Lecture 8 - Medicalization SOC313H1S – March 6 , 2013
What is Medicalization?
Refers to the process by which non-medical problems become defined and treated as
Conrad ( it is important to look at the alliance between the lay and professional people. i.e.
mothers against drunk driving, media etc… ) The power of institution; another mechanism
of social control/medical social control.
Horwats: it is a form of social control to return the patient to “normality” through
manipulating symbolic system. Unlike other forms, the focus is on the victims of illness. It’s
beyond their control. One of the goals of therapeutic control is first, to make sense of the
behaviour and to transform it. When would we see the therapeutic social control? 1)
relational distance; more therapeutic control less the relational distance. 2) Social status;
higher the social status more therapeutic control 3) Gender; women are more subject to
Process of being medicalized: community response to a problem is often times so
– Emergence of medicalization; 1970s marked the beginning of social science literature
o Critics of psychiatry first questioned it – known as Medical Social Control (MSC)
o Definitional issue is the key:
consists of defining a problem in medical terms
using medical language to describe a problem,
adopting medical framework to understand the problem,
and using a medical intervention as treatment
o Examples include alcoholism, ADHD, child abuse, homosexuality, etc.; homosexuality
was seen as a personality disorder
o Natural life processes have become medicalized, as well.
Parsons – first to conceptualize MSC; 1950s theorist; labelling theory is a big part of the
Why Medicalize Problems?
Medicine has replaced religion as a dominant moral compass; sins have now become
o Replaced religion as a social control institution
Medical profession holds a lot of weight; money to be made fixing problems; lay people’s
causes and media can be aligned with the medical profession to gain credence
Power of the medical institution; mechanism of social control
o Howitz – extensively studied and analysed MSC; suggests that the prevailing focus of
social control has been on the CJS and punishment systems; refers to therapeutic
social control Therapeutic Social Control – trying to return patients to normality through manipulating
symbolic systems; fixing a person’s personality; “victims” of an illness; shifting moral focus,
as the deviance is no longer in the person’s control
o Goals: i) make sense of the behaviour, and ii) transform the behaviour
Horwitz drew on Donald Black and M.P. Baumgartner – trying to predict when MSC will
occur; what factors can be predictors?
o Relational distance: the closer the relationship predicts more likely to see
therapeutic interventions (inversely correlated)
o Socio-economic status: SIS is directly related to MSC; higher the social class means
greater likelihood of seeking medicalization and utilizing medical language; LSES
have higher rates of mental illness, however; LSES tend to define deviance in terms
of personal flaws rather than illness (ex. Laziness)
o Gender: women’s deviance is more likely to be medical