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Sociological Analysis of Health and Illness

Sociology refers to the study of the origin, development, and structure of human societies and the behavior of individual people within the society. On the other hand, health is defined by the World Health Organization as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease”1, while illness is generally the condition of having bad health. Illness is generally perceived as external and may be caused by a person’s way of life2.

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However, health is usually perceived to be internal to the individual such that, the health of a certain population is usually measured in terms of disease and illness (morbidity) or death (mortality)3. How people think about health and illness is usually different depending on their position in society and other spheres of their life. Moreover, the social background of a person determines the available resources required to understand clearly the illnesses.

According to Karl Marx, society is segmented into social classes, people who are involved in the systems of production, (the working class in capitalist societies i.e. they sell labor to get income), and those who buy the labor so as to make a profit (the ruling class)4. The latter class usually controls the political, economic, and social arms of the society.

The middle class usually views illness in mentalistic terms whereas the individuals from the working class see it in physicalistic terms. This usually determines the patients’ response towards therapy and recovery from the illness. The sociological background also determines the moral judgment made by the patients towards themselves and by others. The judgments usually depend on the disease in question, and it is believed that how a person copes with a certain disease is often dependent on his attitude to fight the illness5. Normally, there are three major ways in which social position may affect the health of a person:

  1. social position can promote behaviors that damage or improve health;
  2. social position can also be linked to certain psychosocial processes which impact health;
  3. the socio-economic status of a person directly influences the health of the person.

This determines whether he is able to regularly seek medication.

Health is also affected by a variety of factors which are behavioral or cultural. These include taking physical exercises during leisure time, smoking, and even dietary preferences. Moreover, these behaviors differ with the social class and hence influence the health of a certain socio-economic class6.

Medical dominance and alternative health care utilization

Alternative healthcare refers to healthcare that uses other types of therapies or treatment methods instead of conventional medicine which has been recommended by a conventional doctor. To illustrate this, one may prefer complementary medicine, which involves opting for dietary treatment at expense of the traditional or usual practice of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiotherapy as may be prescribed by a physician.

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However, complementary medicine may be applied, which involves the use of smell as a treatment mechanism to ensure the patient is comfortable following the successful completion of surgery. The main reasons that make people turn to alternative medicine include the shortcomings of conventional healthcare (biomedicine). These shortcomings include the ideology that biomedicine does more harm than good. Rather than curing, it can also contribute to illness through iatrogenic (doctors unintentionally mistakes), side effects of drugs, and negative effects of surgery.

Biomedicine also makes people have less knowledge on issues regarding their healthy wellbeing. This is because people are dependent on medical experts to tell them about their wellbeing, and usually make no effort to improve their knowledge of health issues. This usually makes them make decisions that may be detrimental to their health. However, alternative medicine teaches the patient how to take care of his body to ensure that he remains healthy.

Biomedicine provides treatment in a way that, rather than focusing on the whole person, biomedicine mainly focuses on the factors, which cause certain ailments. This perception is usually made even to young medical undergraduates. Among the first medical experiments that the undergraduates perform is the dissection of a human body to be conversant with the human body. This teaches them to treat a patient as just a body that has life.

Biomedicine identifies the truth about the disease; however, there are many factors that generally lead to disease some of these factors may be caused by psycho-social or even cultural. In addition, biomedicine is still the dominant form of healthcare provided by most hospitals mainly due to its scientific approach. The scientific tests can be carried out in the laboratories of biomedical hospitals. The government also recognizes biomedicine, and more funding is allocated towards the improvement of facilities in biomedical hospitals. Insurance companies also recognize the treatment covered by biomedical hospitals and therefore offer insurance to cater for the same. However, insurance companies are now devising products that are tailor-made to suit healthcare provided by alternative medicine.

There has been a growing interest in the use of alternative medicine throughout the world7. Whereas conventional medicine focuses mainly on the illness (mostly caused by germs) alternative medicine focuses mainly on the wellness of the person. In addition, alternative medicine is centered on the belief that the mind and the body are integrated. It usually focuses on maximizing a person’s potential, harmony, and balance of energy. However, complementary healthcare is not usually covered by insurance companies and is quite expensive when compared with conventional healthcare8.

Reasons why people use alternative healthcare

Most people choose alternative healthcare as it focuses on the whole body treatment and care; this includes both the physical and the psychological elements of a person.

Alternative healthcare also gives personal attention to the patient. This has encouraged most people to seek alternative healthcare as conventional healthcare treats people as passive objects. In addition, most of the alternative healthcare clinics encourage people to visit the clinics to have their bodies checked and help in preventing diseases before they occur9.

