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The social construction of the illness experience

The idea of the social construction of the illness experience is based on the concept of reality as a social construction. In other words, there is no objective reality; there are only our own perceptions of it. The social construction of the illness experience deals with such issues as the way some patients control the manner in which they reveal their diseases and the lifestyle adaptations patients develop to cope with their illnesses.

In terms of constructing the illness experience, culture and individual personality both play a significant role. For some people, a long-term illness can have the effect of making their world smaller, more defined by the illness than anything else. For others, illness can be a chance for discovery, for re-imaging a new self (Conrad and Barker 2007). Culture plays a huge role in how an individual experiences illness. Widespread diseases like AIDS or breast cancer have specific cultural markers that have changed over the years and that govern how individuals—and society—view them.

Today, many institutions of wellness acknowledge the degree to which individual perceptions shape the nature of health and illness. Regarding physical activity, for instance, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that individuals use a standard level of exertion to assess their physical activity. This Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) gives a more complete view of an individual’s actual exertion level, since heartrate or pulse measurements may be affected by medication or other issues (Centers for Disease Control 2011a). Similarly, many medical professionals use a comparable scale for perceived pain to help determine pain management strategies.

A chart of numerical pain levels ranging from 0 to 10 is shown here.
The Mosby pain rating scale helps health care providers assess an individual’s level of pain. What might a symbolic interactionist observe about this method? (Photo courtesy of wrestlingentropy/flickr)

The social construction of medical knowledge

Conrad and Barker show how medical knowledge is socially constructed; that is, it can both reflect and reproduce inequalities in gender, class, race, and ethnicity. Conrad and Barker (2011) use the example of the social construction of women’s health and how medical knowledge has changed significantly in the course of a few generations. For instance, in the early nineteenth century, pregnant women were discouraged from driving or dancing for fear of harming the unborn child, much as they are discouraged, with more valid reason, from smoking or drinking alcohol today.

Has breast cancer awareness gone too far?

Pink ribbon lollipops are shown here.
Pink ribbons are a ubiquitous reminder of breast cancer. But do pink ribbon chocolates do anything to eradicate the disease? (Photo courtesy of wishuponacupcake/Wikimedia Commons)

Every October, the world turns pink. Football and baseball players wear pink accessories. Skyscrapers and large public buildings are lit with pink lights at night. Shoppers can choose from a huge array of pink products. In 2014, people wanting to support the fight against breast cancer could purchase any of the following pink products: KitchenAid mixers, Master Lock padlocks and bike chains, Wilson tennis rackets, Fiat cars, and Smith&Wesson handguns. You read that correctly. The goal of all these pink products is to raise awareness and money for breast cancer. However, the relentless creep of pink has many people wondering if the pink marketing juggernaut has gone too far.

Pink has been associated with breast cancer since 1991, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation handed out pink ribbons at its 1991 Race for the Cure event. Since then, the pink ribbon has appeared on countless products, and then by extension, the color pink has come to represent support for a cure of the disease. No one can argue about the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s mission—to find a cure for breast cancer—or the fact that the group has raised millions of dollars for research and care. However, some people question if, or how much, all these products really help in the fight against breast cancer (Begos 2011).

The advocacy group Breast Cancer Action (BCA) position themselves as watchdogs of other agencies fighting breast cancer. They accept no funding from entities, like those in the pharmaceutical industry, with potential profit connections to this health industry. They’ve developed a trademarked “Think Before You Pink” campaign to provoke consumer questioning of the end contributions made to breast cancer by companies hawking pink wares. They do not advise against “pink” purchases; they just want consumers to be informed about how much money is involved, where it comes from, and where it will go. For instance, what percentage of each purchase goes to breast cancer causes? BCA does not judge how much is enough, but it informs customers and then encourages them to consider whether they feel the amount is enough (Think Before You Pink 2012).

