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Social and Behavioural Sciences

  • About Us

    Head of Division:  Associate Professor Lucia Knight BSc Cape Town MPS UKZN PhD LSHTM

    Welcome to the Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    The Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences (SBS) coordinates the School’s teaching and research activities in the social and behavioural sciences.  Social and behavioural science research offers insight into the “how” and “why” questions in public health. Teaching and training in these disciplines offers students and professionals a diverse range of skills that can be applied in varied contexts.

    The Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences was created in 2013. It coordinates the School’s teaching and research capacity in the social and behavioural sciences.  This is a disciplinary area that is increasingly recognised as a critical element in fulfilling public health’s broader mission within the School, the Faculty, and by the public health community at large.

    The social and behavioural sciences are critical components of any holistic approach to public health research, teaching and training, as well as community engagement and knowledge dissemination. For research, the social science perspective can offer insight into the “why” questions in public heath. Teaching and training in the social sciences offers students and professionals a diverse range of skills that can be applied in varied contexts. The social sciences also provide well-established methods for engaging with communities and disseminating research findings that help to communicate the meaning of public health issues and concepts for people within their contexts.

    The primary goal of the Division is to strengthen and coordinate the social and behavioural science research and teaching in the School. The role of the social and behavioural sciences in the field of public health is increasingly valued as part of a complex, people-centered approach to tackling the multifaceted challenges in public health.

    Please take some time to explore the information in our website.  You can find information on the classes we teach, the post-graduate students in our Division, our areas of research interest and recent publications, upcoming DSBS events, and our engagement with communities, civil society and government organisations in South Africa and abroad.

    To learn more about the work we do, please look at our Welcome Booklet which outlines our research projects, our core teaching areas as well as introduces you to our team.

    Contact Information:

    Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences
    School of Public Health and Family Medicine
    Faculty of Health Sciences
    University of Cape Town
    South Africa

    Research Administrator:  Ms Ruvimbo Chigwanda
    Tel: +27 21 650 1487
    Fax:+27 21 406 6459
    Email:  Ruvimbo Chigwanda


  • Undergraduate Teaching

    The Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences does not do any ongoing teaching with undergraduates in the Faculty of Health Sciences.  Some of our staff are involved in teaching on Special Study Modules (SSMs) for undergraduate medical students at UCT on an ad hoc basis.  We have also been involved in designing and conducting field-based educational programmes in global public health, and gender and health, for undergraduate students from overseas.  One of the longer-term goals in our Division is build from this experience and develop a platform for field-based, experiential learning in the health social sciences that would integrate undergraduate and graduate students from UCT and elsewhere.  This kind of initiative would serve to address an important gap in existing health social science training in South Africa.

  • Postgraduate Teaching

    The SBS Track in the MPH Programme

    The Master of Public Health Programme (MPH) at UCT has been growing steadily since its inception almost 15 years ago.  As it has grown, specialist ‘tracks’ have been added in the areas of epidemiology, clinical research, health economics, and health systems.

    A new track in ‘Social and Behavioural Sciences’ (SBS) will be available to students starting in 2015.  The core SBS MPH courses are:

    • Public Health and Society
    • Gender and Health
    • Health and Human Rights
    • Qualitative Research Methods
    • Qualitative Data Analysis
    • Introduction to Epidemiology

    The other four elective courses can be taken from among the other MPH course offerings.  In addition, up to two elective courses may be taken outside of the School.

    Students in the SBS track will also be required to produce a mini-dissertation for their Master’s thesis that uses theory and method from the social and behavioural sciences. 

    To learn more about the SBS track, please look at our SBS Track Handbook.

    PhD Supervision

    The Division also offers PhD supervision and is currently hosting 7 PhD students.  The PhD in Public Health is by research only.  Interested students should ensure that there are qualified supervisors available in the Division in their area of interest. 

    The South African Social Science and HIV (SASH) Programme

    The South African Social Sciences and HIV (SASH) Programme is a central component in the Division’s platform for supporting social and behavioural science teaching and research.  It is funded by a five-year, R20 million grant from the NIH, awarded jointly to UCT and Brown University in the US.  The SASH Programme represents a major opportunity to grow the health social sciences teaching and research in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, and in the Faculty of Health Sciences more broadly. Its focus is on teaching and training and its many component activities are providing a critical source of focus and momentum for the Division.  For more information on the SASH Programme, and its flagship initiative, please visit SASH Fellows Programme.

  • Service Support and Engagement

    Public Health Advocacy

    Staff in the Division have been involved in a range of public health advocacy efforts, including:

    • Engagement with the People’s Health Movement of South Africa
    • Participation in advocacy work with Sonke Gender Justice around men’s access to HIV prevention and treatment services
    • Presentation to the Western Cape Provincial Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on community participation and the Right to Health
    • Support to various communities and community-based organisations in Cape Town and the surrounding areas to identify public health priorities and build local capacity to support research and research translation, and implement public health interventions.

