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Sociology of Health and Illness. Prof Elaine Denny. Key questions you might ask. What accounts for socio-economic inequalities in health? How do social structures, institutions and processes affect the health of individuals? What is the nature of the doctor-patient relationship

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key questions you might ask
Key questions you might ask
  • What accounts for socio-economic inequalities in health?
  • How do social structures, institutions and processes affect the health of individuals?
  • What is the nature of the doctor-patient relationship
  • How do lay people make sense of health and illness?
  • What impact do health care services have on individuals and society?
sociological perspectives
Sociological perspectives
  • Two broad approaches to study:
    • MACRO approaches
    • MICRO approaches
macro approaches
Macro approaches
  • Emphasise how health and illness is influenced by social structures and institutions outside of the control of individuals
    • E.g. the government
    • Education
    • Income support
    • housing
macro approaches1
Macro approaches
  • Marxist or political economy perspectives
  • Structuralist
  • Functionalist
  • Feminists
micro approaches
Micro approaches
  • Emphasis is on how individuals and groups interact, and how this gives rise to shared ideas about health and illness
  • This occurs through socialisation (shared norms and values)
micro approaches1
Micro approaches
  • Interactionalists
  • Interpretivists
contribution of sociology
Contribution of sociology
  • In contrast to approaches such as physiology or psychology sociology examines the social dimensions of health, illness and health care
  • Social patterning of health and illness
  • Inequalities in health – ethnicity, gender, social class
aboriginality lifestyle and genetics obscuring social processes white 2002
Aboriginality, lifestyle and genetics – obscuring social processes (White 2002)

In Australia it is claimed that Aboriginal people have higher rates of diabetes because they freely choose bad western foods such as potato chips, soft drinks and alcohol, for which they are not genetically ‘programmed’. They choose poor food (therefore it is their fault) + they are not genetically capable of processing Western food (the fault of their biology) + they are lazy or indifferent about their health (the fault of their culture)

The conclusion that policy makers, informed by this way of approaching the problem then reach is that it is the Aborigines’ problem that they are sicker and die sooner, and nothing can be done about it.

slide11
The ‘commonsense’ understanding of the cause of disease portrayal in our culture – especially the idea that lifestyles are freely chosen – individualises and obscures the way in which disease is socially produced.

There is little evidence the social structures of class, gender, ethnicity and of inequality have stopped shaping people’s lives.

Society has become more unequal and the poor sicker.

summary
Summary
  • There are two broad approaches in sociology
  • Sociology examines the social dimensions of health and illness
  • It is particularly concerned with inequality in health and illness
  • It considers how social structures influence our chances of becoming ill and receiving health care