How Valuable Is Sociological Knowledge in Contributing to Our Understanding of Contemporary Health Issues?

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How valuable is sociological knowledge in contributing to our understanding of contemporary health issues?

Sociological knowledge assists understanding of how social issues impact on health and illness experiences in society (Barry & Yuill 2008, pp.5-10). In this context, sociological issues will refer to case study number one, about Ernie. By focussing on sociological imagination, this essay will illustrate how private troubles can be viewed as public issues. This will be followed by a discussion of structure and agency through a gender perspective as such an approach enhances our understanding of men and women's health. It will be argued that the application of sociological knowledge is a fundamental approach in nursing, essential if a more knowledgeable and competent profession is to be developed. First, however the case scenario will be briefly summarised.

Ernie is 59 year old man. He has developed emphysema. He might have no formal qualifications and has worked as a labourer on building and construction sites for most of his working life. The building industry is one that is especially sensitive to economic down turns. When the economic problems of 2009 began, building industry collapsed he was one of the first to become unemployed. Since then, he has had difficulty dealing with government bureaucracy to receive a disability support pension. Additionally, his wife, Gloria, has a physical job because she is also unskilled. Moreover, Ernie cannot cope with unemployment and poverty. As a consequence, he has indulged in some negative behaviour such as smoking and consuming alcohol. Finally, all these factors have led to domestic violence. Firstly, sociological imagination is a sociological term defined as the ability to see private experiences and personal difficulties as entwined with the structural arrangements of a society and the times in which humans live (Andersen & Taylor 2005, p.5). The sociological imagination helps to develop an understanding and even outlines the existence of society to the individual (Fuller 2006, p.12). Furthermore, there are two fundamental concepts that go along with sociological imagination: troubles, which deal with personal matters of an individual, and issues, which deal with the public matters of an entire society (Willis & Elmer 2008, pp.3-4). To understand social reality, private troubles must be examined in the context of the larger issue (Kendall 2007, p.7). There is a strong relationship between private and public troubles (Willis & Elmer 2008, pp.3-4). Kendall (2008, pp.6-10) explains that an individual’s troubles are personal when they occur because of the individual characteristics. She also notes that public issues, however, are a direct result of the problems within society. As well, she argues that they significantly affect people but often the individual will perceive the problem as their own personal defeat rather than as a societal problem. For example, the sociological imagination articulates Ernie’s experiences of unemployment, poverty, disease, and so forth as personal troubles. It then connects those private problems by viewing these as issues, which is, influenced by broader societal factors (Jamrozik & Nocella 1998, p.42).

Another example of a social issue that can be viewed either as a private trouble or public issues is domestic violence. It is a common myth to view domestic violence as a personal problem between a husband and a wife (Kirby 2000, p.87). However, it is a public issue amenable to sociological knowledge (Bell 1993, p.3). Marriage problems are a private matter until these problems manifest themselves as physical and psychological violence (Webber 2008, p.18). In this case study, Ernie’s recent situation has led him to domestic violence. It is a complex issue, caused by the interrelationship of many contributing factors (The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 2000, pp.7-8). UNICEF also states that two of these are economics and...
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