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What Is Sociology of Health and Illness

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This brief abstract is a concept note on the subject of sociology of health and illness. It is going to give a brief sketch background of medical sociology, highlight various definitions of what is health, illness and how the production, distribution and patterns of diseases are influenced by the context in which they occur. The biomedical understanding of health and illness was entirely in the context of bacteriology and immunology dominated the subject of heath care systems for centuries. The history of medical sociology began in the 1800 with extensive contributions of Virchow to social medicine (Virchow, 1864). The resurgence of medical sociology and its institutionalization emerged in the 1960s and 1970s following the deficiencies of biomedicine to account various diseases which came about on the eve of industrialization and urbanization. Some diseases have their roots in the economic, social, cultural, political and environmental context. It is in these backdrops among other reasons that the sociology of health and illness gained recognition and institutionalization. Medical sociology did not discredit biomedical explanations and practice but have attributed that production, patterns, distribution and reproduction of health and illness is socially constructed (Waitzkin et al., 2001; Foucault, 1977; White, 2006). Sociology of health and Illness uses sociological perspectives such as the Sick role (Parsons, 1951), historical materialist approaches (Engels, 1844/1973), interactionist perspectives, labeling theories (Becker, 1963) and feminist approaches in the understanding of health and illness. This concept note however, is limited to historical background of medical sociology and definition of concepts such as health, illness and disease. Diseases are socially produced and distributed – they are not just a part of nature or biology. The key variables shaping...

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