in some instances, as the basis for specific scientific sessions sponsored by the Research Committee at the next World Congress. 

Generally speaking, the working groups were not very successful, the major difficulty being the lack of necessary funding to finance the considerable expenses entailed by such research.

At the VIIIth Congress in Toronto, 1974, the Research Committee voted to form an Advisory Committee to encourage increased international representation in the Committee, at which time seven colleagues representing that many countries (not on the Steering Group) were elected.

Also, in 1974, at the suggestion of the ISA, a formal procedure was put into place to ensure the orderly election and renewal of Steering Group members. It was decided that the Steering Group (made up of six persons) would turn over every eight years. 

At every Congress or by mail ballot shortly thereafter, three new members of the Steering Group would be chosen by the membership at large to become members-elect of the Steering Group for four years. 

At the same time, three members who had served eight years would retire from the Group and become emeriti (ae) if they so desired. Three members, who had been members-elect for the four years preceding the Congress, would become active members. 

It was hoped with this procedure that continuity and change would be served, and an orderly mechanism for the renewal of the Steering Group ensured. Both members-elect and emeriti (ae) would, if they so desired, participate in all deliberations of the Steering Group, with or without a vote. 

Furthermore, should one or more of the active members become inactive, then a members-elect (the one with the highest number of votes) would immediately become active. The system so far has worked out very well.

The history of the Steering Group from its inception until now:

  elected elect active emeritus
G. Reader       1974
M. Pflanz       1978
M. Sokolowska       1978
R. Badgley       1978
M. G. Field 1974 - 1974-82 1982
D. Gill 1974 - 1974-82 1982
Y. Nuyens 1974 - 1976-84 1982
M. Jefferys 1974 1974-78 1978-86 1986
J. Shuval 1974 1974-78 1978-86 1986
A. Ostrowska 1978 - 1978-86 1986
S. Calais 1987 1978-82 1982-90 1990
R. Elling 1978 1978-82 1982-90 1990
R. Lee 1978 1978-82 1982-90 1990
to be elected 1982 1982-86 1986-94 1994
to be elected 1982 1982-86 1986-94 1994
to be elected 1982 1982-86 1986-95 1994

Membership at large

Over the years, membership has tended to increase, although it is difficult to establish an accurate count. In June 1974, the Committee was the third largest Committee of the ISA.

In 1977 a rough count estimated the membership between 125 and 225 members including about 100 in Eastern Europe. The Committee established a dual membership: for those of hard currency areas, and for those of soft currency areas.

At the present time, the Committee has 85 members.


The major function of the Committee is to establish, maintain, encourage, and enhance research and communication among medical sociologists in the world, and to sponsor or hold scientific meetings where these members can meet face to face, report on their work in progress, and hopefully arrange professional ties that will permit, given financial and other arrangements, collaborative studies, and the development of knowledge. 

Generally speaking two such types of meetings have been held:

  • Meetings in conjunction with the World Congresses of Sociology.

At every Congress since 1959, the presence of medical sociologists was visible, and reflected activities by such scholars.

  • The sponsoring and the encouragement of meetings held in different countries.

The purpose of such meetings is to foster the development of the field in the country holding the meeting, and particularly to increase contacts with colleagues in other countries. 

Typically, the meeting involved fairly large numbers of nationals who organized and financed the meeting in the first place, plus a representation of foreign invitees.

Nevertheless, the list of meetings is impressive:

  • 1964 - Uppsala, Sweden
  • 1972 - East Berlin, GDR (x)
  • 1973 - Jablonna, Poland (x)
  • 1974 - Hannover, FRG (x)
  • 1976 - Paris, France (x)
  • 1976 - Leuven, Belgium (x)
  • 1980 - Yokohama, Japan (x)
  • 1981 - Melbourne, Australia (x)
    (x) - In these cases the meetings led to the formal publications of the proceedings. (See list of publications).-

Mark G. Field, a Chairperson of the Committee in the period 1974-1982, has invited medical sociologists of several countries to follow in the same foot-path by organizing an international conference, symposium or seminar, usually around a specific theme. 