BCA also suggests that consumers make sure that the product they are buying does not actually contribute to breast cancer, a phenomenon they call “pinkwashing.” This issue made national headlines in 2010, when the Susan G. Komen Foundation partnered with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on a promotion called “Buckets for the Cure.” For every bucket of grilled or regular fried chicken, KFC would donate fifty cents to the Komen Foundation, with the goal of reaching 8 million dollars: the largest single donation received by the foundation. However, some critics saw the partnership as an unholy alliance. Higher body fat and eating fatty foods has been linked to increased cancer risks, and detractors, including BCA, called the Komen Foundation out on this apparent contradiction of goals. Komen’s response was that the program did a great deal to raise awareness in low-income communities, where Komen previously had little outreach (Hutchison 2010).

What do you think? Are fundraising and awareness important enough to trump issues of health? What other examples of “pinkwashing” can you think of?

Summary

Medical sociology is the systematic study of how humans manage issues of health and illness, disease and disorders, and healthcare for both the sick and the healthy. The social construction of health explains how society shapes and is shaped by medical ideas.

Short answer

Pick a common illness and describe which parts of it are medically constructed, and which parts are socially constructed.

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What diseases are the most stigmatized? Which are the least? Is this different in different cultures or social classes?

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Further research

Spend some time on the two web sites below. How do they present differing views of the vaccination controversy? Freedom of Choice is Not Free: Vaccination News: (External Link) and Shot by Shot: Stories of Vaccine-Preventable Illnesses: (External Link)

References

Begos, Kevin. 2011. “Pinkwashing For Breast Cancer Awareness Questioned.” Retrieved December 16, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Centers for Disease Control. 2011a. “Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 12, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Conrad, Peter, and Kristin Barker. 2010. “The Social Construction of Illness: Key Insights and Policy Implications.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 51:67–79.

Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity . London: Penguin.

Hutchison, Courtney. 2010. “Fried Chicken for the Cure?” ABC News Medical Unit. Retrieved December 16, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Sartorius, Norman. 2007. “Stigmatized Illness and Health Care.” The Croatian Medical Journal 48(3):396–397. Retrieved December 12, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Think Before You Pink. 2012. “Before You Buy Pink.” Retrieved December 16, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

“Vaccines and Immunizations.” 2011. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved December 16, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

World Health Organization. .n.d. “Definition of Health.” Retrieved December 12, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

World Health Organization: “Health Promotion Glossary Update.” Retrieved December 12, 2011 ( (External Link) ).

