Sociology of Health and Illness

Topics: Sociology, Medicine, Health care Pages: 7 (2171 words) Published: April 28, 2007
The state of our health is very important to us, we spend a lot of time and money on trying to stay healthy, but what do we mean by "Health"? The world Health Organisation (WHO) describes health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being which is more than just the absence of disease.

When we think of health and illness, there is a general conception that it involves health habits such as exercise and eating the right food, as well as institutions such as hospitals and doctors. In Western societies it is commonly accepted that if we are ill it is a result of an infectious disease that can be cured by modern medicine, or is a result of genetics or lifestyle choices. Sociologists propose a different cause. They examine patterns within society, and they seek social rather than biological answers and suggest that the differences in health and illness between different groups within society are influenced by social, economic, cultural and political factors. It is from these observations that sociologists have concluded, health is unevenly distributed in a systematic way.

Social class has always been a fundamental concept in medical sociology, demonstrating its empirical value for the understanding of 'health chances' for the individual ever since the early years of this century when Stevenson constructed a classification based on father's occupation for the purpose of analysing infant mortality in England and Wales. In the past, however, medical sociologists have been criticised for an atheoretical use of class. Medical sociology, and especially the 'inequality in health' debate, have thus been criticised as being isolated from developments in wider sociology. (Fitzpatrick, 2004, 199-202) The objective of this paper, however, is to document how this is changing. It is argued that, currently, medical sociology is both taking note of contemporary theory of class and contributing to it. This is occurring largely through an attempt to incorporate the concept of time. Health is a characteristic where time cannot be ignored: the sociology of health is concerned with birth and death, ageing and the life course, becoming ill and getting better, moving through both personal and historical trajectories. Health is neither simply a characteristic of the individual nor an event, but their meeting as they come together in biography. Thus health is a topic which adds in a special way to both structure and action as they are conceived of in the theory of class.

This observation has been linked to class, gender, race, ethnicity and geographical location, in understanding why certain groups experience significantly different rates of illness. The sociology of health and illness is concerned with the social origins of and influences on disease, rather than the professional interests of medicine that examine health and illness from its biological development and regards illness as a malfunction of the human body. (Wilkinson, 1999, 391-412) The social theory of health and illness is critical of the medical model and treats concepts of health and illness as highly problematic and political. It also gives special attention to how patients experience and express their distress when ill, but is critical of the ideal of the so-called 'sick roles'. It argues that modern societies are primarily concerned with illness because of the emphasis that the medical professions have placed on it. Finally, the social approach has been critical of the medicalisation of social problems, such as lifestyle illness, like stress (Abercrombie, Hill, 2001, p. 337).

Our ideas about what health and illness are have been shaped by the influence of contemporary medicine. It has been given high priority by British society with many industries being built around it whose main goals are not only health but also profit. However health and illness is far more than just medicine and medical treatments. Health and illness is closely linked to social...
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