Sociological Perspectives on Health

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The Functionalist perspective intends to explain the way society works in a state of harmony to ensure that functions run smoothly. Talcott Parsons was one theorist saw society as a system made up of several institutions working in sync to provide a better society. Some features the functionalist perspective does not take into consideration are free will and conflict between institutions. The Marxist perspective was initially developed by Karl Marx. It was his understanding that all individual behaviour is shaped by the social structure and their clearly defined social classes.

The two main social classes are the bourgeoisie, a small group of people that held power, and the proletariat, the larger group of lower class people and “workers”. He believed that these two groups would always suffer from conflict and that this could potentially lead to a revolution. A Marxist would argue that the ruling class gain power through mass media and the legal system to force influence of their views upon the lower class. As with the functionalist perspective Marxism leaves little room for free will and focuses on the inequalities between the two defined social classes.

There are multiple types of feminism three examples of this perspective would be Marxist feminism, radical feminism, and liberal feminism. Marxist feminists see women as inferior in comparison to their husbands and should be responsible for the cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children. They are seen as the ‘producers’ for the next generation of ‘workers’. Radical feminists believe that the women in society as the mothers and housewives that should be dominated by men but not capitalist way.

Finally Liberal feminists believe that women and men should be equal in society. The wanted these ideas passed as statutory by changing legislation so there is more enforced equality, such as the Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975). Symbolic Interactionalists do not focus on large entities but instead focus is on small groups and individual behaviour. Interactionalists believe that a person isn’t affected by the social structure and that they are fully responsible for their own actions.

Postmodernists believe that structural perspectives, such as Marxism and functionalism, are unable to aid us in understanding our society as it is in a constant state of change and is unpredictable. They believe that individuals and groups of people have the ability make their own decisions but can be, to some extent, affected by external influence. The New Right perspective is essentially a political response to the role of government in our society and the welfare system. They believe that people should be self sufficient and take responsibility for themselves and their families.

The functionalist perspective sees ill-health as someone that is unable to perform their social roll. In Parsons’ view anyone who declared themselves as ill should be exempt from social duties and be cared for but the individual should take steps to regain a stable health state. The Marxist perspective sees ill-health as predictable due to the difference in social class, level of unemployment and environmental pollution. Marxists also believe that doctors should be acting in the interest of the dominant social class such as the employers.

They are also agents that ensure a healthy workforce and that those suffering from ill heath are returned to work as soon as possible. The feminist perspective focuses on mainly on how pregnancy and childbirth are regarded as a medical issue rather than a natural process. They also believe that not enough effort is put into the research of male contraceptive treatments. Social feminists on the other hand are more concerned with the impact their social lives has on their health as they are often expected to work and then handle most of the domestic responsibilities.

Interactionalists believe that ill-health can only be defined by the person that feels that they have health issues as there is no specific “blueprint” for some of these issues. They also believe that it is up to the individual what type of help they peruse. New Right theorists believe that ill-health is the responsibility of the individual and should be managed privately with minimal help from the government to ensure that a non-dependant society is formed.

Post modernists believe that health should be managed by the individual such as they should appropriately manage their lifestyle choices to minimise the risk of serious ill health. A health impact can be positive or negative. A positive health impact is an effect which contributes to good health or to improving health. For example, having a sense of control over one’s life and having choices is known to have a beneficial effect on mental health and well being, making people feel “healthier” (Wilkinson, 1996). A negative health impact has the opposite effect, causing or contributing to ill health.

For example, working in unhygienic or unsafe conditions or spending a lot of time in an area with poor air quality is likely to have an adverse effect on physical health status. Holistic health is a concept in medical practice upholding that all aspects of people’s needs, psychological, physical and social should be taken into account and seen as a whole. As defined above, the holistic view on treatment is widely accepted in medicine. A different definition, claiming that disease is a result of physical, emotional, spiritual, social and environmental imbalance, is used in alternative medicine.

Ill health, unhealthiness, health problem; a state in which you are unable to function normally and without pain. Disabilities is an umbrella term, covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by an individual in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.

Thus disability is a complex phenomenon, reflecting an interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. Disease; a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavourable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment. These concepts tell us that health has many aspects and can have positive and negative impact upon an individual.

There are many definitions of health and ill-health and what constitutes this although there is a certain amount of consensus over certain issues and topics such as cancer and other life threaten illnesses. Biomedical Model; a conceptual model of illness that excludes psychological and social factors and includes only biologic factors in an attempt to understand a person’s medical illness or disorder. The socio medical model of health focuses on the social factors that contribute to health and well being in society.

When this model considers social factors, it particularly looks at the impact of poverty, poor housing, diet and pollution. The key difference between these two models is one perspective focuses on finding and treating the illness that an individual has while the other attempts to deal with the issues that caused the illness such as poor diet or other environmental issues. The socio-medical model also allows to the protection of an individual’s wellbeing whereas the biomedical model has no regard for any other factors.

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