Chapter 12 - Chapter 12-Sociology of the Body: Disability,...

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Chapter 12—Sociology of the Body: Disability, Aging, and Death Seemingly “natural” features of the human body, such as height and weight, have social causes and consequences of far-reaching importance. Enhancing one’s body image to conform to prevailing norms became especially important in urban, industrial societies. People have defined and dealt with disability in different ways in different times and places. Age is an important basis of social stratification. However, the correlation between age and the command of resources is far from perfect, and political conflicts shape the degree to which any given age cohort exercises resource control. Although prejudice and discrimination against older people are common in the US, the elderly have wielded increasing political power in recent decades. The way people die reflects the nature of the society in which they live. This is evident in our attitudes toward death, euthanasia, and funerals. Bob Dole’s Body The human body is not just a wonder of biology. It is also a sociological wonder and a subject of growing interest in the discipline. Its parts, its disabilities, its aging, and its death mean different things and have different consequences for different cultures, historical periods, and categories of people. Age is one basis of social inequality, so in a certain sense it is a trip through the stratification system. Society and the Human Body The Body and Social Status Height Apparently believing that physical stature reflects social stature, the student correlated social status with height. A higher standard of living led to an improved diet, which allowed the human body to come closer to realizing its full growth potential. The correlation between per capita
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family income and average height across many countries is very strong (r=0.82 or higher). Weight There is apparently a ‘reciprocal relationship’ between obesity and social class with each variable affecting the other Sociology of the Body The Body and Society Many of the most important social distinctions—gender, race, age, tribe, and so forth— are ‘written’ on the body by different styles of dress, jewelry, tattoos, cosmetics, and so forth. People have always attempted to affect their body shape and appearance, but they do so according to principles laid out by society. Disability The Social Construction of Disability To us, negative attitudes toward left-handedness seem like so much nonsense. We don’t think left handed people—roughly 10% of the population—as impaired or deficient in physical or mental capacity. Nor do we think of them as disabled or incapable of performing within the ‘normal’ range of human activity. The fact that so many people once thought otherwise suggests that definitions of disability are not based on self- evident biological realities. Instead, they vary socially and historically. Impaired:
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This note was uploaded on 05/31/2008 for the course SOCIOLOGY 001 taught by Professor Lovaglia during the Fall '07 term at University of Iowa.

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Chapter 12 - Chapter 12-Sociology of the Body: Disability,...

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