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Sociological Approaches To Health And Ill Health

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 1290 words Published: 9th Jun 2016

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In this assignment I will look at the different sociological perspectives on health and ill health as well as the different definitions of it.

Defining health is really difficult as there are many different views. There have been many criticisms of the defining of health. The definition of health has changed over the years. For example

In Mauritania; a small country in N.W. Africa, obesity is considered a sign of beauty. Girls are ‘force-fed’ so that they grow up with that obesity look.

In the western country obesity is seen as ill health, unattractive and associated with negative stereotypes.

Obesity is still seen as a sign of wealth and well-being in many parts of Africa.

Functionalist Approach

The functionalist approach on health and ill health derives from Talcott Pearson. Talcott saw ill health as a threat to society and believed that good health was essential in order for society to be still functioning. He said that ill health affects our ability to work and perform our roles in society. For that reason he said that for a person to be considered sick there are several expectation to be met. He called the expectations the ‘sick role’ which indicated how people are supposed to be like when they are ill and how they should be thinking. The sick role divides into two groups; the rights and the obligations.


The sick person is free from any social roles. For example work, or school, they should be allowed to take the day off in order to get back to normal

The sick person is not responsible for their condition


The person should seek for medical assistance. For example going to the doctors to get checked up and get treatment

The person should not like being sick. For example the person should not fake being sick just because they get attention as well as getting a day off their normal duties.

However the sick role backfires sometimes as people tend to lose patience with the sick person or deny that they are sick for reasons such as liking the role. For example family, they may show sympathy at the beginning but after a while they lose patience with the sick person and assume he/she is seeking attention or is a hypochondriac.

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Marxist & Feminist Approach

Marxist approach believes that the health and social care service care services are provided just to help the bourgeoisies gain profit. The Marxist believe that the health and social care of the service users should be maintained in order for them to quickly get back to work so that they can make profit for the bourgeoisies. In order to maintain the social hierarchy the government purposely ignores the selling of products which can harm one’s body for example, cigarettes, tobacco etc. In the modern world I believe the hierarchy is shaped into a pyramid with a few elite at the top controlling and manipulating those below which allows the rich to always be the rich and the poor to be the poor giving no chance for movement in the hierarchy.

Feminist writers believe that the medical profession and pharmaceutical industries have given a low priority to developing male contraceptive pills which have fewer harmful side effects compared to contraceptives used by women. This shows that society is exploiting women and increase anxiety and stress for women there by suppressing their abilities and making life outside of family harder so that women resume their position as a housewife. For example a women experiencing depression or nausea at her workplace will perform badly therefore in comparison to males who are performing better and getting better result she will seem inferior .This clearly shows how society and its medications are purposely full of side effects to marginalise women, so that the males will be more dominant.

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While Marxist and Socialist Feminist argue that women are not receiving the same medications as males. Women have two roles, also known as ‘double day’ which signifies two roles women have to undertake. First of all as a housewife, taking care of her domestic duties, and the other as a worker/employer. Sociologist Doyal suggests that it is the fact that women have two roles in society, that they getting sick. Personally I believe it is due to the medication we receive as women, which could otherwise be given to men with far less side effects. It is the due to the lack of consideration and its need for male dominance that women are sick.

Even now in this modern day the definition of health is not clear. There are two opposing theories one being that health means the ‘absence of disease’ the other being ‘not only an absence of disease but also a state of physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being’. The negative concept is the ‘absence of disease’ which would mean that the person needs to be diagnose with a disease in order to be unhealthy. However the positive definition which is provided by the ‘World Health Organization (WHO)’in 1974;not merely an absence of disease but also a state of physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being’ means that you don’t have to be diagnosed with a disease you could be mentally ill ,physically, spiritually ,socially, emotionally, or intellectually. So therefore the health and social care sectors usually take a holistic assessment in order to address the needs of the ‘whole’ person rather than single issues. (Btec level 3 health and social care book 3).

Sociologist Mildred Blaxter carried a large survey and then identified three definitions to health and well-being;

One positive definition; ‘regarding health as being fit’

Two being a negative definition; ‘Regarding health as being free from pain or discomfort

And lastly a functional definition; ‘regarding health in terms of being able to perform certain, day-to-day tasks

Concepts of ill health

Clinical Iceberg

One concept of health is Clinical Iceberg this is a term used to describe unreported illness. The statistics produced by the government and the doctors have a 94% off unreported illness missing from the statistics. For example Lyme Disease is one of the highest unreported illnesses that is unreported. “A survey last month for the Everyman Male Cancer Campaign suggested that nearly twice as many men as women had not visited their GP in the past year.” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8154200.stm last accessed 22/10/12 18:02) & (http://www.anh-usa.org/lymedisease/ last accessed 27/12/12 )So therefore this could be one of the reason why there are so many unreported illness because men do need see a doctor because the try and live up to the saying of ‘men don’t cry and they are tough’ so this leads them to think that if they do go to the doctors that they are weak.


Impairment is the restrictions to our day-to-day activities caused by physical or mental dysfunctions for example Down syndrome; a learning difficultly.


Disability is seen by Tom Shakespeare as restrictions that arise for a person with impairments because society does not take into account the needs of people with impairment for example someone in a wheel chair not having ramps in buildings or someone deaf not having hearing aids available. However some people may refer this to ‘disabling environment’ which suggests an environment where facilities for the impairments are not available for people to take full part in social life.


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