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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

mcq creativity involves
Sanjika Reply
send me the answers
Sanjika
mCQ creativity involves
Sanjika
ology means a study of
SharaAmor Reply
is a greek word means soul
SharaAmor
science
Tina
a branch of knowledge
Kanchan
psych means soul and ology means to study.
Wajid
Can someone help me with tha latent functions of different social institutions
Usman
***interestinglydifferenttopics.blogspot.com/2020/10/reflexes-psychological-debate.html Do check this out and please correct me if I'm wrong anywhere in this
Interestingly Reply
Factors that affect learning?
Ofentse Reply
I am struggling with survivors guilt and complicated grief after traumatic death of spouse. how to cope.
Rowdy Reply
Try to talk with someone you trust and join people who makes you feel worthy. try to help someone. Helping someone makes you feel better
sherlock
I think you must seek professional help.
Swarada
I am extremely sorry for your loss...I know that the pain of your loss is overwhelming and that you are experiencing all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions. please don't get me wrong but the best way to cope is to move on..i know its hard..but that's the only way..(continued.)
Princess
stop burdening yourself with thoughts that say you could have done something..you couldn't..your just a human being and you cant always be a superman who saves the day..please dont feel guilty when you have no reason to..(cont.)
Princess
learn to love yourself again..learn to live ..for yourself,for the people who love you and need you in their lives.live for people who you once loved...Think about how you can make your life meaningful once again.It might seem impossible but trust me its necessary ..
Princess
Let your feelings of pain out ..you dont have to suffer ..talk to people whom you trust and love. take care and have a beautiful life ahead.
Princess
First and foremost -- Wow Rowdy! You have been through a highly difficult situation in your life, hands down. As a wife, I simply cannot phathom nor imagine slightly the feelings and thoughts you bare and I'm sure as these words do not help and hit rewind; my heart and prayers are going out to you-
Stephanie
today. I will say as well, everything you are feeling and going through, please know that these feelings and thoughts are all allowed, it is okay for you to find yourself feeling or thinking things that you would never find yourself wanting especially given the situation. I'm sure you question --
Stephanie
yourself, which in turn could make you question who you are right now and what this means for you as a person now and in the future. This is all okay, but there will have to be an understanding as to how to grow from these feelings and thoughts in a more humane manner l as these feelings and ---
Stephanie
thoughts could take a turn for a much more negative outcome as you find yourself trapped in a darkness that, if strong enough, trials and tribulations take years of complex development and experience, less strong minded individuals sometimes either never find the light, or end up being stuck in ----
Stephanie
a subconscious netherworld as they are consumed given the manipulation that was not understood to overcome. It results in losing all sense of heart, faith, soul and intelligence so that you don't grow, which in your case, growth is crucial. This is what your spouse will do their best in trying -----
Stephanie
to guide you through; keep an your senses wide open so that you can learn when she is trying to communicate.
Stephanie
What is meant by politics of intelligence? Please guide about this article.
Ali Reply
***scholar.google.com/scholar?q=politics+of+intelligence&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart#d=gs_qabs&u=%23p%3D_ckggUkdkPUJ
Angela
Thanks angela
Ali
Can u please explain it to me in your words?
Ali
Information about child psychology
Mohammed Reply
what is this
Maryam
any theory recommendations about socialization?
Geo
help me please:<
Geo
actually I don't know
Maryam
I badly need some for my research :<
Geo
But I need that😥
Mohammed
***courses.lumenlearning.com /boundless-sociology/chapter/theories-of-socialization/
Jobin
branches of psychology
QSN Reply
neuropsychology
jeddy
behaviorism
Mira
Legal psychology
Miljana
Developmental psychology, Sports psychology , Clinical psychology , Marketing psychology , counseling psychology , Biological psychology, Educational psychology , Positive psychology etc.