Questions & Answers

what is social solidarity?
shahnam Reply
whay ismechanical solidarity and organic solidarity?
shahnam
what is formal education
JAMES Reply
Formal education is classroom-based, provided by trained teachers. Informaleducation happens outside the classroom, in after-school programs, community-based organizations, museums, libraries, or at home. ... Typically, materials for after-school settings need to include a lot more structure.
Gh
differences between consensus and conflict approaches to explain social change
ruth
is collective crowd and conventional crowd the saw thing?
Norman Reply
these are two types of crowd
Gh
Collective behavior refers to events that suddenly emerge. These events do not conform to rules or laws but instead are shaped based on the issue at hand. 
Gh
Collective behavior refers to the spontaneous and unstructured behavior of a group of people in response to the same event, situation, or problem, like this crowd of people, for example. These events do not conform to typical structures that other events are formed around, such as rules or laws.....
Gh
Examples of collective behavior may include a crowd doing the wave at a football game, a group of people forming around a street preacher, or even widespread interest in a new fad or product, like silly bands. I will explain collective behavior in sociology through ...crowd, mob and riot.
Gh
The crowd is defined as a relatively large number of people in close proximity to each other (this is sometimes referred to aslocalized collectivities). The crowd reacts at once to a common focus or concern.
Gh
Sociology is it necessary for us?
Dischan Reply
Because it's that subject which cover the all elements which have in society
Akak
considering the concentric zone model of urbanization, what type of zone is kigston Jamaica?
Sandra Reply
assess the role of mass media in the process of formal socialisation
Namwanje Reply
what is suicide according to Durkheim
Batch Reply
Durkheim was divided the suicide in three types that is egoistic, altruistic, isolated, according him suicide is depend upon individual to individual,some may in positive some may in negative
Akak
suicide is not only of three types but four types 1egostic 2altruistic.3anomic. 4 fatalistic sucide.....
Gh
what is factor for contributed sociology
Abdul Reply
No it should "What are the factors that led to the emengence of Sociology" Basically, there are three factors that give birth to Sociology namely 1. Industrial Revolution 2.French/Political Revolution and finally 3. Enlightenment.
Muhammad
as the whole world be a sociaty
Amjad Reply
what are social facts according to Durkheim
Batch Reply
social facts are the facts which provides constrains on individual and are external to individual
Gh
Durkheim said actually society has already created these facts I.e why these are external to individual ....these are not generated by individual himself....
Gh
Social fact is a theory created by sociologist Emile Durkheim to describe how values, culture and norms control the actions and beliefs of individuals and society as a whole.
manisha
Social facts are the reason why people within a society seem to do the same basic things, such as where they live, what they eat, and how they interact. The society they belong to shapes them to do these things, continuing social facts.
manisha
Durkheim used many examples to demonstrate his theory of social facts, including:  Marriage: Social groups tend to have the same ideas towards marriage, such as the appropriate age to get married and what a ceremony should look like. 
manisha
Language: People living in the same area tend to speak the same language. In fact, they can develop and pass on their own dialect and idioms. Years later, those norms can identify someone as being part of a particular region. 
manisha
Religion: Social facts shape how we view religion. Different areas have different religious strongholds, with faith being a regular part of life, and other religions are considered foreign and strange. 
manisha
thanks 😃
Batch
Social Facts and Religion One of the areas Durkheim explored thoroughly was religion. He looked at the social facts of suicide rates in Protestant and Catholic communities. Catholic communities view suicide as one of the worst sins, and as such, have much lower suicide rates than Protestants.
manisha
Social Fact and Control Social fact is a technique of control. Societal norms shape our attitudes, beliefs and actions. They inform what we do every day, from who we befriend to how we work. 
manisha
Social fact is what makes us react strongly to people who deviate from social attitudes. For example, people in other countries who have no established home, and instead wander from place to place and take odd jobs. Western societies tend to be view these people as odd and strange based on our socia
manisha
thanks to you I got to learn the concept
manisha
What is a social fact in one culture can be abhorrently strange in another; by keeping in mind how society influences your beliefs, you can temper your reactions to what is different.
manisha
why he said that social facts should be regarded as things ?
Batch
I don't know.. it just his point of view.. :)
manisha
can someone explain norms...
faisal
check George Ritzer for social fact He has written sociological theory where he has mentioned two types of social facts also
Gh
norms?
faisal
norms are shared rules of conduct that tell people how to act in specific situations.
manisha
an accepted standard, or a way of behaving or doing things that most people agree with
Gh
types of Norma are folkways mores and laws
manisha
an accepted standard, or a way of behaving or doing things that most people agree with
Gh
difference then between norms and folkways
Gh
rituals also
manisha
thanks dear
faisal
norms are considered as rules and expectations set by particular society that serves as guides to the behaviour of its members.
manisha
it is reinforced by sanctions in the forms of rewards and punishments.
manisha
ok what does it mean that he considered social facts as things
Batch
would u like to explain briefly folkways....
faisal
