Chapter 19. The Sociology of the Body: Health and Medicine

Chapter 19 Resources and Activities

Key Terms

ableism: Discrimination against persons with disabilities or the unintended neglect of their needs.

anti-psychiatry movement: A social movement skeptical of the scientific basis and effectiveness of psychiatric treatment, which considers psychiatry to be based on a power relationship between doctor and patient and the institutional authority of the diagnostic process.

anxiety disorders: Feelings of worry and fearfulness that last for months at a time.

biomedicine: A system of medical practice that defines health and illness in terms of the mechanics of the physical, biological systems of the human body.

biopolitics: The relationships of power that emerge when the task of fostering and administering the life of the population becomes central to government.

care for the self: Ways of acting upon the self to transform the self to attain a certain mode of being (e.g., “health”).

chronic diseases: Non-communicable diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, characterized by the slow onset of symptoms.

commodification of health: The transformation of health and health services into products that can be bought and sold in the marketplace.

contested illnesses: Illnesses that are questioned or considered questionable by some medical professionals.

demedicalization: The social process that normalizes “sick” behavior.

disease: An organic based pathology which can in principle be measured through clinical or laboratory procedures. 

disease vector: Any living agent that carries and transmits an infectious pathogen to another living organism.

disability: An impairment in cognitive, developmental, physical, sensory, and mental abilities, compounded by social barriers that hinder full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

disciplinary power: Detailed continuous training, control, observation, correction, and rehabilitation of individuals to improve their capabilities (or health).

epidemiologic transition: The long-term change in a population’s dominant health problems or profile from acute infectious diseases to chronic, degenerative diseases as societies go through the process of industrialization.

exclusion of the sick: A model of power that separates deviants from “normals,” or the sick from the healthy, and abandons them outside the care of society.

gerontocracy: Rule by old people.

health: A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

illness: The subjective experience of ‘not feeling well.’

impairment: The physical limitations a less-able person faces.

infectious diseases: Communicable diseases caused by micro-organisms such as bacteria or viruses.

Körper: The physiological body, or what people are as physiological, neurological, and skeletal beings.

Leib: The lived body, or the way in which the body experiences the world and is itself experienced from within.

medical legitimation: When a physician certifies that an illness is genuine.

medical pluralism: A situation in which no one model of health practice can successfully claim to provide the definitive truth for how to attain health.

Medical Sociology: The systematic study of how humans manage issues of health and illness, disease and disorders, and health care for both the sick and the healthy.

medicalization: The process by which aspects of life that were considered bad or deviant are redefined as sickness and needing medical attention to remedy.

medicalization of deviance: The process that changes “bad” behaviour into “sick” behavior.

mental disorder: A condition that makes it more difficult to cope with everyday life.

mental illness: A severe, lasting mental disorder that requires long-term treatment.

mood disorders: Long-term, debilitating illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder.

neurodiversity: Neurocognitive variation among the human species

norm: A socially defined standard measure which allows us to distinguish between what conforms to a rule and what does not.

normalizing society: A society organized around the definition of norms used to discipline bodies and regulate populations.

personality disorders: Disorders that cause people to behave in ways that are seen as abnormal to society but seem normal to them.

phenomenology: The study of social structures and processes based on a systematic description of the contents of subjective experience.

pluralistic medical culture: See medical pluralism.

practice of the self: See care for the self.

public health care: Health insurance that is funded or provided by the government.

sick role: The pattern of expectations that define appropriate behaviour for the sick and for those who take care of them.

rehabilitation: Interventions to treat or cure disabilities in order to reintegrate disabled persons into “normal” society.

residual deviance: A violation of social norms not covered by any specific behavioural expectation.

risk management: Strategies to restructure the environment or context of problematic behaviour in order to minimize the risks to the general population.

social determinants of health model: A framework that describes the social variables that influence health outcomes for individuals and populations.

social epidemiology: The study of the causes and distribution of diseases.

stereotype interchangeability: When stereotypes don’t change, they get recycled for application to a new subordinate group.

stigma: A “mark” of difference that defines a socially undesirable characteristic.

stigmatization: When someone’s identity is spoiled; they are labelled as different, discriminated against, and sometimes even shunned due to an illness or disability.

stigmatization of illness: When people are discriminated against because of illnesses and sufferers are looked down upon or even shunned by society.

universal health care: A system that guarantees health care coverage for everyone.

vaccine hesitancy: A delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services.

Section Summary

19.1 The Sociology of the Body and Health

Medical sociology is the systematic study of how humans manage issues of health and illness, disease and disorders, and health care for both the sick and the healthy. The social construction of health explains how society shapes, and is shaped by, medical ideas.

19.2 Global Health
Social epidemiology is the study of the causes and distribution of diseases. From a global perspective, the health issues of high-income nations tend toward diseases like cancer as well as those that are linked to obesity, like heart disease, diabetes, and musculoskeletal disorders. Low-income nations are more likely to contend with infectious disease, high infant mortality rates, scarce medical personnel, and inadequate water and sanitation systems.

19.3 Health in Canada
Despite the Canadian population having generally good health compared with less-developed countries, Canada is still facing challenging issues such as a prevalence of obesity and diabetes. Moreover, Canadians of historically disadvantaged Indigenous groups, socioeconomic status, and gender, experience higher levels of chronic health issues. Mental health and disability are health issues that are significantly impacted by medical definitions of normalcy.

19.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine 
While the functionalist perspective looks at how health and illness define specific roles in society, the critical perspective is concerned with how health and illness fit into the structures of power in society. The interactionist perspective is concerned with how social interactions construct ideas of health and illness.

