The sick role is part of what sociological theory

the sick role is part of what sociological theory

13.1 Sociological Perspectives on Health and Health Care

Nov 14, The "sick role" is a theory in medical sociology that was developed by Talcott Parsons. His theory of the sick role was developed in association with psychoanalysis. The sick role is a concept that concerns the social aspects of becoming ill and the privileges and obligations that come with it. Jul 13, Parsons saw the sick role as a form of deviance, or going against societal expectations, because an ill person has different patterns of behavior than the norm. He argued that people are generally.

Medicine is the social institution that seeks both to prevent, diagnose, and treat illness and to promote health as just defined. Dissatisfaction with the medical establishment has been growing. Part of this dissatisfaction stems from soaring health-care costs and what many perceive as insensitive stinginess by the health insurance industry, as the battle over health-care reform illustrated.

Some of the dissatisfaction also reflects a growing view that the social and even spiritual realms of human existence play a key role in health and illness. This view has fueled renewed interest in alternative medicine. We return later to these many issues for the social institution of medicine.

We usually think of health, illness, and medicine how to sew a corset top individual terms. When a person becomes ill, we view the illness as a medical problem with biological causes, and a physician treats the individual accordingly.

A sociological approach takes a different view. Unlike physicians, sociologists and other public health scholars do not try to understand why any one person becomes ill. Instead, they typically examine rates of illness to explain why people from certain social backgrounds are more likely than those from others to become sick.

Here, as we will see, our social location in societyour social class, race and ethnicity, and gendermakes a critical difference. A sociological approach emphasizes that our social class, race and ethnicity, and gender, among other aspects of our social backgrounds, influence our levels of health and illness.

The fact that our social backgrounds affect our health may be difficult for many of us to accept. We all know someone, and often someone we love, who has died from a serious illness or currently suffers from one. Sometimes they succeed; sometimes they fail. Whether someone suffers a serious illness is often simply a matter of bad luck or bad genes: we can do everything right and still become ill.

In saying that our social backgrounds affect our health, sociologists do not deny any of these possibilities. They simply remind us that our social backgrounds also play an important role Cockerham, Japanese families dislike disfiguring the bodies of the dead, even for autopsies, which are also much less common in Japan than other nations.

As culture changes over time, it is also true that perceptions of health and medicine may also change. As we will see, poor societies have much worse health than richer societies. At the same time, richer societies have certain health risks and health problems, such as pollution and liver disease brought on by high alcohol usethat poor societies avoid.

The degree of government involvement in health-care delivery also matters: as we will also see, the United States lags behind many Western European nations in several health indicators, in part because the latter nations provide much more national health care than does the United States. Although illness is often a matter of bad luck or bad genes, the society we live in can nonetheless affect our chances of becoming and staying ill.

The major sociological perspectives on health and medicine all recognize these points but offer different ways of understanding health and medicine that fall into the functional, conflict, and symbolic interactionist approaches. Together they provide us with a more comprehensive understanding of health, medicine, and society than any one approach can do by itself Cockerham, Table Poor medical care is likewise dysfunctional for society, as people who are ill face greater difficulty in becoming healthy and people who are healthy are more likely to become ill.

For a person to be considered legitimately sick, said Parsons, several expectations must be met. He referred to these expectations as the sick role. First, sick people should not be perceived as having caused their own health problem. If we eat high-fat food, become obese, and have a heart attack, we evoke less sympathy than if we had practiced good nutrition and maintained a proper weight.

If someone is driving drunk and smashes into a tree, there is much less sympathy than if the driver had been sober and skidded off the road in icy weather.

Second, sick people must want to get well. If they do not want to get well or, worse yet, are perceived as faking their illness or malingering after becoming healthier, they are no longer considered legitimately ill by the people who know them or, more generally, by society itself. If a sick person fails to do so, she or he again loses the right to perform the sick role. Talcott Parsons wrote that for a person to be perceived as legitimately ill, several expectations, called the sick role, must be met.

These expectations include the perception that the person did not cause her or his own health problem.

If all of these expectations are met, tutorial how to make a snow globe Parsons, sick people are treated as sick by their family, their friends, and other people they know, and they become exempt from their normal obligations to all these people. Sometimes they are even told to stay in bed when they want to remain active.

Physicians also have a role to perform, said Parsons. Parsons thus viewed the physician-patient relationship how to get fuel card hierarchical: the physician gives the orders or, more accurately, provides advice and instructionsand the patient follows them.

First, his idea of the sick role applies more to acute short-term illness than to chronic long-term illness. Although much of his discussion implies a person temporarily enters a sick role and leaves it soon after following adequate medical care, people with chronic illnesses can be locked into a sick role for a very long time or even permanently.

Third, Parsons wrote approvingly of the hierarchy implicit in the physician-patient relationship. Many experts say today that patients need to reduce this hierarchy by asking more questions of their physicians and by taking a more active role in maintaining their health. To the extent that physicians do not always provide the best medical care, the hierarchy that Parsons favored is at least partly to blame.

The conflict approach emphasizes inequality in the quality of health and of health-care delivery Conrad, As noted earlier, the quality of health and health care differ greatly around the world and within the United States. People from disadvantaged social backgrounds are more likely to become ill, and once they do become ill, inadequate health care makes it more difficult for them to become well.