    Technical Support to Community / Civil Society Partners

    Division staff also have considerable experience providing technical support in social science research and training to a number of civil society organisations.  These include:

    • Sonke Gender Justice (www.genderjustice.org.za)
    • Medicins San Frontieres (MSF South Africa and Swaziland) (www.msf.org.za)
    • Human Rights Media Centre (HRMC) (www.hrmc.org.za)
    • People’s Health Movement (PHM) (www.phm-sa.org)
    • Development Works (developmentworks.co.za)
    • ComaCare and Imbizo Yamadoda (www.comacare.com)

    Policy Contributions

    Research in the Division has also led to numerous opportunities to make input into policy debates, both global and in South Africa.  Policy stakeholders have included:

    • South African National AIDS Council (SANAC)

    • The Western Cape Provincial AIDS Council
    • South African National Department of Health
    • World Health Organisaton
    • UNICEF

    The Division is also engaged in efforts to develop and strengthen the place of evidence from social and behavioural science research in global health policymaking and practice.  Most of this work is focused on developing methods for conducting systematic reviews of qualitative evidence and translating evidence syntheses into policy and practice recommendations.  See “Qualitative Evidence Synthesis” under our “Research” page for more information.

  • Research

    The Division is involved in wide-ranging research that attempts to understand and analyse the complex relationships between the social and behavioural sciences and public health. There are five main research areas in the Division:

    1.      Men, Masculinities and Health

    2.      Health Governance and Activism

    3.      HIV and TB Treatment and Prevention Programmes

    4.      Qualitative Evidence Synthesis (QES) in Global Health Policy

    5.      New Pedagogies for Community Health Research

    Men, Masculinities and Health

    One of the Division’s key research areas involves work on men, masculinities and health, in particular with respect to HIV, gender-based violence and gender transformation initiatives. Previous and ongoing research projects have focused on men’s experiences in HIV support groups, issues of men’s use of and access to health services, gender and the community organisation of care, and the role of human rights discourses in HIV/AIDS treatment choices. 

    Health Governance and Activism

    Research in the Division also explores health governance, health activism and human rights. Previous and ongoing projects have examined the People’s Health Movement’s ‘Right to Health’ campaign, sanitation and health activism in Khayelitsha with the Social Justice Coalition, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and health pluralism in the context of local politics, and the Learning Network for Health and Human Rights Project (part of the Health and Human Rights Programme in UCT’s School of Public Health and Family Medicine).

    HIV and TB Prevention and Treatment Programmes

    Much of the research work in the Division has been focused on understanding and supporting the development of longer-term HIV and TB prevention and treatment programmes in South Africa.  Previous and ongoing projects in this area include research with community health workers (CHWs) on CHW policy development, training and expectations, the use of CHWs in PMTCT interventions, patient experiences of lay health work, and the impact of CHWs on health citizenship, nurse-initiated ART, second-line treatment failure in ART patients, and policy transfer of molecular TB diagnostics in South Africa.

    Qualitative Evidence Synthesis (QES) in Global Health Policy

    Qualitative evidence synthesis is a growing strength in the Division.  There are two streams of this work.  The first involves developing new methods for conducting these kinds of reviews and translating their findings, as well as carrying out QES on specific topics such as CHW motivation, health systems barriers and enablers to maternal ART, and task shifting in midwifery programmes.  The second stream involves ethnographic work to document and better understand the growing recognition of QES in global health policymaking as a new form of global knowledge production and knowledge politics.

    New Pedagogies for Community Health Research

    Finally, the Division has an emerging research interest in developing and evaluating new pedagogies for community health research.  In particular, we are interested in pedagogical research that assesses field-based approaches to experiential learning for community health research methods. 

  • Links

  • Staff

    Lucia Knight, Associate Professor and Head of Division








    Lucia Knight is an Associate Professor and the Head of the Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. She has training in social anthropology, family demography and population studies with a PhD from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her current research focuses on the development of social and behavioural interventions to improve access to HIV treatment and care and ART adherence. She is also conducting research on the quality of maternal health care and is exploring new areas of research in sexual and reproductive health. She has extensive teaching and supervision experience and convenes the Social and Behavioural Sciences track of the Masters in Public Health, including the teaching of qualitative research methods.