Swarada
child.psychology
Nss
social, occupational psychology
jeddy
what does it mean when the temporal lobe is anterior to occipital lobe
John Reply
the cortex refers to what part of the brain
John
the cortex refers to what part of the brain
John
cerebral cortex
jeddy
behind?
jeddy
in what time of situation is training most useful?
marjelee Reply
during bad experience
Nyakuei
i think its not about suitation, its about the thing tatz need training.
gokul
training is possibly warranted for all situations.
rhoda
I would think that training should be an ungoing thing. That's before, during and after. just in case there's a reoccurrence
Angela
any time
Aaronz
what is Karma
ana Reply
I think the summation of good and bad deeds you do in your life. Accidentally or otherwise.
Swarada
Yes. I totally agree.
ana
And if it is bad then the root must have been too.
ana
Yes , In Hinduism we also believe that our parent's Karma also applies to us ! Don't know about that , but it kept people in check .
Swarada
Adding to Swarada point. karma can be good or bad. both will have consequences. karma is biasedness you have shown in your life. like a king could not have two rules for normal man and his son, that comes under karma.
Sujeet
Oh perfectly said!
Swarada
Ok. It is also said that when one does something... bad or good..it will come back to you 10 folds of the same.
ana
yea that too ! I remember my mother always said if u stole someone's 10 rupees ur 100 will be stolen ( excuse my English ! I'm a non - English speaking person)
Swarada
karma is nothing but what one usually mean when they say- what you sow, so shall you reap.
Alisha
certainly
Crazy
more important.. this concept was told by lord Krishna as part of spirituality, to focus on your good deed ,the purpose you are born for and your responsibilities. Not for hoping that bad will happen with people who made you feel bad. just giving example ;)
Sujeet
karma is the boomerang of your actions. what u put out in the universe u get back
David
Who is the founder of psychology
Daryl Reply
Wilhelm wundt
Amanda
Wilhelm Wundt
Sneha
William wundth
Ihrar
Wilhelm Wundt
Megha
and William James
Amanda
Wilhelm Wundt
adam
Wilhelm Wundt is the founder of structuralism
Angela
Yes and also the "Father of Psychology" I think the correct word is Father not Founder.
Swarada
oh ok. noted
Angela
i believe it goes beyond him I believe it is Ancient but un formalized
David
I like your answer Swarada
David
Oh thanks! But u summarised it well!
Swarada
what is up my fellow psych peeps!!
what are some academic research on developmental psychology
Chezy
Sawrada Founder of Psychology is W.Wundt but Father of Psychology is Sigmund Freud...
Wajid
what are some good schools to study psychology?
Enjoy Reply
George Mason, Penn State, UVA, university of Michigan
Jasmine
Hi I'm currently doing my experimental psychology research can you suggest a topic or research topic for my research thank you and please see 😊
Jerico Reply
Hello Jerico. I could help you out with some ideas if you're interested!
Yasmine
can u give me some ideas too?
Geo
For sure. It depends if you're trying to do an experiment (using statistics probably) or a case study what are you aiming for?
Yasmine
Hello Jerico. Try to opt for something simple and easy to do. I wouls say perhaps study the effects of color on concentration? You could get a group of people and have them take a memory test (you can find some online) in a white room for example. Then have them take another memory test
Yasmine
similar to the first one but in a different room and then you check the responses if the performance is better
Yasmine
but you have to know that a lot of factors will interfere in the performance such as mental state etc so make sure to choose a certain specific population. that's very important
Yasmine
you could be a bit more specific about it , to isolate the variables that can mess it up like age, sex, etc... you gotta take that into account
Yasmine
so that the results get somewhat accurate
Yasmine
that is very detailed information I really like it thank you very much 😊 your so very kind
Jerico
You're very welcome
Yasmine
what are your interests in general?
Yasmine
Althogh I'm persuing botany and engineering.... but I also want to study human behaviour and psychology.... I would like if anyone can share their knowledge with me !!!!
Crazy
I'm interested on effect of electroconvulsive therapy on people having a depression
Jerico
What is Electroconvulsive therapy?
Pixeled
Astral Projection
Mansi
Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a medical treatment that is most commonly used in patients with severe major depression.
Jerico
What are the expected dutties functions and responsibilities of a head of an agency based on the principles, Practice of industrial psychology?
Paul Reply
what are the psychological characteristics expected from an employee wether regular or occupying a position?
Paul
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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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