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Although some forms of alternative healthcare are beneficial, most of them have no meaningful success, for instance, homeopathy and faith healing. Most of the patients who get well after being given alternative medicine usually get well due to either having been misdiagnosed or by having a sense of benefit that arises solely from the knowledge that treatment has been given10. Using alternative healthcare also does not have scientific evidence and some of the remedies proposed by alternative medicine could be potentially dangerous to the patients when used together with conventional medicine11. However, the most dominant form of healthcare is usually conventional medicine. Treatment using this form can be scientifically proven and is relatively cheap compared to alternative healthcare.

Except in the case where there is misdiagnosis by the doctor, conventional medicine is somehow effective. Insurance companies usually cover healthcare due to conventional means. Alternative medicine is also quite expensive compared to conventional medicine and since it is not covered by insurance most of the payments are usually made out of pocket. Some alternative medicine practitioners also make claims about their product that are incorrect; they may claim that a product is natural yet that is not the truth12. Nevertheless, the tendency of alternatives to use a holistic approach to the treatment of disease has attracted the influx of quarks into the alternative healthcare provision. These people claim that they can treat certain diseases yet they are incapable of doing

Social determinants of health and outcomes for particular groups

Social determinant of health refers to the economic and social conditions that influence the health of individuals, communities, and jurisdiction as a whole. This usually relates to the quality and quantity of various resources that a society avails to its members. The resources include childhood conditions, income, availability of food and proper housing, employment and working condition,s, and health and social services.

As one goes down the social ladder of each society, life expectancy seems to be getting lower and most diseases become more common. People who are down the social ladder usually have a much higher risk of getting serious illnesses and dying prematurely. These problems are caused by not only material factors but also by psychosocial factors. Moreover, these factors also affect how a person is able to overcome a certain illness13.

Social and psychological circumstances can lead to long-term stress. In this case, prolonged instances of nervousness, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, poor interaction with others and uncontrollable life may fatally affect one’s health status to an extent that it may even spread to mental instability or even untimely demise. Primarily, the most affected are families living in third world countries where economic conditions are usually low or poor.

Social support and good social relationships are also very significant contributors to the health of a person. This is because, when a person relates or interacts with others well, there are chances they he/she will have a sense of belonging are felt that others are actually concerned or caring about his/her wellbeing. This helps improve their self-esteem and promotes healthy behavior patterns. The social cohesion of society also helps in improving the health of a particular society14. The quantity of social support that one gets is usually dependent on the social and economic status of the person. Indeed, poverty may lead to social exclusion and ultimately lead to poor health of the person

The breakdown of the social arrangement of society has been known to make people turn to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. People may also turn to use substances due to harsh economic conditions. These make people to be addicted to the substances and are therefore prone to the detrimental effects of the substances on health. In addition, social and economic conditions also determine the quality of food that will be available to a certain person and in effect also affect the health of the person.

Cultural perspectives on health and illness

Health is affected by very many factors which include personal behaviors, nutrition, environmental conditions, and availability of healthcare resources, social support, and material assistance. The ability of a person to avoid disease usually originates from the effects of many cultural beliefs on health behavior and physiological responses. Culture affects the patients and the provider’s perspective of health conditions and the treatment which is appropriate for treating the ailment. It also affects behaviors that lead to exposure to the disease and the reasons that make one seek healthcare services, how he describes the symptoms, and the compliance with treatments15.

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Culture also determines how a patient responds to ailments through ethnomedicine and cultural practices which are usually used to address health problems. An example is a case where the patient may refuse to visit hospitals that is perceived to be haunted by evil spirits. These patients may also refuse to take medication depending on the cultural view of the medication. Some cultures also view some medical practices as taboo. An example is the drawing of blood from a patient for use in medical examinations16.

Specific issues pertaining to migrants, refugees, and Indigenous Australians

Migrants, refugees, and indigenous Australians form a minority of the Australian population. Indigenous Australians are usually excluded from the social services offered to other Australians, and usually face a variety of issues ranging from lack of proper housing to lack of proper education. Australians view the indigenous Australians as people who are backward and have not completed the evolution of man. They are therefore inferior compared to other Australians; indeed, other Australians tend to see as if their brain has not completely developed. This makes their view on most matters to be generally ignored.

The indigenous Australians reject the Anglo-European social resources which have a negative impact on their cultural identity. There is usually a general inequality towards the indigenous Australians. Socio-economic factors force many Australians to occupy areas on the outcasts of urban areas that are poorly serviced and are located far from areas where employment is available and hence these populations does not get meaningful employment. This tends to impact negatively on their ability to access quality healthcare and obtain a quality education17. Migrants, refugees and indigenous Australians usually have a higher unemployment rate compared to other Australians18. Moreover, most of the migrant Australians also live in the areas of urban centre which have poor housing19.