    Jane Harries, Associate Professor

    Email:  Jane.Harries@uct.ac.za

    Alison Swartz, Senior Lecturer

    Phone:  021 406 6535

    Email:  Alison.Swartz@uct.ac.za

    Jennifer Githaiga, Lecturer

    Phone:  021 406 6819

    Email:  Jennifer.Githaiga@uct.ac.za

    Deborah ConstantSenior Research Officer and Director:  WHRU


    Email:  Deborah.Constant@uct.ac.za

    Phone:  021 406 6722



    Deborah Constant completed her PhD in Public Health at the University of Cape Town in 2016, and was awarded ad hominem promotion to Senior Researcher in 2017. She is currently Director of the Women’s Health Research Unit, School of Public Health at the University of Cape Town, where she has worked since 2002. Her main research interests are in the field of sexual and reproductive health and female cancers, and her research is aimed at influencing policy, improving service delivery, and strengthening women’s autonomy with respect to their reproductive health. She is predominantly a quantitative researcher with strong biostatistical skills, and has designed, raised funding for and led numbers of randomized controlled trials as well as observational studies. She has published 38 peer reviewed articles, mostly in international journals. She teaches at post graduate level in the MPH degree offered by the University of Cape Town School of Public Health and Family Medicine, and has supervised masters and co-supervised doctoral students.


    Idriss Kallon, Research Fellow

    Email:  Idriss.Kallon@uct.ac.za

    Carmen Spath, Research Fellow

    Email:  Carmen.Spath@uct.ac.za

    Laing de Villiers, Research Assistant

    Email:  Laing.Devilliers@uct.ac.za

    Marguerite Thorne, Research Assistant

    Email:  Marguerite.Thorne@uct.ac.za

    Natasha Kannemeyer, Research Co-ordinator

    Email:  Natasha.Kannemeyer@uct.ac.za

    Mandla Majola, Research Co-ordinator

    Email:  Mandla.Majola@uct.ac.za

    Myrna van Pinxteren, Research Co-ordinator









    Myrna van Pinxteren is the research coordinator for the ‘using information to link and retain  men in the HIV-cascade’ (iALARM study)  in the division of Social and Behavioural Sciences. Her PhD research explored the social use of health information to strengthen health services among health and community stakeholders in Gugulethu. Besides her role as a research coordinator, Myrna is an editor for the DSBS Fieldnotes blog, supervises MPH students and is an occasional lecturer for the Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods within the faculty of Health Sciences. Through her PhD research, Myrna  developed research interests in the field of health systems, HIV, men’s wellness, health communication and the practical use of medical anthropology in everyday life.

    Monwabisi Maqogi, Field Co-ordinator

    Adjunct Associate Professor

    Christopher Colvin

    Honorary Professors

    Naeemah Abrahams
    Diane Cooper
    Chelsea Morroni

    Honorary Associate Professors

    Abigail Harrison
    Mark Lurie
    Catherine Mathews

    Honorary Senior Lecturers

    Dean Peacock
    Erin Stern
    Lindsey Reynolds

    Honorary Research Associates

    Sara Cooper
    Zoe Duby
    Emilie Venables

    Honorary Research Affiliate

    Zara Trafford

    Administrative Staff

    Name Description Email Telephone No
    Ruvimbo Chigwanda Research Administrator (021) 650 1487
    Marion Bloch Research Administrator (021) 650 1487
    Nonzuzo Mbokazi  iALARM Administrator  


  • Publications

    Journal articles

    Book chapters



  • Journal articles








    • Colvin CJ. Gender, Health and Change in South Africa: Three Ways of Working with Men and Boys for Gender Justice. Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 2017;48(1):109-24. 
    • Stern E, Colvin CJ, Gxabagxaba N, et al. Conceptions of agency and constraint for HIV-positive patients and healthcare workers to support long-term engagement with antiretroviral therapy care in Khayelitsha, South Africa. Afr J AIDS Res. 2017;16(1):19-29. 
    • Wainwright M. Sensing the Airs: The Cultural Context for Breathing and Breathlessness in Uruguay. Med Anthropol. 2017;36(4):332-47.
    • Wainwright M. Imaging and Imagining chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): Uruguayans draw their lungs. Disabil Rehabil. 2017;11:1-10. 
    • Wainwright M, Bingham S, Sicwebu N. Photovoice and photodocumentary for enhancing community partner engagement and student learning in a public health field school in Cape Town. J. Exp. Educ. 2017;40(4):409-24. 



