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Chapter 1

HLTHAGE 1AA3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Sick Role, Medical Sociology, Sociological Perspectives


Department
Health, Aging and Society
Course Code
HLTHAGE 1AA3
Professor
Elena Neiterman
Chapter
1

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CHAPTER ONE
Introduction:
-The lower the income, the higher the rates of sickness, disability, and death
-The sociology of health and illness seeks to describe and explain the social causes and consequences of
illness, disease, disability, and death
-As of December 2005, chiropractic services were removed from OHIP, through which chiropractors
previously had received a small amount of financial support for their patients
-the sociology of medicine is the study of the ways the institutionalized medical system constructs what
it deems to be illness out of what it recognizes as signs and symptoms, and constitutes its response to
such ‘illness’ through treatments it prescribes
Structural Functionalism:
-this has dominated North American sociology for many years and most sociological studies have
adopted this perspective
-Auguste Comte (1798-1857) gave the name of sociology to the society of science and is known as the
godfather of sociology. He believed that sociology’s goal was to better society so that it might become
orderly and progressive.
-Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) provided theoretical and methodological model for structural
functionalism. He defined sociology as a science of social facts which were to be treated and studied as
if they were real, external to individuals, and yet capable of constraining and directing human behaviour
and thought. He believed human beings were predictable and controllable through the power of norms
that exist in their own right, aside from their manifestations in individuals.
-social system is said to be composed of parts, institutions that function to maintain order in the social
system
-refer to table 1.2 for 4 sociological perspectives
-structural-functional theory is often associated with a positive methodology
-positivists view sociology as a science
-positivists believe that social facts are to be treated as real and external so they tend to rely on data
that are assumed to be objective, collected from interviews and questionnaires administered to
individuals in survey research, and analyzed and organized to reflect the probability of the occurrence of
certain behaviours among a certain aggregate or group of individuals
-5 things distinguish structural functionalism from conflict theory, symbolic interactionism, and feminist
and critical race theory. Assumptions are:
Sociology aims to discover and to explain the impact of social facts on human behaviour,
attitudes, and feelings
Social facts are to be treated as things that are real and external to human actions, and that
determine human behaviour
Social facts can be seen in aspects of the social structure such as the norms that guide
behaviour, in social institutions such as the family or the economy, and in social behaviours
such as those in relationships, in marriage, or at work
Sociology is a science that seeks to describe the world in series of universal casual laws
This science considers that human behaviour is objectively and quantitatively measurable
through methods such as experiments and survey research
-Talcott Parson’s work on the sick role:
To understand the sick role, we need to understand that each individual plays a number of
roles in society
Roles arise out of the institutions with which the individual is associated (ex. an individual will
play various family roles like daughter, son, mother, father)
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CHAPTER ONE
Roles reflected something of the intermeshing of the individual in society
Ideal of role helps to conceptualize the relationship between the individual and society from
the perspective of structural functionalism
Parson’s main concern was to describe the processes that maintain societal institutions
Sickness could lead to societal breakdown resulting from inability of the sick to fulfill their
necessary social roles such as parenting, maintaining a home, and working in the paid labour
force. Therefore sickness must be managed.
This legitimation is temporary and is contingent on the fulfillment of certain obligations by the
individual who claims the sick role
4 components to the sick role: first 2 are rights and the second 2 are duties
In order to maintain equilibrium of society, both rights and duties of the sick role must be
fulfilled
(1) The sick person is exempt from ‘normal’ social roles:
-the sick individual has a legitimate excuse for missing an exam or a major presentation at work, for
neglecting household chores and other responsibilities
-In order to receive exemption, the individual may need formal, medical acknowledgement
-they may have to get an official medical diagnosis and even a medical certificate as proof of illness
(2) The sick person is not responsible for his or her condition:
-sickness must be a result of an accident or other circumstances beyond the control of the individual
(sick role)
-the individual can’t be blamed or punished
-sympathy rather than blame is considered the appropriate reaction of others
(3) The sick person should try to get well:
-the person who is given the legitimacy of the sick role is duty bound to try and get well
-sick role exemption is temporary
-if an individual doesn’t want to get better then the sick role is no longer considered legitimate and the
sick label deteriorates into shameful labels like “foolish” or “careless”
(4) The sick person should seek technically competent help and co-operate with the physician:
-the ill person must seek appropriate medical attention and comply with the treatment provided
Parson’s view:
-believed illness was a form of deviance
-can be a potential threat to the social system unless its managed for the benefit of the social system
-medicine provides legitimation and justification for the sick role, and brings the sick back to wellness
-medical institutions can be seen as social control
Criticisms of the sick role:
(1)The sick person is exempt from ‘normal’ social roles:
-the extent of the exemption depends on nature, severity, and longevity of the sickness and the
characteristics and normal social roles of the person
-example: university student’s sick role is informal…this is because professors don’t take attendance;
they can skip library study times without being noticed. The university will only send an official notice
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