i started sociology nowadys..i got admin in eng..but in course we hv sociology also...so i don,t know knowlege about sociology....hope u r converstion help me alot...
faisal
folkways are norms that describe socially acceptable behaviour but don't have moral significance attached to them.
manisha
folkways are behavioural patterns that is repetitive and organise.
manisha
folkways arise during social interaction and are passed on from one generation to next.
manisha
For example, one who does not brush his teeth regularly, take bath daily, and wash his clothes regularly and properly, is not going to be punished by law. But such an individual is put to gossip and ridicule. One can neglect and violate one or a few of it but no sane person can neglect and violate
manisha
rituals are highly scripted ceremonies of interaction which follows a sequence of actions. e.g. baptism, holidays, yagya.
manisha
how Division of labour cause solidarity in society?..
Gh
According Durkheim, in modern societies the division of labor is the principal source of social cohesion or social solidarity. He distinguished two types of solidarity – mechanical and organic.
manisha
In primitive societies lack of or a slight division of labour leads to ‘mechanical solidarity’ based on mental and moral homogeneity of individuals. When division of labour becomes great it leads to specialisation of labour and the disappearance of mental and moral homogeneity of individuals. This
manisha
This gives rise to ‘organic solidarity’
manisha
Social Consequences of Division of Labour: No modern society can work without the division of labour. It is an inevitable feature of the modern industrial system. The following are the merits of the division of labour.
manisha
While analysing the social functions of division of labour, Durkheim sought to show that in modern societies the division of labour is the principal source of social cohesion or solidarity. He visualised the modern society as the society of organic solidarity.
manisha
Division of labour involves diversification of roles and thereby an opportunity of life style is offered. It ensures growth of individuality and individual potential. It negates the necessity of a repressive law, since it strengthens solidarity and collectivity
manisha
its like when we work on group project of college and we divide work to our members according to efficiency then we work better focus on our self work without any nagging or blaming thus it increases solidarity unity in us. same applies in industrial work
manisha
thankou manisha
Gh
Members of the society develop a strong sense of interdependence. By fostering regular contacts between labour and capital, the danger of economic and social disintegration can be stalled. Division of labour has necessitated extensive training of the workers and thus, get right type of job.
manisha
It promises full career opportunities to the worker. The division of labour, in modern capitalist society, has increased man’s productive efficiency and as a result, society is capable to make more goods and provide more leisure to individuals.
manisha
***yourarticlelibrary.com/sociology/social-consequences-of-division-of-labour-sociology/8549
manisha
is it sociology limited to only society?
faisal
no in modern sence Sociology has many branches ... for e.g sociology of medicine, even recent new subject Sociology of facebook.....
Gh
no there are different branches of sociology ...I.e sociology of medicine,sociology of facebook emerges as new subject..
Gh
Sociology is voice of people .commet?
Gh
Facebook – How Sociology Can Make This Meaningful. ...Facebook's study has an extraordinary sample of 'active users' representing one tenth of the world's population The term active user is defined by Johan Ugander and colleagues in one of the aforementioned academic papers.Dec 1, 2011
Gh
ooh
edu
what is difference between westernization and modernization
Gh
Sociology of Facebook? Hahahaha Facebook as a social media or Facebook akin to Students to focus much attention to their book or what?
Muhammad
no really it is recent research in sociology I.e faceboij
Gh
Facebook – How Sociology Can Make This Meaningful. ...Facebook's study has an extraordinary sample of 'active users' representing one tenth of the world's population The term active user is defined by Johan Ugander and colleagues in one of the aforementioned academic papers.
Gh
Durkheim says crime is good for society.. commet?
Gh
because it stabilise solidarity and balance ... if we do not experience bad how can we appreciate good.
Back
Do you have any write up related to that?
Muhammad
Yes crime is good in a society because its teaches moral lesson, we learn from what happens to others.
BALA
what is difference between anomie and deviance?....
Gh
what is imperialism?
shahnam Reply
is this question of sociology
Akak
yes.this is a factor of sociology
shahnam
yes a topic of political sociology
Sadiq
Imperialism is a the use of power to take over other states and exploit their resources. It is the rulling over or controlling other countries by use of power.
Sadiq
Imperialism is simply a manifestation of the balance of power and is the process by which nations try to achieve a favorable change in the status quo. The purpose of imperialismis to decrease the strategic and political vulnerability of a nation.
Gh
It is a struggle for building an empire for controĺling the land, politics, economics and cultur of other countries without the content of other nations.
Sadiq
thanks
shahnam
what is the main and first factor of sociology?
shahnam Reply
environment biological cultural ideological economic political factors
koko
the founders of sociology
Said Reply
aguste comte
shahnam
How true is it that the extended family system is a bane on Ghana socio economic development
Dubong Reply
thanks
Said
but no info
Said
I don,t really know
Ambe
how groop are deffine in sociology
Syed Reply
is this group...... or something else
Gh
if group:- then it is defined as In sociology, a number of people who identify and interact with one another. 
Gh

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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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