Volume 4
Commentary-Special Issue(Deepening of Disciplinary Content: Public Health in Post-Covid India)

Critical Holism as Public Health Theory: Towards A Unifying Framework for Research, Policy and Planning

Ritu Priya
Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi- 110067

Published 2023-09-02


  • Epistemology, Ontology, Holistic Epidemiology, Holistic Health Systems Research, Inter-disciplinarity, Trans-disciplinarity, Value-criticality

How to Cite

Priya, R. (2023). Critical Holism as Public Health Theory: Towards A Unifying Framework for Research, Policy and Planning. DIALOGUE: Science, Scientists and Society, 4(.), 1–29. Retrieved from https://dialogue.ias.ac.in/index.php/dialogue/article/view/34


The wide range of subject matter Public Health (PH) incorporates makes it a synthesizing science that draws upon very many disciplines of the natural, applied and social sciences. The sub-fields of research and application in PH, epidemiology, health systems research, policy studies, health education and further sub-fields within each of these, draw from the theories of their relevant base disciplines and thereby tend to think in silos rather than make the interlinkages between them. This paper argues for Critical Holism (CH) as an overarching theoretical framework that can provide PH and its sub-fields a unifying structure within which they can locate themselves in relation to each other. Thereby CH would remind PH researchers about attending to interlinkages between elements of a health problem and across problems, their multi-level and multi-dimensional complexity. Policy, planning and implementation require such unifying thought processes in order to ensure coherence between the various elements of PH action for a common objective such as policy formulation for improving the health of populations, health system strengthening, designing of programmes, pandemic response strategies and so on. PH research that generates knowledge to inform these politico-administrative processes, has also to provide them with the comprehensive lens with which to perceive the complexity of health problems, assess the resources at hand and design interventions. The paper presents an outline of what PH research adopting the Critical Holism theoretical frame would look like, as an invitation to further developments of the theoretical frame and its application.


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