Community-based epidemiology: community involvement in defining social risk

J Health Soc Policy. 1998;9(4):51-65. doi: 10.1300/J045v09n04_05.


In traditional epidemiologic research, the concept of risk emerges from a biomedical paradigm which draws heavily upon Cartesian-Newtonian ontological assumptions. Rational assessment of individual risk is based on a culturally conditioned metatheoretical framework that seeks specific causes for specific disease conditions. This leads to the identification of "risk factors" that can be individually modified. Research within this orientation tends to produce interpretations of data which further condition and mold cultural understanding of individual and social risks and the available choices that can be made to modify these risks. Community-based eco-epidemiology balances reductionist tendencies of individual risk-factor analysis against social context and local knowledge gained through community involvement in the research process. The community-based partnership model can contribute to a greater understanding of the interrelatedness of social problems and individual risks on the part of community participants and researchers alike.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health*
  • Community Participation*
  • Epidemiology*
  • Health Services Research / methods
  • Humans
  • Public Health
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk Factors
  • United States