The past decades have been the theatre of intellectual movements in epidemiology. The early 1990s in particular were marked by lively debates about the nature of the discipline and the role it should play in society. In addition to the importance of theory, two major points of controversy concerned on one hand the role denied, assumed or criticised of politics or more generally of ideology in research, on the other hand the nature of the causal determinism for a disease. Did these controversies have any impact in the occupational health domain?
We review these debates in the light of the current state of research in occupational cancer epidemiology. We aim to illustrate, the questioning, the practices of occupational epidemiologists when inscribed in different in views of the discipline.
We found that research conducted tend to primarily use “reductionist” paradigms and prioritise a deontological ethic (as opposed consequentialist). Occupational health is an issue of power: social, economic and political, crossed by many social dimensions such as social class or gender. Therefore, can occupational epidemiologists afford to neglect work as a social construction? Would it be beneficial for occupational epidemiologists, as suggested in other domains, to move towards a new paradigm or a new ethic?