The Book of Common Fallacies

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Talcott Parsons, the leading figure within this sociological tradition, identified illness as a social phenomenon rather than as a purely physical condition.

Political Sociology

Health, as against illness, being defined as:. Health within the functionalist perspective thus becomes a prerequisite for the smooth functioning of society. To be sick is to fail in terms of fulfilling one's role in society; illness is thus seen as 'unmotivated deviance'. A key assertion of the Marxist perspective is that material production is the most fundamental of all human activities - from the production of the most basic of human necessities such as food, shelter and clothing in a subsistence economy, to the mass production of commodities in modern capitalist societies.

Whether this production takes place within a modern or a subsistence economy, it involves some sort of organisation and the use of appropriate tools; this is termed the 'forces of production'. Production of any type was recognised by Marx as also involving social relations. In modern capitalist societies these 'relations of production' lead to the development of a division of labour reflected in the existence of different social classes.

For Marxists, it is these forces and relations of production together that constitute the economic base infrastructure of society. The superstructure of a society - the political, legal, educational, and health systems and so on - are shaped and determined by this economic base. The orientation of this approach as applied within medical sociology is towards the social origins of disease. Health outcomes for the population are seen as being influenced by the operation of the capitalist economic system at two levels.

First, at the level of the production process itself, health is affected either directly in terms of industrial diseases and injuries, stress-related ill health, or indirectly through the wider effects of the process of commodity production within modern societies. The production processes create environmental pollution, whilst the process of consuming the commodities themselves has long-term health consequences associated with eating processed foods, chemical additives, car accidents and so on.

Second, health is influenced at the level of distribution. Income and wealth are major determinants of people's standard of living - where they live, their access to educational opportunities, their access to health care, their diet, and their recreational opportunities. All of these factors are significant in the social patterning of health. Sociologists within this wide tradition would argue that the social world cannot be studied in the same way as the physical world because people:. In attempting to achieve this goal of interpretative understanding, reliance is placed on essentially qualitative research methodologies in order to get as close as possible to the world of the subjects or social actors being studied.

In terms of health and illness, this interpretative approach focuses upon the symbolic meanings of what it is to be ill in our society, and would not confine its interest in health to what would be perceived as the closed world of clinical biomedicine this would not rule out the study of the interactions of clinicians themselves both with patients and with colleagues. Within this interpretative sociological tradition two distinct perspectives stand out; symbolic interactionism and social constructionism. These approaches are outlined below in relation to health and illness.

This perspective developed from a concern with language and the ways in which it enables us to become self-conscious beings. The basis of any language is the use of symbols that reflect the meanings that we endow physical and social objects with. In any social setting in which communication takes place, there is an exchange of these symbols: that is, we look for clues in interpreting the behaviour and intentions of others. Communication being a two-way process, this interpretative process involves a negotiation between the parties concerned.

The negotiated order that develops therefore involves:. These understandings have consequences in turn for the way in which people act, and the manner in which others react to them. Interactionist sociology asserts that the social identities we possess are influenced by the reactions of others. So if we demonstrate some abnormal or 'deviant' behaviour it is likely that the particular label that is attached within a society at a particular time to this behaviour will then become attached to us as individuals. This can bring about important changes in our self-identity. A disease diagnosis could be one such label: for example, clinical depression and the assumptions about the person so labelled that then follow; here Goffman's work on this form of social stigma is particularly influential and will be discussed in detail in Section 3 of this module.

Within this perspective, medicine too would be viewed as a social practice and its claims to be an objective science would be disputed. In the doctor-patient interaction, patient dissatisfaction can result if the doctor too rigidly superimposes a pre-existing framework disease categories upon the subjective illness experience of the patient.

New economic sociology and new institutional economics

For example, by presuming that they can understand what that individual is suffering because of an interpretation of their signs and symptoms without reference to their health beliefs explored in Section 4. The Social Constructionist perspective of health and illness - The relativity of social reality. This sociological perspective derives from the phenomenological approach of Berger and Luckmann , who argued that everyday knowledge is creatively produced by individuals and is directed towards practical problems.

This essentially subjectivist approach embraces a number of very different sociological paradigms, but what such paradigms do have in common in relation to health and illness is a focus on the way we make sense of our bodies and bodily disturbances. Social constructionism refuses to draw a distinction between scientific medical and social knowledge. Nor would it ignore disease in favour of examining the illness experience, unlike the interactionist perspective.


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Rather, it maintains that all knowledge is socially constructed. We are seen to come to know the world through the ideas and beliefs we hold about it, so that it is our concepts and categories which are the realities of the world For further reading see Bury - a sociological paper which focuses on social constructionism in relation to biomedicine. Foucault ,,, and the work of so-called post-structural social theorists are included within this perspective, though their concerns are frequently different from those researching within the tradition of phenomenology.

Foucault was interested in power in itself, not as reduced to an expression of some other conceptual starting point such as class, the state, gender or ethnicity. He sought to approach the relationship between agency and structure not through an essentialist analysis but by using an 'interpretative analytics' of practices and discourses, discerning the workings of power and knowledge in social relations.

