An Introduction to the Sociology of Health and Illness


Kevin White

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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    Boxes and Tables

    • 1.1 Aboriginality, lifestyle and genetics – obscuring social processes 4
    • 1.2 Modern society may have changed – but key social structures persist 6
    • 1.3 Sociology science and medicine 11
    • 2.1 The social constructionist theory of medical knowledge 16
    • 2.2 Medical and dental knowledge as socially located 16
    • 2.3 Diseases change independently of their biology-the case of tuberculosis 18
    • 2.4 Diseases produced in a social environment – RSI 19
    • 2.5 Ludwik Fleck and the foundations of the sociology of medical knowledge 23
    • 2.6 Fleck's concept of thought style 25
    • 3.1 Structural-functionalism in sociology 33
    • 3.2 Changing assessments of medicine – changing explanations in sociology 36
    • 3.3 Social factors shaping medical practice 37
    • 3.4 The social production of cancer 38
    • 3.5 Drapetomania 41
    • 3.6 The process of medicalizing a social problem – gambling 45
    • 4.1 Consequences of neo-liberalism on disease patterns 59
    • 4.2 The World Health Organization and the social basis of disease 59
    • 4.3 Empirical lack of support for risk factor approaches 62
    • 4.4 A sociological model of disease 63
    • 4.5 Major findings from the social support literature 68
    • 4.6 Functions of the illness narrative for the individual 70
    • 5.1 Structural changes in employment conditions as a determinant of the health of workers 80
    • 5.2 Social change and increasing disease and death in Eastern Europe 83
    • 5.3 Summary: class, inequality and disease 86
    • 5.4 Increasing disease rates among the poorest: 1985–89 and 1992–95 88
    • 6.1 Characteristics of the medical profession 106
    • 6.2 The patient's rights and duties in the sick role 112
    • 6.3 The sick role, cancer and liminality 114
    • 7.1 Foucault's synthesis of classical sociology 121
    • 7.2 The Cartesian view of the body 124
    • 8.1 Why are there more women patients? An Overview 132
    • 8.2 Patriarchal medicine: prescribing, treating and diagnosing women 135
    • 8.3 Famous clinical trials with no women subjects 140
    • 8.4 Unjustified Technical Interventions in Pregnancy 142
    • 8.5 Men's health and gender 148
    • 9.1 The Life Chances of Australian Aborigines 156
    • 1.1 A simplified overview of the sociology of health 7
    • 4.1 Industrial modern (IM) society versus postindustrial, postmodern (PM) society 56


    This book has been a while in the making and so I have benefited from the input of many colleagues, students and institutions. Bryan Turner and Bob Holton, while I was at Flinders University did a great deal to shape my orientation to sociology and to the sociology of health. Lecturing in the Science and Technology Studies Department at Wollongong University with Brian Martin, John Schuster, Ev Richards and Terry Stokes helped develop my sociology of science; and at the Victoria University of Wellington, David Pearson, Mike Hill, Bob Tristram and Claire Toynbee provided a wonderful academic and social environment. The Friday group at Wellington – Miles Fairbairn, Jamie Bellich, Barry Doyle (The Makara Foundation) and John Pratt provided a wonderful set of companions as well as collegial interaction. At the Australian National University, Jack Barbalet, Stephen Mugford and Frank Lewins have been good friends and colleagues.

    Over the years I have had enormous support – intellectual and personal – from Ray Jureidini, American University, Beirut; Fran Collyer, Sydney University; and Evan Willis at La Trobe University. I have also been lucky in students and I am grateful to my doctoral students – Jean Kehoe, Pauline Norris, Henry Ivarature, Pam Hyde, Alison Rawling and Nova Inkpen – as well as my Honours and undergraduate students.

    I am grateful to Jim Davidson at Sage who helped get this project started, and to the anonymous referees at Sage for their detailed commentary on the proposal and draft.

    The book draws on, and draws together ten years of research in the field of the sociology of health. I am grateful to the following publishers for granting permission to draw on parts of previously published work:

    Baywood Publishing Company, for parts of ‘The State, the Market and General Practice: The Australian Case’, International Journal of Health Services, 2000, 30 (2): 285–308; David Lamb and Susan Easton for permission to use parts of ‘Ludwik Fleck and the Foundations of the Sociology of Medical Knowledge’, Explorations in Knowledge, 1993,10 (2): 1–22; and to the International Sociological Association for allowing me to draw on ‘The Sociology of Health and Illness’, Current Sociology, 1991, 39 (2): 1–145.

    This book is for Kathy Claire and Michael and David.

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