The article discusses a paradox pointed out by epidemiologists and consisting in the quasi-absence of French sociologists in research on social determinants of health whereas references to Durkheim and Bourdieu are central in that field. It considers the handbooks of medical sociology and sociology of health published since the 1970s and gives an overview of the theoretical frameworks in use in French sociology of health. It examines the formation of this orientation in three periods to which correspond three layers of research topics and approaches: the foundation in the 1960s in which American medical sociology compensates partly the limitations of French sociology, the institutionalization in the 1970s marked by a firm orientation towards qualitative sociology, and the consolidation during the Aids years. These orientations are replaced in their institutional context and related to strategic choices made by researchers.
Keywords: France, sociology of health, qualitative research.