SOC243- Lecture 1
Brief intro to Social Epidemiology and Medical Sociology
• Studies of the social causes of illness predate sociology as a discipline.
• Fredrich Engles→ "Conditions of the working class in England" 1844 (activist
orientation) before full fledged Marxian Theory. (Deals with why groups of
people are in certain situations).
• Rudolph Virchow→ started soon after, not published systematically until after
1870's due to work in biology (professional orientation) more Public Health.
One of the first people to write from a biological perspective about social
causes of illness. (Deals with what needs to be done, social policy changes,
what government can do).
• Medical sociology developed as a unique field in the 1950's.
• Talcott Parsons→ first major theory in medical sociology, focus on medicine
as an institution of social control. Was a functionalist (institutions develop to
serve functions. Institution processes ill people, makes them well then puts
them back into the system. Keeps the system functioning because illness can
be a threat to social order).
• Epidemiology focuses on the "how's " of the disease (focus on illness as a
Dr. John Snow and the Cholera Epidemic of 1850's London
• Went to areas to get info about where people were sick and charted it on
maps and found clusters. Hypothesized that something in those areas, shared
by people, is causing this disease. Stopped people from using local well and
the number of new cases overtime dropped.
• Inductive reasoning: starts with observation and moves toward
generalizations theories. Bottom-up approach involves searching for patterns
or regularities (or irregularities).
• Deductive reasoning: works from the general to the specific. Top down
approach. Narrow a theory about a topic to a specific hypothesis (to be tested).
Epidemiologic Triangle: An Aid for Inductive Reasoning about Infectious
• Agent- Distribution- Mutation.
• Environment- ex: distribution and communion of hosts.
• Host resistance.
Sociology in Medicine (and Public Health)
• Sociologists help health care providers/researchers with studies that answer
questions about the causes of disease, illness and treatments.
• Ex: studies of "patient compliance". • Critique of sociology in medicine (by sociology of medicine): it’s "a well
financed government effort to cope with the problems of industrial society"-
Sociology of Medicine
• Research and analysis of the medical environments (ex: hospitals). Focuses
on the place of medicine/healthcare in the political economy.
• Analysis of historical trends( ex: defining role of technology, organizational
practices in relation to epidemiological trends). Asks questions of interest to
sociologists in general (ex: about power and control)
• Typically undertaken from a "critical perspective" that challenges dominant
views (ex: views of the medical profession).
Eras, Ages and Epidemiological Transitions(s): A Long-term (Western)
• Age of pestilence (people getting a lot of infections) and famine.
• Age or receding pandemics (the ET).
• Age of degenerative disease (the ET).
• New rise of infectious disease (the ET).
• Age of delayed degenerative diseases.
• Most famous European epidemic, the Black Plague, took place in the 14th
Age of Pestilence and Famine: Waves of Plagues
• The Black Death→ In 4 years (1346-50) estimates to have killed 1 in 3 people
in Western Europe (from 25%-50%, min. 25 million deaths).
• Seems to be the same bacteria responsible for earlier plagues (Y.pestis), such
as 6th century "Justinian Plague". Recent genetic research traces origins of
bacteria to China.
• Seemed to disappear in Europe until the Middle Ages/Black Death.
Environment/Resistance-related Developments Associates with the Rise of