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Alongside the health disparities created by class inequalities, there are a number of health disparities created by racism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism. When health is a commodity, the poor are more likely to experience illness caused by poor diet, to live and work in unhealthy environments, and are less likely to challenge the system. In the United States, a disproportionate number of racial minorities also have less economic power, so they bear a great deal of the burden of poor health. It is not only the poor who suffer from the conflict between dominant and subordinate groups. For many years now, homosexual couples have been denied spousal benefits, either in the form of health insurance or in terms of medical responsibility. Further adding to the issue, doctors hold a disproportionate amount of power in the doctor/patient relationship, which provides them with extensive social and economic benefits.

While conflict theorists are accurate in pointing out certain inequalities in the healthcare system, they do not give enough credit to medical advances that would not have been made without an economic structure to support and reward researchers: a structure dependent on profitability. Additionally, in their criticism of the power differential between doctor and patient, they are perhaps dismissive of the hard-won medical expertise possessed by doctors and not patients, which renders a truly egalitarian relationship more elusive.

Symbolic interactionism

According to theorists working in this perspective, health and illness are both socially constructed. As we discussed in the beginning of the chapter, interactionists focus on the specific meanings and causes people attribute to illness. The term medicalization of deviance    refers to the process that changes “bad” behavior into “sick” behavior. A related process is demedicalization    , in which “sick” behavior is normalized again. Medicalization and demedicalization affect who responds to the patient, how people respond to the patient, and how people view the personal responsibility of the patient (Conrad and Schneider 1992).

An old engraving depicting “King Alcohol” is shown.
In this engraving from the nineteenth century, “King Alcohol” is shown with a skeleton on a barrel of alcohol. The words “poverty,” “misery,” “crime,” and “death” hang in the air behind him. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

An example of medicalization is illustrated by the history of how our society views alcohol and alcoholism. During the nineteenth century, people who drank too much were considered bad, lazy people. They were called drunks, and it was not uncommon for them to be arrested or run out of a town. Drunks were not treated in a sympathetic way because, at that time, it was thought that it was their own fault that they could not stop drinking. During the latter half of the twentieth century, however, people who drank too much were increasingly defined as alcoholics: people with a disease or a genetic predisposition to addiction who were not responsible for their drinking. With alcoholism defined as a disease and not a personal choice, alcoholics came to be viewed with more compassion and understanding. Thus, “badness” was transformed into “sickness.”

There are numerous examples of demedicalization in history as well. During the Civil War era, slaves who frequently ran away from their owners were diagnosed with a mental disorder called drapetomania . This has since been reinterpreted as a completely appropriate response to being enslaved. A more recent example is homosexuality, which was labeled a mental disorder or a sexual orientation disturbance by the American Psychological Association until 1973.

While interactionism does acknowledge the subjective nature of diagnosis, it is important to remember who most benefits when a behavior becomes defined as illness. Pharmaceutical companies make billions treating illnesses such as fatigue, insomnia, and hyperactivity that may not actually be illnesses in need of treatment, but opportunities for companies to make more money.

Summary

While the functionalist perspective looks at how health and illness fit into a fully functioning society, the conflict perspective is concerned with how health and illness fit into the oppositional forces in society. The interactionist perspective is concerned with how social interactions construct ideas of health and illness.

Short answer

Which theoretical perspective do you think best explains the sociology of health? Why?

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What examples of medicalization and demedicalization can you think of?

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Further research

Should alcoholism and other addictions be medicalized? Read and watch a dissenting view: (External Link)

References

Conrad, Peter, and Joseph W. Schneider. 1992. Deviance and Medicalization: From Badness to Sickness . Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press

Parsons, Talcott. 1951. The Social System . Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Scheff, Thomas. 1963. “The Role of the Mentally Ill and the Dynamics of Mental Disorder.” Sociometry 26:436–453.