As we will see, the evidence of inequities in health and health care is vast and dramatic. The conflict approach also critiques the degree to which physicians over the decades have tried to control the practice of medicine and to define various social problems as medical ones. Their motivation for doing so has been both good and bad. On the good side, they have believed that they are the most qualified professionals to diagnose problems and treat people who have these problems. On the negative side, they have also recognized that their financial status will improve if they succeed in characterizing social problems as medical problems and in monopolizing the treatment of these problems.

Physicians may honestly feel that medical alternatives are inadequate, ineffective, or even dangerous, but they also recognize that the use of these alternatives is financially harmful to their own practices. Many of the women and girls who have eating disorders receive help from a physician, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or another health-care professional. Obstetrical care provides another example. In most of human history, midwives or their equivalent were the people who helped pregnant women deliver their babies.

In the 19th century, physicians claimed they were better trained than midwives and won legislation giving them authority to deliver babies.

A generation or more ago, they would have been considered merely as overly active. According to conflict theory, physicians have often sought to define various social problems what is double spacing in word 2007 medical problems.

Scientific medicine has greatly improved the health of people in the industrial world; even in the poorer nations, moreover, health has improved from a century ago, however inadequate it remains today. The interactionist approach emphasizes that health and illness are social constructions. In another example, in the late s opium use was quite common in the United States, as opium derivatives were included in all sorts of over-the-counter products.

Opium use was considered neither a major health nor legal problem. In a more current example, an attempt to redefine obesity is now under way in the United States. The symbolic interactionist approach has also provided important studies of the interaction between patients and health-care professionals.

Management of the situation is perhaps especially important during a gynecological exam. Under these circumstances, the physician must act in a purely professional manner. Critics fault the symbolic interactionist approach for implying that no illnesses have objective reality. Many serious health conditions do exist and put people at risk for their health regardless of what they or their society thinks. Critics also say the approach neglects the effects of social inequality for health and illness.

Despite these possible faults, the symbolic interactionist approach reminds us that health and illness do have a subjective as well as an objective reality. Buckser, A. Institutions, agency, and illness in the making of Tourette syndrome. Human Organization, 68 3 Cockerham, W. Medical sociology 11th ed. Conrad, P. The medicalization of society: On the transformation of human conditions into treatable disorders.

Sociology of health and illness: Critical perspectives 8th ed. New How to get a business license in sacramento, NY: Worth. Cullum-Swan, B. Behavior in public places: A frame analysis of gynecological exams. Ehrenreich, B. Hahn, R. Anthropology and public health: Bridging how to use laptop and monitor at the same time in culture and society 2nd ed.

Lorber, J. Gender and the social construction of illness 2nd ed. Musto, D. Drugs in America: A documentary history. Rao, A. The way of boys: Promoting the social and emotional development of young boys. Saulny, S. Heavier Americans push back on health debate. The New York Timesp. Sehata, G.

The Functionalist Approach

The first major theory within sociology that analysed the role of health and illness in social life was devised by the functionalist theorist Talcott Parsons () in his book The Social System. Parsons. The Sick Role Sick role is a term used in medical sociology regarding sickness and the rights and obligations of the affected. It is a concept created by the American sociologist Talcott Parsons in Parsons was a functionalist sociologist who argued that being sick means that the sufferer enters a role of sanctioned deviance. Feb 16, The term "sick role," refers to the behaviors of ill people as well as the people around them. In sociology, the sick role is a term used to describe the social behaviors exhibited both by people who are sick and the people around them. The term was coined by researcher Talcott Parsons in .

The term was coined by researcher Talcott Parsons in the early s. Since then, a number of people have built on Parsons' work to explore the role played in society by people who are ill as well as the experiences of people who are sick. Parsons viewed society as a system that stressed structure and order for functionality.

People who are sick break the structure of society because they are not viewed as positive contributors. Unlike other types of deviants who contribute to a decline in social order, however, sick people may not necessarily want to be in the position they are in, and their position, according to Parsons, is generally not their fault.

The sick role theory states that people who are sick are subjected to social norms that state that they have both rights and obligations that they must fulfill. In the realm of rights, sick people are allowed to refrain from participating in events, work, social activities, and other aspects of society because of their illness.

In addition, Parsons believed that, generally speaking, society did not hold people personally responsible for getting sick. Being sick, however, also comes with obligations. People who are sick are expected to get better and also to work on getting better by going to the doctor, complying with medication regimens, and cooperating with treatment plans. These social beliefs about illness and people who are ill can play out in interesting ways. For example, sometimes people are held responsible for their health condition and, because they violate the sick role by being personally responsible, they may be ostracized.

This is seen, for example, in patients with lung cancer , who are often assumed to have developed the disease because they smoked. Likewise, people who do not cooperate with treatment plans may be criticized for failing to fulfill their duties to get better. Being sick can, in fact, come with loaded social responsibilities and burdens. The sick role can also be involved in social perceptions of disability and disabled persons.

For example, many people believe that people with mental illness should adhere to prescribed medications in order to be functional members of society or to be entitled to receive benefits, an illustration of how perceptions of this role influence the way people view other members of society.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors. Please enter the following code:. Login: Forgot password?

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