Such activities are very useful both in fostering research in medical sociology, and in motivating young scholars to become interested in this field. At the present time, the liaison persons of the Committee are:

  • India - Prahba Ramalingswami, Chairperson of the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
  • Italy - Alberto Martinelli, President of the Italian Association of Medical Sociologists, Milano
  • Uruguay - Efraim Morgolis, Montevideo

The Boston University Summer Institute on Medical Sociology and Comparative Health Systems

Starting in 1976, Mark G. Field organized an Institute at Boston University, sponsored by the Committee, which he ran until 1981, when it was discontinued by the University for financial reasons.

The Institute (typically) consisted of two courses to be taken for credit, a series of public lectures by well-known specialists, and in the last two years of its existence, a scientific two and a half day conference open to the students and the community, at which papers were presented and discussed.

Many members of the Committee were able to participate in the Institute and give lectures, and the Institute was a convenient avenue for meetings of the Steering Group.

The format of such an Institute is sound, and it is hoped that it can be resumed in the near future once the financial problems are ironed out (either at Boston University or elsewhere).

Contacts with the World Health Organization

Several years ago, with the help of Ray Elling then at WHO, the Committee helped establish in the name of the ISA the Committee helped establish in the name of the ISA a formal affiliation with WHO as a non-governmental organization (NGO).

The relationship with WHO, mostly the work of the Committee for the ISA, has not been very productive, although some of the Committee's members have tried repeatedly to work more closely with WHO.

Of course, many of the NGO’s are professional associations or organizations that have relatively stable bases for financing. They are able to pro pose, mount and practically finance meetings and programs, which the Committee is in no position to do.

Nevertheless, "the Committee's man in Bern", Alfred Gebert, has given an enormous amount of his time and energy to maintaining our link with WHO as had Manfred Pflanz.

With the death of Manfred Pflanz, and the increasing difficulties for Alfred Gebert to fulfill these representational activities, it has been very fortunate that Professor Christian Lalive d' Epinay of the Department of Sociology at the University of Geneva was willing to represent the ISA at the WHO meetings.

From time to time, the Committee has been able to send a representative to other meetings held by NGO's and show the sociological flag.

The ISA has helped financially on some occasions; on other occasions, the Committee has been able to delegate someone on the spot to represent the ISA.

For example, in 1979 Lois Cohen represented the Committee at the XXXIst Meeting of the Regional Committee of the WHO for the Americas, and XXVIth Meeting of the Directing Council of the Pan American Health Association.

Later on that year, Mark G. Field was able with a small grant from the ISA to represent it at the World Congress of Environmental Health in Development Planning.

Medical Anthropology

The Committee has tried to establish lines of communication with the colleagues in Medical Anthropology, who have responded positively, but so far this has not progressed to what would be the Committee's goal: an international conference of medical sociologists and anthropologists.


One of the major and yet uncompleted tasks of the Committee has been the compilation of a TREND REPORT to follow in the footprints of the one published in 1961 by Eliot Freidson. This was the task that Manfred Pflanz undertook, starting in the late 1960's and which he was unable to complete due to his death in 1980. 

At the present time, Derek Gill has agreed to continue the task, assigning in the process several colleagues to do part of the REPORT, given the enormous amount of literature that must be reviewed.

The Committee had published a NEWSLETTER under the capable editorship of its Secretary Treasurer, Derek Gill, the first issue appearing in November 1972. It was originally sent to 1500 socio-medical scientists around the world.

At the end of 1974 there was a paid circulation of 111, with 189 circulated free of charge to scholars. A total of 13 issues of the NEWSLETTER have been published so far.