The migrant, refugees and indigenous Australians are usually subjected to so much racism in Australia; and the indigenous people have been excluded both socially and economically. Australia also detains people who come into their country to seek asylum. They are usually detained for a specific amount of time while the documents they need are processed. However the United Nation requires that all asylum seekers be treated well and given proper housing even before their documents have been fully processed. This lowers their self dignity as they are treated as criminals. Detaining of the asylum seekers also makes them to have a negative attitude towards the political administration of the government. However this system is slowly being faced out due to so many outcries from other nations.


Cuellar, Norma. Conversations in complementary and alternative medicine: insights and perspectives from leading practitioners. MA, Jones and Bartlett, 2006. Web.

Dennis, Raphael. Social determinants of health: Canadian perspectives. Toronto, Canadian scholars, 2004. Web.

Everyday Health. Alternative Medicine Pros and Cons. Everyday Health, Inc. 2010. Web.

Jupp, James. The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001. Web.

Lupton, Gillian and Najman, Jake. Sociology of health and illness: Australian readings. south Yara, Macmillan Publishers, 2001. Web.

McIntire-Mills, Janet Judy. Rescuing the enlightenment from itself: critical and systemic implications for democracy. NY, Birkhäuser, 2006. Web.

Radley, Alan. Worlds of illness: biographical and cultural perspectives on health and disease, London, Tavistock/Routledge,1993. Web.

Sather, Trevor. Pros and cons: a debater’s handbook. London, Routledge, 1999. Web.

Scambler, Graham. Sociology as applied to medicine. Saunders, Elseviers, 2008. Web.

Schneirov, Matthew and Jonathan, David. A diagnosis for our times: alternative health, from lifeworld to politics. NY, SUNY press, 2003. Web.

Taylor, Steve D. and Field, David. Sociological Perspectives on Health, Illness and Health Care. MA, Wiley-Blackwell, 1998. Web.

Weitz, Rose. The Sociology of Health, Illness, and Health Care. Fifth edition. MA, Cengage Learning, 2009. Web.

Wilkinson, Richard and M. G. Marmot. Social determinants of health: the solid facts. Copenhagen, WHO, 2003. Web.

Winkelman, Michael. Culture and Health: Applying Medical Anthropology. John Wiley and sons, 2008. Web.


  1. Wilkinson, Richard G. and M. G. Marmot, Social determinants of health: the solid facts, (Copenhagen, WHO, 2003).
  2. Scambler, Graham. Sociology as applied to medicine, (Saunders, Elseviers, 2008), p.42. Web.
  3. Lupton, Gillian and Najman, Jake. Sociology of health and illness: Australian readings. (South Yara, Macmillan Publishers, 2001), p. 5. Web.
  4. Lupton, Gillian and Najman, Jake ibid, p. 13.
  5. Radley, Alan. Worlds of illness: biographical and cultural perspectives on health and disease, (London, Tavistock/Routledge, 1993), p.3. Web.
  6. Taylor, Steve D. and Field, David. Sociological Perspectives on Health, Illness and Health Care. (MA, Wiley-Blackwell, 1998), p 88
  7. Schneirov, Matthew and Geczic, Jonathan David, A diagnosis for our times: alternative health, from lifeworld to politics, (NY, SUNY press, 2003), p 197.
  8. Cuellar, Norma G., Conversations in complementary and alternative medicine: insights and perspectives from leading practitioners, (MA, Jones and Bartlett, 2006), p 12.
  9. Everyday Health. Alternative Medicine Pros and Cons. Everyday Health, Inc. 2010. Web.
  10. Sather, Trevor, Pros and cons: a debater’s handbook, (London, Routledge 1999), p 292.
  11. Everyday Health, ibid.
  12. Everyday Health, ibid.
  13. Wilkinson, Richard G. and M. G. Marmot, Social determinants of health: the solid facts, (Copenhagen, WHO, 2003), p12.
  14. Wilkinson, Richard G. and M. G. Marmot, ibid, p 22.
  15. Winkelman, Michael, Culture and Health: Applying Medical Anthropology, (NY, John Wiley and sons, 2008).
  16. Winkelman, Michael, ibid.
  17. McIntire-Mills, Janet Judy, Rescuing the enlightenment from itself: critical and systemic implications for democracy, (NY, Birkhäuser, 2006), p 267.
  18. Jupp, James, The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001), p 810.
  19. Jupp, James, ibid, p.789.

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