Questions

Quiz: The Sociology of the Body: Health and Medicine

19.1 The Social Construction of Health

  1. Who determines which illnesses are stigmatized?
    1. Therapists
    2. The patients themselves
    3. Society
    4. All of the above
  2. Chronic fatigue syndrome is an example of                       .
    1. A stigmatized disease.
    2. A contested illness.
    3. A disability.
    4. Demedicalization.
  3. The Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is an example of                       .
    1. The social construction of health.
    2. Medicalization.
    3. Disability accommodations.
    4. A contested illness.

19.2 Global Health

  1. What is social epidemiology?
    1. The study of why some diseases are stigmatized and others are not.
    2. The study of why diseases spread.
    3. The study of the mental health of a society.
    4. The study of the causes and distribution of diseases.
  2. Core nations are also known as                       .
    1. High-income nations.
    2. Newly industrialized nations.
    3. Low-income nations.
    4. Developing nations.
  3. Many deaths in high-income nations are linked to                       .
    1. Lung cancer.
    2. Obesity.
    3. Mental illness.
    4. Lack of clean water.
  4. According to the World Health Organization, what was the most frequent cause of death for children under five years in low-income countries?
    1. Starvation
    2. Thirst
    3. Pneumonia and diarrheal diseases
    4. All of the above

19.3 Health in Canada

  1. Which of the following statements is not true?
    1. The life expectancy of Indigenous males in Canada is approximately eight years shorter than for non-Indigenous males.
    2. The rate of tuberculosis for Indigenous Canadians is more than five times higher (per 100,000) than it is for non-IndigenousCanadians.
    3. Indigenous people have lower rates of chronic disease than non-Indigenous people have.
    4. Recent visible minority immigrants have lower levels of health than native-born Canadians have.
  2. The process by which aspects of life that were considered bad or deviant are redefined as sickness and needing medical attention to remedy is called                       .
    1. Deviance.
    2. Medicalization.
    3. Demedicalization.
    4. Intersection theory.
  3. What are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in Canada?
    1. ADHD
    2. Anxiety disorders
    3. Autism spectrum disorders
    4. Mood disorders
  4. Sidewalk ramps and Braille signs are examples of                       .
    1. Disabilities.
    2. Accommodations required by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
    3. Forms of accessibility for people with disabilities.
    4. Both b and c.
  5. The high unemployment rate among people with disabilities may be a result of                       .
    1. Medicalization.
    2. Obesity.
    3. Stigmatization.
    4. All of the above.

19.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine

  1. Which of the following is not part of the rights and responsibilities of a sick person under the functionalist perspective?
    1. The sick person is not responsible for their condition.
    2. The sick person must try to get better.
    3. The sick person can take as long as they want to get better.
    4. The sick person is exempt from the normal duties of society.
  2. The class, race, and gender inequalities in our healthcare system support the                        perspective.
    1. Critical
    2. Interactionist
    3. Functionalist
    4. All of the above
  3. The removal of homosexuality from the DSM is an example of                       .
    1. Medicalization.
    2. Deviance.
    3. Interactionist theory.
    4. Demedicalization.

[Quiz answers at end of chapter]

Short Answer

19.1 The Social Construction of Health

  1. Pick a common illness and describe which parts of it are medically constructed, and which parts are socially constructed.
  2. What diseases are the most stigmatized? Which are the least? Is this different in different cultures or social classes?

19.2 Global Health

  1. If social epidemiologists studied Canada in the colonial period, what differences would they find between now and then?
  2. What do you think are some of the contributing factors to obesity-related diseases in Canada?

19.3 Health in Canada

  1. What factors contribute to the disparities in health among ethnic, socioeconomic, and gender groups in Canada?
  2. Do you know anyone with a mental disorder? How does it affect their life?

19.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine

  1. Which theoretical perspective do you think best explains the sociology of health? Why?
  2. What examples of medicalization and demedicalization can you think of?

Further Research

19.1 The Sociology of the Body and Health

Spend some time on the two websites below. How do they present differing views of the vaccination controversy?

19.2 Global Health
Study this 2000–2015 W.H.O. map on global life expectancies. What trends do you notice?

19.3 Health in Canada
Is ADHD a valid diagnosis and disease? Some think it is not. This 2014 infosheet from the B.C. HeretoHelp website, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) discusses ADHD in children and youth [PDF]

19.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine
Read and watch a dissenting view: Should alcoholism and other addictions be medicalized?

References

19.0 Introduction to Health and Medicine

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Centers for Disease Control. (2011). Pertussis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/pertussis/outbreaks.html

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19.1 The Sociology of the Body and Health

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19.2 Global Health
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19.3 Health in Canada

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Becker, D. (n.d.) Borderline personality disorder: The disparagement of women through diagnosis. http://www.awpsych.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=109&catid=74&Itemid=126.

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Brault, M.C. & Lacourse, É. (2012). Prevalence of prescribed attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder medications and diagnosis among Canadian preschoolers and school-age children: 1994–2007. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(2), 93–101. https://doi.org/10.1177/07067437120570020610.1177/070674371205700206

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CBC. (2013). Treating poverty works like medicine, doctors say: Financial support can pay off with better health. CBC News. http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/treating-poverty-works-like-medicine-doctors-say-1.1365662

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19.4 Theoretical Perspectives on Health and Medicine
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Solutions to Section Quiz

1 C, | 2 B, | 3 A, | 4 D, | 5 A, | 6 B, | 7 C, | 8 C, | 9 B, | 10 D, | 11 D, | 12 C, | 13 C, | 14 A, | 15 D [Return to Quiz]

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