  • Badgley, R. F.: Studies in Planning Health Manpower: The Varna Meeting (Summary of the Varna Papers), in: JOURNAL OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL BEHAVIOR, Nº12, March 1971.
  • Elling, Ray H., Magdalena Sokolowska (eds.): MEDICAL SOCIOLOGISTS AT WORK. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 1978.
  • Field, Mark G.: Prospects for the Comparative Sociology of Medicine: An Effort at Conceptualization. In: Margaret S. Archer (ed.): CURRENT RESEARCH IN SOCIOLOGY, Mouton 1974.
  • Freidson, Eliot: Sociology of Medicine, CURRENT SOCIOLOGY, Vols. X/XI (1961-62). London: Sage Publications.
  • Nuyens, Yvo (ed.): Proceedings of the International Seminar on Training Programs in Medical Sociology held in Leuven in August 1976. Printed in 1977.
  • Pflanz, Manfred, Elizabeth Schach (eds.): CROSS-NATIONAL SOCIO MEDICAL RESEARCH: CONCEPTS, METHODS, PRACTICE. Stuttgart: George Thieme Publishers, 1976. Contains 16 contributions to the Hannover Conference (March 1974).
  • PROCEEDINGS of the Seminar held in Berlin (GDR) in October 1972. Published in Berlin, GDR, 1972.
  • Reader, George G. and Mary E. W. Goss: Medical Sociology with Particular Reference to the Study of Hospitals. In: TRANSACTIONS OF THE IVth WORLD CONGRESS OF SOCIOLOGY, Vol. II.
  • SANTE, MÉDECINE ET SOCIOLOGIE, Colloque International de Sociologie Médicale, Paris: CNRS et INSERM, 1978.
  • Sokolowska, Magdalena, Jacek Holowka and Antonina Ostrowska (eds.): SOCJOLOGIA A ZDROWIE. Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1976, 564 pp. Selection of papers presented at the International Conference held in Jablonna (Poland), August 1973.
  • Sokolowska, Magdalena, Jacek Holowka and Antonina Ostrowska (eds.): HEALTH, MEDICINE, SOCIETY. Dordrecht-Holland/Boston-USA: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1976, 516 pp. English version of the 31 papers presented at the International Conference held in Jablonna (Poland) in August 1973.
  • Sokolowska, Magdalena, Antonina Ostrowska, Anna Titkow: The Sociology of Health of Polish Society: Trends and Current State of Research. In: Margaret S. Archer (ed.): Problems of Current Sociological Research, CURRENT SOCIOLOGY, Vol. XXII, Nos. 1/3 (1974). Printed in Great Britain by Mouton, 1977.
  • Sokolowska, Magdalena, and Jacek Holowka: POLITYKA SPOLECZNA A ZDROWIE. Warsaw: Ksiazka I Wiedza, 1977.
  • THE TORONTO PAPERS were published in special issues of journals including: INQUIRY, Supplement to Vol. XII, Nº2, June 1975, edited by Ray Elling. Chicago: The Blue Cross Association, 1975.
  • SOCIETY AND HEALTH, The Milbank Memorial Fund, 1975.
  • TRANSACTIONS OF THE IVth WORLD CONGRESS OF SOCIOLOGY, Vol. III, Section II (1): The Application of Sociological Knowledge to Medicine. Chairperson: G. Reader; rapporteur: Mary E.W. Goss. Contains 12 abstracts, one introductory paper and the report on the discussion.
  • TRANSACTIONS OF THE Vth WORLD CONGRESS OF SOCIOLOGY, Vol. IV: Sociology of Medicine. Report and discussion.
  • TRANSACTIONS OF THE VIth WORLD CONGRESS OF SOCIOLOGY, Vol. IV: contains 2 papers delivered at the Congress.
  • TRANSACTIONS OF THE VIIth WORLD CONGRESS OF SOCIOLOGY, Vol. IV: contains 2 papers presented at the Congress.
  • Twaddle, Andrew C.: From Medical Sociology to the Sociology of Health: Some Changing Concerns in the Sociological Study of Sickness and Treatment. In: Bottomore, Tom, Stefan Nowak, Magdalena Sokolowska (eds.): SOCIOLOGY. THE STATE OF THE ART. London and Beverly Hills: SAGE Publications, 1982.
  • Yamamoto, Mikio, Tetsuro Okino, Masahira Anesaki, and Yoshio Yonebayaski (eds.): Proceedings of the First Asian Seminar on Health and Medical .Sociology. Tokyo: Japanese Society of Health and Medical Sociology, 1981.