Custom «The Social Patterning of Illness» Essay Paper Sample

The Social Patterning of Illness

The discipline of sociology affects how people in the society perceive different things. This is characterized by two main aspects with the first one being the capacity to take personal things and place them in the wider society (Grbich, 2004). This means seeing or understanding the thing better from an empirical ground or reality. The other aspect is the viewing a situation from a theoretical perspective. These may be determined by the kind of knowledge we are exposed to from different sources. Our interaction with others will have an impact on the values we will possess, however this may be controlled by our personal beliefs and independence. Our interaction with others will have an impact on the way we perceive illness. There are different classes that have been identified in the society and they are said to have an impact on the way we are prone and perceive illness. In most cases the kind of perception will be helpful, unlike a situation where we relied on our own beliefs and understanding (Germov, 2009). The kind of perspectives will be looked at from societal structures and hierarchies of power. The latter are used to explain how we get light in handling different things in the society and illness among them. In this essay the sociological view of illness will be discussed by analyzing the ideas of Karl Marx and Max Weber (Andersen and Taylor, 2007). Both are theorists and they have used the theories of capitalism among others to explain the broad concept of society when it comes to perception of different things.

Karl Marx is one of the highly recognized scholars in bringing light in the way people live in the society. According to Karl Marx, there are differences between interest groups in the society in terms of struggle for power. His examination of hierarchical structures was made from an economic perspective. The mode of production, according to him, formed the basis of social relationships. He viewed the society as having two class systems (Bennett and Morris, 2005). The dominant class which was termed as bourgeoisie privately owned the means of production, while the people used in the production formed the second class. The workers sold their labour to the rich merchants in exchange for low wages. The kind of game played is survival of the fittest and this can be shown when one moves from one class to another. The workers were in extreme poverty as they totally relied on what they got from the merchants. The health of the lower group was also seen to be very poor with high levels of injury, industrial pollution and minimal quality control (Germov, 2009). The lower class would at times develop class consciousness because of their exploitation and rise internal conflicts with the aim of overthrowing the bourgeoisie to ensure a classless society with equal distribution of resources (Bury, 2005). This kind of exploitation is what Marx called capitalism and it became more evident during the era of industrialization.

During the industrialization period there was competitive capitalism, but according to Marx it has changed monopoly capitalism where control and ownership of capital were separated. This creates a confusion whether the managerial class was to help capitalists make more profits or to bring up a classless society (Caton, 2010).

Neo-Marxists point out the development of the service class that provides social and health services. This group is very sensitive and it responds to changing system needs like aged care, home nursing, and child care. This shows a transfer of tasks from the families to the service class. The class has more advantages in providing surplus labour through creation of new areas of work (Germov, 2009).

In the health system, Marxism indicates clearly that the prevalence of sickness in capitalist countries is affected more by the eploitative nature of capitalist production. The systems result to some illnesses, based on the capitalist lines and different centres are set up to provide ‘cures.’ The provision of the health services will be on profit grounds rather than personal needs (Harrison, 2010). This shows clearly that the health services are goods for sale, thus their delivery will be determined by the cash available, so that profits are maximized, just like in any other profitable good or service. On this ground, the class in the society comes into play in determining the kind of medical attention one will receive.

The health problems will be in most cases caused by poor quality of food, polluted air and water, poor housing, and health in industrial and third world countries. The identified problems are related to lower socioeconomic groups, since they are the ones who are exposed to such unfavourable and inhuman conditions. The states try to provide a favourable working environment for companies, so that they can accumulate profits resulting to disorganized capitalism which is the preservation of overall social harmony (Harrison, 2010).

Medical technology as a requirement in the latest quality treatments is subject to the needs of the capitalist system, which is making of profits (Kasper and Ferguson, 2002). At times the needs will be above the capability of patients and this will put their health to a further risk. These will ultimately result to the use of unsafe interventions whose impacts may be dangerous or may offer short lasting solutions (Nourshahi et al. 2009). The quality of service one gets will therefore have a relation to his capital, thus, the less fortunate in the society will get those poor services.

