Sociology of Health and Illness
The state of our health is very important to us, we spend a lot of time and money on trying to stay healthy, but what do we mean by "Health"? The world Health Organisation (WHO) describes health as "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being which is more than just the absence of disease.
When we think of health and illness, there is a general conception that it involves health habits such as exercise and eating the right food, as well as institutions such as hospitals and doctors. In Western societies it is commonly accepted that if we are ill it is a result of an infectious disease that can be cured by modern medicine, or is a result of genetics or lifestyle choices. Sociologists propose a different cause. They examine patterns within society, and they seek social rather than biological answers and suggest that the differences in health and illness between different groups within society are influenced by social, economic, cultural and political factors. It is from these observations that sociologists have concluded, health is unevenly distributed in a systematic way.
Social class has always been a fundamental concept in medical sociology, demonstrating its empirical value for the understanding of health chances for the individual ever since the early years of this century when Stevenson constructed a classification based on fathers occupation for the purpose of analysing infant mortality in England and Wales. In the past, however, medical sociologists have been criticised for an atheoretical use of class. Medical sociology, and especially the inequality in health debate, have thus been criticised as being isolated from developments in wider sociology. (Fitzpatrick, 2004, 199-202) The objective of this paper, however, is to document how this is changing. It is argued that, currently, medical sociology is both taking note of...