Qualitative Sozialforschung



Changing Categories: Migrants in epidemiological, preventive and legal discourses on HIV and tuberculosis – A discourse analysis comparing Germany and the UK

Research Project

Since the 1990s there has been an increase in knowledge produced in public health about the health and illness of migrants, particularly regarding communicable infectious diseases. The epidemiological categories and classifications which serve to generate this knowledge have been changing, both in Germany and other European countries. Currently, there are efforts at the European level to make the categories and classifications used for migrant populations and ethnic minorities more comparable.

The aim of this three (3) year research project is to explore these processes from a sociological point of view. We compare the epidemiological categories and public health discourses in Germany and the UK with regard to migrants and two infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The theoretical framework is informed by the sociology of knowledge and discourse analysis. We reconstruct the development, application and change of the categories in their socio-historical context. Furthermore, we explore how the categories might have become incorporated into preventive and legal discourses thus deploying ‘power-effects’ for example in travel, testing and residency regulations or in the definition of prevention target groups. The project makes a contribution to an understanding of the sociality of epidemiological knowledge and its effects. The comparison of actor formations and speaker positions will shed light on the previously unexplored dynamic of changing categories in the health sciences.

The project’s methodological approach is based on the research programme of the sociology of knowledge approach to discourse analysis (SKAD) and integrates elements of grounded theory and situational analysis. It includes document analysis and expert interviews in Germany, the UK and at the EU level. A conference will be held during the course of the project.


Discussion Paper


Project team:

Prof. Dr. Hella von Unger unger@soziologie.uni-muenchen.de

Penelope Scott, Ph.D. scott@soziologie.uni-muenchen.de

Dennis Odukoya, M.A. odukoya@soziologie.uni-muenchen.de

Project Duration:

9/2012 – 9/2015


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

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