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To what extent is health a social construction?

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Introduction

To what extent is health a social construction? Before I begin to answer this question I want to look into what exactly is meant by the term "social construction". To start with, it was a term coined by Peter L Berger and Thomas Luckmann when they published their 1966 book on The Social Construction of Reality. The actual term Social Construction means a phenomenon that is built up through social processes rather than being a natural occurrence. However because of the complexity of defining health I shall look into that later on. I believe that health is socially constructed to an extent, for example social class affects a person's health, as does their locality, the time period they live in, and so on. On the other side of the argument health is a biological construction as you cannot deny such things as micro-organisms that cause the diseases. In this essay I shall look at all these points of view and analyse to what extent I believe health is a social construction. As I stated earlier I would look further into the definitions of health as I believe it is important to understand the different views. The World Health Organisation states health as, "Not merely the absence of disease and infirmity, but complete physical, mental and social well being" 1 implying that health is a set physical disorder. This has been disagreed with by a number of different sociologists. Stephen Moore states that, "Health is a socially constructed concept, rather than a biological one." ...read more.

Middle

The Structural/Material explanation states that it is a combined number of factors, low income, poor diet, inadequate housing and so on...The last explanation was Behavioural/Cultural explanation which states that the lower social groups fail to look after themselves properly (not having check ups, not visiting dentists...). The report showed that the first two explanations were weak arguments, and highlighted the need for government action. Politics can play a part in health as well. For instance, "Diphtheria has returned to Russia because the social consequences of the collapse of communism have destroyed the network of clinics that once immunised the population."4 Also politics comes into play with things such as health care systems. In the United States of America, they have to pay for their health care. This also affects the social class divide as the wealthier can afford a more complete health insurance. In the United Kingdom we do not have this problem to the same extent, as we have the National Health Service (set up in 1948) that gives free health care to all. Although people can choose to go private and pay for insurance that allows them "better" health care. For the argument that Health is a social construction, relativist sociologists hold a strong point of view. Bury (1987) argued that, "Social constructionism is a relativist critique of medical definitions"5. To go further, some relativists argue that science itself is flawed. There are two main types of relativist sociologists, Social and 'Strong Programme'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Some studies to support this show that 20 percent of hospital patients suffer from iatrogenic disease, and more people die from adverse reactions to drugs than on the road each year. We cannot completely dismiss the medical model of health, it has done considerable amount to help health care. The medical model has helped to increase our comfort levels, for instance, we have better eyesight, and can even cure some cases of blindness, we have inoculations and vaccines against infectious diseases, we have drugs to control diabetes, and defibrillators to resuscitate the heart when it stops. Although, it has been shown that cases of disease were already dropping before inoculations and vaccines were used. For instance, cases of Whooping Cough were about 1500 per million in 1870, by 1910 they were already down to around 500 per million, and in 1950 when the vaccination became widely available there were already less then 200 cases per a million.10 To say that health is entirely a social construction would be a misjudgement. I believe that health is a variety of different causes and catalysts. The definition of health differs from each individual and from each society. Health is a complex interaction of social class, environment, medical definitions, subjective definitions and the interests of the leaders of society. I believe that health will never be able to be judged as one idea or another, and to be sociologically exact in the topic of health is almost impossible due to the difficulties of obtaining objective data and the severe conflicts between theories. ...read more.

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