Sociology of health and illness has experienced intellectually exciting renewal

Sociology of health and illness has experienced

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Sociology of health and illness has experienced intellectually exciting renewal with vastly increased understanding of the complex roles social factors and structures play in health and well-being of individuals and of societies (see Rosich and Hankin [2010] for a summary of what is known from the US perspective; Hall and Lamont [2009] for a more international perspective; and Timmermans [2013] for a summary of qualitative health sociology). A compelling dimension of the major new insights is that they are simultaneously empirical and conceptual, leading to innovative approaches to data col- lection and analyses, as well as compelling new theoretical frameworks with immediate potential applicability to research, policies and individual lives. Three such examples are: the social gradient of health, the population health perspective and the growing sali- ency of the social fabric to both individual and societal well-being. Theoretical approaches A sociological approach to health and illness probes the intricacies of the relations of societal structures, culture and inequalities to health beliefs, behaviours and outcomes. It looks at the how and why of these relations and their changes. Health did not emerge from the shadows of history as a viable concept for a very long time. In most of human history, health was elusive and virtually unrecognizable as an experience or an ideal. Only after health came to be seen as more than the absence of disease did the sociological study of health and illness begin. The focus on what contrib- utes to well-being and keeps individuals and societies healthy is a relatively new socio- logical endeavour (see Evans et al., 1994). Not surprisingly, when sociologists made early forays into understanding medicine (not health in the early days) in the 1950s and 1960s, these took place within the domi- nant theoretical paradigm of the day, structural functionalism. Society, in this perspec- tive, is viewed as an orderly array of functioning social institutions that articulate with each other. Individuals in social institutions play roles prescribed by society and learned through socialization. Illness, then, was seen as a ‘sick role’ which encompasses both rights and duties (Parsons, 1951). The sick person was exempt from normal role respon- sibilities but had a duty to work to get well and, in doing so, to seek appropriate profes- sional help. The concept has been soundly critiqued on the grounds that its normative presumptions fail to address issues of power and conflict, that its preoccupation with restoration to health does not address chronic illness or disabilities, and that it overesti- mates the power of medical professionals. Nonetheless, the ‘sick role’ concept in 21st-century guise, is making something of a return as ‘personal responsibility’ for one’s own health in healthy eating, weight control
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828 Current Sociology Review 61(5-6) and avoidance of risky health behaviours such as smoking, drinking and driving, not wearing seatbelts, etc. There is even some movement not to cover health care costs for those who are perceived as not taking personal responsibility for their own health. This,
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  • Summer '18
  • Monroe
  • Sociology, The Land, Journal Of Health And Social Behavior, Social Science and Medicine

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