Chapter 2 Theorizing Health: Major Theoretical Perspective in Health Sociology
Introduction: What is Theory and Why Do We Need It?
Theories allow us to make sense of our world – they provide answers to the ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions
of life – by showing the way certain facts are connected to one another.
Theoretical Perspectives In Health Sociology
A theory attempt to simplify reality and generalize its common and related features relevant to the topic
While the sociological imagination is the care of a sociological approach, there are significant
differences of opinion over how to put it into practice.
One way to navigate through this theory maze is to start by grouping theories into the following
theoretical perspectives or frameworks:
o Structural functionalism
o Symbolic interactionism
o Human right and anti-racist approaches.
Theoretical perspectives are a form of shorthand to group similar theories of society together.
Any attempt to group theories in this way necessarily involves simplification by focusing on the
similarities within the one perspective, at the expense of the difference between specific theories.
One of the main distinctions between perspectives is the purpose or the questions they address.
Another distinction between theoretical perspectives is the level of analysis in relation to the structure-
agency debate – a key debate in sociology over the extent to which human behaviour is determined by
Sociological perspectives can be depicted broadly along a structure-agency continuum, with structualist
approach at one end and agency approaches at the other.
Structuralist approaches assume that social structures, such as the economic and political system, play a
significant role in shaping individual and group behaviour – that is, basic societal structures are a
determining factor in hoe you think, feel and act, as well as in your change of health wealth and
Agency approaches, on the other hand, tends to focus on micro factors: they see society as the product of
individuals acting socially or collectively to make the society in which they live.
Functionalism and Marxism tend to focus more on societal structures, whereas Weberianism, symbolic
interactionism, and postmodernism are more focused on the role of agency.
Key Features of Major Theoretical Perspectives
Emile Durkhiem, Talcott Parsons, and Robert Merton are the key theorists of structural functionalism.
Functionalism focuses on large-scale social processes and is based on the assumption that a society is a
system of integrated parts of which have certain needs (or functional prerequisites) that must be
fulfilled for social order to be maintained.
Functional is sometime referred to as ‘consensus theory’ because of its concentration of how social
order is reached and maintained in society. Functionalism has been particularly influential in organizational studies and public policy analysis,
where it is often referred to as ‘ systems theory’.
While such an approach can be useful for describing the basic operation of the health system, it neglects
the influence of political, economic, and ideological interests, all of which make the health system less
consensual, ordered or systematic that a