    • Duby Z, Hartmann M, Montgomery ET, Colvin CJ, et al. Condoms, lubricants and rectal cleansing: prac­tices associated with heterosexual penile-anal intercourse amongst participants in an HIV prevention trial in South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. AIDS Behav. 2016 Apr;20(4):754-62.
    • Duby Z, Hartmann M, Montgomery ET, Colvin CJ, et al. Sexual scripting of heterosexual penile-anal intercourse amongst participants in an HIV prevention trial in South Africa, Uganda and Zimba­bwe. Cult Health Sex. 2016;18(1):30-44. 
    • Russell A, Wainwright M, Tilson M. Means and ENDS – E-Cigarettes, the framework convention on tobacco control, and global health diplomacy in action. Glob Public Health. 2016 Mar 7:1-16. 
    • Swartz A, Colvin CJ, Harrison A. The Cape Town boyfriend and the Joburg boyfriend: women’s sexual part­nerships and social networks in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Social Dynamics. 2016, 42(2): 237-252. 
    • Wainwright M, Colvin CJ, Swartz A, et al. Self-management of medical abortion: a qualitative evidence syn­thesis. RHM. 2016, 24(47): 1326-1338. 


    • Colvin CJ, Leon N, Wills C, et al. Global-to-local policy transfer in the introduction of new molecular tuber­culosis diagnostics in South Africa. Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2015 Nov;19(11):1326-38. 
    • Colvin CJ. Anthropologies in and of evidence making in global health research and policy. Med Anthropol. 2015;34(2):99-105. 
    • Colvin CJ, Harrison A. Broadening the debate over HIV and hormonal contraceptives. Lancet Infec Dis. 2015;15(2):135-6.
    • Duby Z, Hartmann M, Mahaka I, et al. Lost in translation: language, terminology and understanding of penal-anal intercourse in an HIV prevention trial in South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe. J Sex Res. 2015 Nov;13:1-11. 
    • Dworkin SL, Fleming PJ, Colvin CJ. The promises and limitations of gender-transformative health program­ming with men: critical reflections from the field. Cult Health Sex. 2015 Oct 16;17(sup 2):128-43. 
    • Harness M, Raja DS, Matter R. Assistive technology access and service delivery in resource-limited environments: introduction to a special issue of Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology. Disabil Rehabil Assist Technol. 2015;10(4):267-270.
    • Harrison A, Colvin CJ, Kuo C, et al. Sustained HIV incidence in young women in Southern Africa: social, behavioural and structural factors and emerging intervention approaches. Current HIV/AIDS Review. 2015 Apr 9. 
    • Lewin S, Glenton C, Munthe-Kaas H, Carlsen B, Colvin CJ, et al. Using qualitative evidence in decision making for health and social interventions: an approach to assess confidence in find­ings from qualitative evidence syntheses (GRADE-CERQual). PLoS Med.2015;12(10):e1001895.
    • Viitanen AP, Colvin CJ. Lessons learned: program messaging in gender-transformative work with men and boys in South Africa. Glob Health Action. 2015 Sept 7;8:27860. 
  • Books

    Christopher J Colvin. Traumatic Storytelling and Memory. In: Post-Apartheid South Africa: Performing Signs of Injury. 1st Edition. Routledge.

  • Book chapters


    • Colvin CJ, Robins S. (2017). Drug patents and shit politics in South Africa: Refiguring the politics of the ‘scientific’ and the ‘global’ in global health interventions. In: Bulled, N. (Ed.). Thinking Through Resistance. New York: Routledge.
    • Cooper S, Honikman, S, Tomlinson, M. (2017). Synthesizing global and local knowledge for the development of maternal mental health care: Two cases from South Africa. In: R. White et al. (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mental Health: Socio-cultural Perspectives, USA: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • Swartz A. (2017). Navigating Motherhood at the Intersection of Intergenerational Fertility, HIV and Care: a case study of a family of three generations of teenage mothers in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, Invited Chapter in a Book “Young Families: Gender, Sexuality and Care”, edited by Nolwazi Mkhwanazi and Deevia Bhana, Chapter 13.



    • Cooper S, Honikman, S, Tomlinson, M. (2016). Synthesizing global and local knowledge for the development of maternal mental health care: Two cases from South Africa. In: R. White et al. (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mental Health: Socio-cultural Perspectives, USA: Palgrave Macmillan.
    • Wainwright, M. (2016). Case study: Rebellion and co-morbidity (Chapter 5: Bodily Resistances). In: The Routledge Handbook of Medical Anthropology, Manderson, L., Hardon, A., Cartwright, E. (Eds.). London, Routledge.



    • Colvin CJ, Swartz A. (2015). Extension agents or agents of change? CHWs and the politics of carework in post Apartheid South Africa. Invited submission to Special Issue of Annals of Anthropological Practice.
    • Colvin CJ, Wainwright M, Noyes J, et al. Confidence in the evidence from reviews of qualitative research (CERQual): Development and future directions of a novel approach. In: Chandler J, Mc­Kenzie J, Boutron I, Welch V (editors) Cochrane Methods. Cochrane DB Syst Rev. 2015; Suppl 1: 45-47.
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