Historically, population health researchers have privileged methodological considerations in their research and practice. With the entry of researchers from varied social science disciplines into the field, and the growing recognition of the impact of social phenomena such as class, gender, and ethnicity on the health of populations, questions of social theory are poised to take on a greater salience in population health inquiry. This paper invites a dialogue focused on the use of social theory in population health research and practice. We critique two common orientations to social theory found in the population health literature: the in explicit and post hoc uses of social theory. We then propose three forms of engagement with social theory – to frame research, interpret emerging data and critique results. In our view, opening up a dialogue on social theory is an important step toward improving the explanatory potential and policy relevance of population health activities.