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Some aspects like rationalization, privatization, and deregulation result in a reduction of capital available for health-related education programs. The end result is worsening health of people of lower socioeconomic groups. Different organizations, like WHO, have tried to go against the market-based health control industries, simply in the private sector to make health of people to be the responsibility of the government (Payne, Hahn and Mauer, 2004). This will be the solution for unhealthy lower classes as it will make all people in the society subject to the same health services.

It is evident that people of lower socioeconomic groups will be subject to greater malnourishment and more stress. They will also be forced to inhabit the polluted areas as they prefer cheap housing. They will be the same group who will be exposed to poor health services. Some of them will not even get access to medical services. This means increased suffering among lower socioeconomic groups in the society and it worsens when they spend the little they have on medication. This will expose them to other problems like low productivity. It acts as a chain, making them continue suffering due to the fact that they fully use the little wages they get. This brings out the reality that class is relevant in explaining the social patterning of illness. A research carried out in Australia showed that capitalist practices and profit making practices have resulted to increased alcohol usage, and poor health profiles among people of the extremely low socioeconomic groups (Thomas, 2003).

Doctors, on the other hand, have actively supported the ideology of capitalism through the control of sickness certificates, diagnosis, and drugs. For instance, an injured worker will be accused of being careless rather than the poor working condition will be acknowledged. These problems will only affect the people of lower socioeconomic groups. This has, however, been controlled to some extend because of the increased specialization in the field and development of private medical companies. Doctors are to be blammed, since they medicate problems of social relations, such as stress, isolation, and boredom, instead of addressing the social issues (Germov, 2009). The perspective of the doctors needs to be adjusted, so that they do not take things from the outer cover rather than the root cause.

The ideology of Marx, when it comes to health systems and class in the society, has been criticized by different scholars. For instance, some scholars argue that the dominant class, the members of which are inactive, consists of those who will be prone to more diseases than the lower class whose members are active. This contradicts the ideology of Marx. In addition, Marx didn’t take into consideration that all developing countries did not have the same means of production.


Just like Marx, Max Weber saw the society to be made up of social structures. He wrote about capitalism and industrialization, although his focus was more on social action than economic action. He saw a society that was based on status (education, occupation and lifestyle) and he distinguished five classes as opposed to two classes by Marx. He saw that people’s response to diseases was influenced by the social and societal contexts (Germov, 2009). He, therefore, differs from Marx who stresses more on the economic action to bring about the different health services that people get. This makes his ideology need more research for justification, since it is known that different societies have different social actions (Satzewich and Wotherspoon, 2000). The different social actions seen by Weber are traditional (based on habit), affectual or emotional, wertrational (influenced by humanitarian values and zweckrational. The first actions were irrational, while the last two were rational. The irrational actions had an impact on health as they are linked to magic and alternative healing styles.

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Weber was a health service administrator during the First World War and he saw that hospitals were run by bureaucratic administration based on rationality principles which were systematic, measurable, and impersonal and used objective techniques. The principles together with humanitarian ideals provided stable management (Germov, 2009).  He was more interested in economic, political, and social management. The latter managements would result to reduction of administrators to human automatons and increased bureaucratisation in all aspects of people’s lives. The structures described by Weber appear to be pessimistic and they conflict with his social actions. This has made his ideology criticized (Caton, 2010).

Marxist ideology on relation of class to social patterning of illness seems to be meaningful. However, it has been criticized by different theorists. One of the criticisms is that he does not recognize that there are different forms of capitalism in different countries. The political and economic environments are different in different countries, thus the capitalist systems can never be the same. The ideology should also incorporate the position of women in receiving health services. Despite this, it is evident that in developing countries there will be classes and they will result to different health services. This is, however, contracting, since the dominant class may be prone to more health problems like obesity, and blood pressure than the lower socioeconomic groups. Weber had the same views of capitalism and industrialization, however he stressed more on the social aspect than the economic one. He concluded that health services would be controlled by different things in the society. These were the rational and the irrational aspects which he identified. He, therefore, did not stress much on class but on other things in the social life, like emotions and traditions. This makes his ideology complicated. 

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