Political Economy

In terms of health and illness, this Foucauldian approach to cultural constructionism draws attention to the ways in which we experience ourselves and our bodies not in some naturalistic way, but in what is termed a 'symbolically mediated fashion' - the body as a 'field of discourse'.

As David Armstrong put it, in describing the development of medical knowledge in the latter half of the nineteenth century:. The body was only legible in that there existed in the new clinical techniques a language by which it could be read.

Department of Sociology, CUHK

Anthony Giddens' work , is concerned with attempting to overcome the traditional sociological dualities between agency and structure, and between the ideal and the material, which are discussed above. According to May , Giddens seeks to examine the structural reproduction of social practices, whilst also insisting upon the opportunities which exist for individual innovation in social conduct:. Here Giddens is referring to what he describes as the 'duality of structure'. This is the idea that while social structures are themselves produced by men and women, at the same time these structures act as mediators to constrain and influence this very productive process.


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  • In the context of health and illness, Giddens following Durkheim argues that for a society to function effectively requires that people have a sense of order and continuity - the social rules that people draw upon in their social practices. The conversation also looks at urban development and the benefits and costs of multiple municipalities vs.

    The Rule of Law. YouTube video, LearnLiberty. Why is the rule of law so important? Bell explains how the rule of law is a critical part of a free and tolerant society. The rule of law means that people are not subject to the arbitrary will of others. It means they can engage in activities that others might disapprove of without fear of persecution. When there is rule of law, people can buy property, plan businesses, and otherwise plan for the future with confidence.

    As Bell explains, the rule of law provides a necessary framework for civil society. Government institutions are a type of institution formalized by law. For example, what is the Federal Reserve? Meltzer on the Fed, Money, and Gold. He describes and analyzes some fascinating episodes in U. This is a wonderful introduction to the political economy of the money supply and central banks. Housing Market. The conversation closes with a postscript on the current financial crisis.

    With so many institutions, how do we get information? Sunstein on Infotopia, Information and Decision-Making.

    Economic Systems & the Labor Market: Crash Course Sociology #29

    Deliberation , the standard way we often gather information at various kinds of meetings, has some unpleasant biases that hamper its usefulness relative to surveys and incentive-based alternatives. Weingast talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about how violence shapes political institutions, the role of competition in politics and economics, and why most development advice from successful nations fails to lift poor nations out of poverty.

    January 23, David Rose of the University of Missouri, St. Rose argues that morality plays a crucial role in prosperity and economic development. Knowing that the people you trade with have a principled aversion to exploiting opportunities for cheating in dealing with others allows economic actors to trust one another.

    Research in the Sociology of Organizations

    That in turn allows for the widespread specialization and interaction through markets with strangers that creates prosperity. In this conversation, Rose explores the nature of the principles that work best to engender trust. The conversation closes with a discussion of the current trend in morality in America and the implications for trust and prosperity. Firms—businesses—are private institutions. But what exactly is a firm? Coase on Externalities, the Firm, and the State of Economics.

    EconTalk Podcast, May At the end of conversation he discusses his new book on China, How China Became Capitalist co-authored with Ning Wang , and the future of the Chinese and world economies. Seidman on the Constitution. EconTalk Podcast. Seidman argues that the we should ignore the Constitution in designing public policy, relying instead on the merits of policy regardless of their constitutionality.

    Seidman defends his position by citing examples in the past where constitutionality has been ignored and says it would be better to recognize our disdain for the Constitution in a transparent way. In this lively conversation, Roberts pushes back against these ideas, citing the limits of reason and the dangers of using popular sentiment to determine policy. Glenn Reynolds on Politics, the Constitution, and Technology.

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    Institutional theory

    Glenn Reynolds of the University of Tennessee and blogger at Instapundit talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the political malaise in America, whether it could lead to a Constitutional Convention, and what might emerge were such an event to occur. Reynolds also gives his thoughts on the suggestion advanced in a recent episode of EconTalk that we should ignore the Constitution.

    George Selgin on Free Banking. George Selgin of West Virginia University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about free banking, where government treats banks as no different from other firms in the economy. Rather than rely on government guarantees to protect depositors coupled with regulation , banks would compete with each other in offering security and return on deposits. Selgin draws on historical episodes of free banking, particularly in Scotland, to show that such a world need not be unduly hazardous or filled with bank runs.

    Boettke on Living Economics. Boettke argues for embracing the tradition of Smith and Hayek in both teaching and research, arguing that economics took a wrong turn when it began to look more like a branch of applied mathematics. He sees spontaneous order as the central principle for understanding and teaching economics. The conversation also includes a brief homage to James Buchanan who passed away shortly before this interview was recorded. Economic institution creates jobs opportunities for people through which, they can generate income and earn their livelihood.

    Many businesses are developed under the economic institution. Economic institution creates jobs for the people who acquire different skill sets. The roles and responsibilities of employee depend on their skills. Economic institution provides economic assistance to other institutions as well. It provides funds to government in the shape of taxes and to the family in the shape of salaries.

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