<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

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?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

What examples of medicalization and demedicalization can you think of?

Got questions? Get instant answers now!

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

Change in society during French and industrial revolution
Rubal Reply
what is the generally accepted definition of marriage
Onyeka Reply
marriage is the legal union between two people
JAYz
according to beathis(1980) marriage is the union between a man and women such that the children born to the woman are the legimate offsprings of both partners
Bamshak
what about socratic method
VICTOR
Victor I don't understand your question
Bamshak
I mean the current authorities who defined the Socratic method?
VICTOR
social stratifaction
Alabi Reply
definition of culture
Hassan Reply
what are the effect of poverty in education
Chileshe
poverty effects education and our children. Children living in poverty tend to be exposed to more stress, more intense & longer lasting stress that negatively impact attention, focus, cognition, IQ and social skills.
Sonasa
underachievement
Sarmin
living Style of the people is known as culture
Qudrat
Why we need social interaction?
Qudrat Reply
what is norms and beliefs
Aabid Reply
what is norms
Prince
behaviour and attitudes which are considered normal
Chileshe
what are the causes of poverty?
Chileshe
capitalism
Sarmin
what is social stratification?
Keeper
what is the difference between values. norms. and belief
Qudrat
which is most desiminated religion in the world
ahmed
Trust me I'm not too sure about the "most disseminated religion", but for my money Christianity somehow dominates...
Athenkosi
Why study sociology
mohamed Reply
I need an enlightenment on the course the military and the state?
onoja Reply
what does the open system approach in education looks at as whole?
Beau Reply
it is the vave of feminism in which feminist want to equal education for male and female
Muhmmad
of what relevance is sociology towards understanding African social thought
Abubakar Reply
What is population studies?
onoja Reply
it's the study of population the population can be family, fertility, mortality e.t.c
Abubakar
What are the subjective reality of mass communications
isah Reply
preconditions that give rise to deviance behavior
James Reply
what is group
Nazir
a collectivity of people that are United for one common purpose
Asif
what do you mean by "power to constraint"?
Chisom Reply
can someone please elaborate the main elements of ethnicity.
Tinya
What is social thought? And the difference between social thought and sociological thought
onoja Reply
social thought : these are those thoughts which belongs to the practical life of an individual mean : A man is a social animal . he learn from the society sociological thoughts : it means theoretical thoughts which are related to a book or which are taken from a book<> 📖 or which are taught in
Qudrat
social thought: has do with. our daily exchanges of ideas from one person to another. while, sociological thought: derives from the attributes of social thought and social ideology.
Keeper

Get the best Introduction to sociol... course in your pocket!





Source:  OpenStax, Introduction to sociology 2e. OpenStax CNX. Jan 20, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11762/1.6
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Introduction to sociology 2e' conversation and receive update notifications?

Ask