Questions & Answers

What is Social Psychology? and why social psychology?
WILLIAM Reply
learn about the people and understand there need to live in society what there basic need and learning institutions
Ghulammurtaza
Social Psychology deals with the study of individual as part of a group or communty and how they affect each other.
Sadiq
behavior study of humans are there institutions are social psychology but if they are study about society that means the learn about there living structure
Ghulammurtaza
social psychology means it formed after combined sociology and psychology and itis new descipline.
salem
social psychology study behavior reference society
Rajesh
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Hirsi Reply
what is sociology?
Omeneke Reply
It's a field of study which studies about human Society... (to make you more clear... the psychology studies single individual where as sociology studies group of individual who forms society)
sociology is study of socity
Sadia
not only study but it study with scientific method and sociological approach
Rajesh
rite #rajesh sosa
Sadia
thanks
Rajesh
hey help me defining sociological guru's ideas
luther
what is culture
Nandala Reply
what is urbanisation
Nandala
What are the weaknesses of the conflict theory
Skeazo Reply
a person who's combination of a particular culture and ethics has a great influence on his personality.
Habibu Reply
ok
Kenneth
what is the main differences between social loafing and social facilitation
godfrey
popuation education major areas
Rakesh Reply
plx i need a better definition of culture
Alqaseem
culture, according to E. B. Tylor (1921), is defined as a complex whole which include knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, laws,customs , and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society
Adesola
what is orientalists anyone define pls
Anand
hello, I have my sociology exam gcse next Monday and I am so stressed, can anyone give me an advice of how to revise better and lower the stress 😭
Adry Reply
what level are you in the university
raymond
Before i say something
raymond
while we await your response, studies proof that psychology speaks more to condition of such. It concern sociologist most if you talk about culture, values, family, groups, organizations, society etc and not more of single individual/mind. However, tell us your level.
William
I'm in college not uni
Adry
good evening, how did sociology people behave
chukwuka Reply
They are social thinkers.And they adapt to any situation they found themselves.Also,they study in accordance,how the society behaved.For eg,the problem of Nigeria,Boko Haram etc,which is a social problem
raymond
mean that sociology people can stop the Boko Haram issues
chukwuka
As a social thinker,you can proffer solutions to stop this mess in the northern east
raymond
Raymond you are truely a sociologist
cynthia
am just 100level students, I find myself that I don't like talking too much to people, I always like still on my own way of life, is good for a sociology students
chukwuka
According to Peter Berger the people who should “stay away” from sociology are the people that can’t take a diversity of truths, people who are afraid to discover that there is something beyond what is taught to them, people that don’t have the drive to understand that society has many different...
perspectives from which it can be understood and it all depends on where you are standing. People who are used to things being the same all the time and are afraid of change..
If you feel that you fit in... Go ahead...
who is the father of Indian sociology?
The Reply
how does a sociologist do think critically
abdulaziz Reply
what does a medical sociologist is all about
abdulaziz
yes I am from sociology department
Nath Reply
hello
rajae
hi
Nath
hii
Prahallada
I'm new here
rajae
new here as well
soely
new here as well
Daphne
hi term paradigm pls
salem
hi
SHASHI
hey
Miguel
I'm so excited to see myself here
Miguel
paradigm is a group of ideas about what can be done.
Miguel
or how something can be done.
Miguel
pliz help with( the similarities bwn the fanctionalist and the feminist theory)
luther
functional and feminist are the same value in post industrial society and development of civilization in the defernt kind of geographic area.where people live in kinship and responsible .functions are the process of change the life of societies and feminist are the right of women in modern period
Ghulammurtaza
thanks more info
luther
what is kinship ?
Robert Reply
hi
Nath
afternoon
Nath
kinship is a relation
Nath
either by blood or connection
Nath
hi
Ayeshna
helo
ASHRAF
how are you
Ayeshna
hey
Nath
am good
Nath
u?
Nath
am ok nd thanks
raymond
thank you too
Nath
hie please gie me the similarities btwn the fanctionist theory and the feminist theory
luther
functionalist see society as a human body part that functions respectively whilst feminist is a perspective that works to see the needs of men in society (patriarchy)
abdulaziz
functional theory observed the balance and equal barium of the society. they see society is deferent farm. that fiminst are work for equality of gander
Ghulammurtaza
kinship is the vector of responses behaviour of societies with each other
Ghulammurtaza
function is the slowly process for changes of societies through developed and innovation of technology and use term for balance in society
Ghulammurtaza
what joins them [to be one]
luther
kinship is the relationship establlished through marriage or blood ties.blood relatives are cobsanguinieal kins and relatives by relation of marriage are affinal kins.for eg.a woman and her son are consanguineal kins and a woman and her brother in law are affinal kins
sanjukta
blood relatives are consanguneal kins
sanjukta
sorry l mean what join the feminist pespective and the fanctionalist one
luther
freedom for women's life how can survived and what right for doing omin modernization
Ghulammurtaza
what is sociology?
Soccer Reply
sociology is a science which study the society including social relationship ,social interaction and culture......
Akak
Thanks
Ankit
but can u send me syllabus of 12 th sociology
Ankit
and scope of it
Ankit
hello.
Sushant
Scope of scology can u tell me
Ankit
what do u mean by scope of sociology?
James
in simple meaning,social scope signifies the area of study.
Sushant
describe sociology as a science
godfrey
Origin of social system begin in?
Hazim Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
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