Chapter 2 Study Guide
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Chapter Two – Social Research on Health
Part I: Health & Illness
Sociological and Psychological Research on Health (19)
- Psychology: The scientific study of behaviour and mental processes.
- Sociology: The study of social life and behaviour.
- Sociologists are divided into those who focus on developing a theoretical, academic discipline
(=sociology of medicine, or sociology of health) and those who focus on applied research and
analysis, and aim to contribute to contemporary issues on health and health care, alongside health care
practitioners (=sociology in medicine). The latter are involved in applying their knowledge to issues in
health research and health services research.
- Social scientists who investigate health and health services aim to understand people’s perceptions,
behaviours and experiences in the face of health and illness, their experiences of health care, their coping
and management strategies in relation to illness, their societal reactions to illness and the functioning of
health services in relation to their effects on people.
- A wide range of qualitative and quantitative, descriptive and analytic methods are used.
- Social sciences have generally developed alongside the natural and physical sciences, and favour the use
of scientific method and quantitative, structured approaches to measurement. This approach is based on
positivism, which assumes that social phenomena can be measure objectively and analysed following the
principles of scientific method in the same way as natural sciences.
- Some social scientists view positivism and misleading; they argue that human behaviour cannot be
measured quantitatively. They adhere to the philosophy phenomenology and belong to the ‘interpretive’
school of thought, which includes branches known as ethnomethodology, social or symbolic interactionism,
labelling, deviance and reactions theory. They are collectively known as social action theory. The favoured
research methods are qualitative; for example, unstructured in-depth interviews and observations. Thus,
in the social science, theoretical perspectives influence the choice of research method (qualitative or
- Social scientists in health psychology and medical sociology view ill health as being caused by a
combination of biological, social, and psychological factors.
The Biomedical Model
- Dominant theory in the west; based on assumption that disease is generated by specific aetiological
agents which lead to changes in the body’s structure and function.
- Based on the Cartesian philosophy of the body as a machine; if a part malfunctions, it can be repaired or
replaced and the disease is treated, but not the illness, which is the subjective experience of dysfunction.
- Mind and body are independent.
- Disease does not have psychological causes because based on scientific rationality, an emphasis on
objective, numerical measurement and an emphasis on physical and chemical data.
- Health is seen in terms of the absence of disease.
- Some argue that it is too narrow and does not look at people in the social context in which they live.
- Wade and Halligan proposed a new less biologically dependent model of illness, centered on the ill
person who does not necessarily need to consider themselves to be ill. This systems model implies that
abnormalities in one system can occur without adversely affecting its components and may be dependent
on other parts of the system (and thus a person can be ill without discernible pathology).
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