Explain Different Sociological Approaches to Health and Ill Health

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Throughout society there are many different sociological approaches to health and ill health. Within society there are many different perspectives towards whom the responsibility for health falls upon and also what defines people as ill? Your health is defined by the general condition of your body and mind. An illness is defined by an impairment of normal physical or mental function. To help explain the different sociological approaches to health and ill health I will be referring to the case study of Aziz and Tamsela. Aziz and Tamsela have four young children; Tamsela’s elderly parents also live with them in their three bedroomed houses in a deprived and depressing area of London. Their house is in desperate need of repair; it is damp and due to this is very expensive to heat in the winter months. Aziz and Tamsela are both currently unemployed. The family also has very ill health; during the winter the children generally seem to have constant colds. On top of this Tamsela suffers from asthma and her father has bronchitis; also Tamsela’s mother is depressed and has been prescribed drugs to help her condition.

One of the first sociological approaches to health and ill health involves the functionalist approach. The functionalists approach is derived from the work of Talcott Parsons. Using the traditional functionalists approach he described how for society to function effectively that its members need to healthy. Parsons defined illness as a form of deviance and that ill members of society were still performing a social role, the sick role. In his view if people declared themselves as ill specific rights and responsibilities come with this new role. Functionalists believe that the rights associated with the sick role are; to be exempt from normal social obligations, for example, to go to school, college or work and from meeting normal family obligations, also to be cared for. Parsons saw it as one of the key functions of the family to care for the sick and other dependant members of the family group. The individual also has responsibilities that are involved in the sick role; taking all reasonable steps to get better and seeking to resume their normal place in society as soon as possible and to cooperate with medical professionals, particularly doctors and their staff. Functionalists view that illness has social consequences; the ill cannot work and need to be cared for. They believe that where ever possible illness must be quickly dealt with in order for society to function effectively. In the instance of Aziz and Tamsela, the functionalists view contradicts their situation as they are in ill health and are not working; therefore they are stopping the effective function of society. In order to comply with the functionalists view they would need to seek help themselves and ensure their return to health in order to be able to start working and contributing to society as in their current situation they are draining society.

Another approach to health and ill health would be the Marxists approach. Marxists believe that the definitions of health and illness and the health and social care system provided are in place to serve the interests of the more powerful dominant classes. Doctors are seen as agents who ensure that people go back to work as soon as possible, working in the interests of their employers rather than working in the patient’s best interests. Their job is to ensure that the employer has a healthy workforce. However the government still allow these companies to make money from the products that effectively cause ill health such as tobacco and junk food. Factories and firms also continue to produce toxic waste and large amounts of pollution which can also cause ill health. Marxists regard levels of ill health to be linked to the differences in social class, for example there is a higher level of illness and lower life expectancy in areas of poverty, high unemployment and environmental pollution. Marxists...
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