Biomedicine Explain How Sociological and Lay Ideas Essay

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  • Subject: Psychology
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Explain how sociological and lay ideas about illness differ from those of biomedicine

Individuals and societies have over the years engaged in identifying the causal factors which can be attributed with an ailment. Illness and its related explanation has been a focal point of health professionals. It is also important to note that the attribution of illness with a specific cause may not be the same in terms of biomedicine and sociological or lay ideas. Sociological ideas tend to lay emphasis on the norms, values and subjective experiences of the individuals as the core elements which formulate their perception about an illness (Blaxter 2010). The layman is more likely to base the explanation of an ailment on social causes rather than exploring the dimensions of the illness through medical explanation. On the other hand, medical professionals (biomedicine) seek causal factors which are linked with the physiological and anatomical aspects of functioning as possible explanation for illness. This essay will focus on identifying the key ideas upheld by sociological and biomedicine frameworks for explanation of an illness. A comparative analysis of these notions will also be presented.

Sociological Ideas:

Diseases tend to have varied explanation across different cultures, thus indicating the influence culture can have on the perceptual framework people have adopted for viewing the illness. Individuals living in a society make inferences based on their subjective perception about events and occurrences. Illness as an occurrence and its subsequent explanation can be viewed in the context of 'Social Constructionism'. The theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism in the context of illness views the interaction between a patient and medical professional as the key component in developing the notions about the nature and implications of the ailment. Therefore, the information disseminated by the health professional facilitates the patient to develop an understanding about the illness as well as help him in identification of the behaviours which need to be adopted (Nettleton 2006).

Bury (2005) pointed out that illness when viewed as a social phenomenon facilitates the development of an understanding of how people view, respond to and cope with a life threatening illness. It has also been argued that the nature of illness an individual is prone to in his life time is also influenced by his socio economic contexts. Thus development of a chronic illness, which is triggered by a high level of stress for a prolonged tenure, can be attributed to the lifestyle of an individual. Moreover, Bury (2005) also identified health inequality as a significant factor, which can determine the development of illness in an individual.


The key themes associated with the explanation of illness in the context of biomedicine seem to be centred on regarding illness as an organic malfunctioning. As a result, the health professionals emphasize the rational explanation for the ailment, referring to the up to data available medical knowledge (Blaxter 2010). Closely connected with this idea is the notion that the ailment can be managed with the help of remedies and treatment identified by medical health researchers. It has also been argued that using the biomedicine framework for judging an illness, the health professionals have the jurisdiction to indicate whether an individual is suffering from an illness or not (Naidoo & Wills 2008). This authority is further shaped by the introduction of up dated information about the dynamics of different ailments. For instance, Alcoholism is now deemed as an illness rather than attributed to the lack of control or immaturity of an individual.

Comparative Analysis of Sociological, Lay and Biomedicine Ideas

One of the basic premises on which sociological and biomedical model differ in terms of their view towards illness is the degree of unanimous agreement in the latter. Sociological or lay explanation of an ailment can differ from one cultural set up to another; however the biomedical explanation retains the same framework demonstrating consistent opinion across different regions (Weitz 2009). The reason behind this is that biomedical explanation isn't significantly influenced by the societal ideas; rather the evolution of knowledge is embedded in empirical evidence and objectivity.

It is also imperative to understand that the development and refinement of medical knowledge occurs within a society, thus the sociological ideas can have certain degree of influence on the formation of medical ideas. Nettleton (2006) argued that the existing medical knowledge is an outcome of the postulations and empirical evidence which are gathered within a social context. On the other hand, the biomedical model also provides individuals in a society about the expected that are associated with the role of being a patient. The framework of symbolic interactionism indicates how the communication between patient and medical health practitioner provides insights into this expected role (Blaxter 2010).

Patients as well as medical practitioners as a result view illness from a perspective which is based on the fusion of sociological and biomedical ideas about it. An example in this context can be viewed in terms of the different diagnosis provided for similar symptomatic complaints by patients in different regions. As stated by Weitz (2009) the symptom of headache by medical practitioners in France is interpreted as an indication of liver problems. On the other hand, headache is likely to generate a diagnosis related to neurological problem among U.S. medical health professionals.

As mentioned earlier, sociological or lay ideas related to illness give rise to differential meanings associated with an ailment. Sociological or lay idea may attribute the occurrence of illness to factors that are not explained or acknowledged in the contemporary themes of biomedicine. The notion of moral weakness and 'evil eye' as causal factors of development of an illness indicates the significance societal norms and social constructionism holds on the inferences people draw about a situation (Scott 2009; Weitz 2009). The biomedical model on the other hand negates the relationship between an ailment and evil eye. Therefore it can be seen that society and biomedicine may not view illnesses from the same paradigm.

Another point of difference that exists between sociological and biomedicine ideas of illness can be seen in the form of stigmatization of an ailment, specially the mental health problems. In case of illnesses pertaining to the mental functioning of an individual, the sociological ideas of the illness have a profound influence on the subsequent perception of the illness. Illness can become stigmatized within a social context as individuals in a society regard such deviations from normalcy, from a critical perspective (Blaxter 2010; Rogers & Pilgrim 2010). The biomedical perspective however doesn't entail the same stigmatization thus providing an alternative perspective towards mental health issues and problems.

Individuals in a society may also respond negatively to the medical model due to a stark disparity between the perception of an illness, its suitable treatment and the postulations presented by medical model in this regard. Nettleton (2006) provided evidence by illustrating the case with the upsurge of anti-psychiatry movement in 1970s. This critical stance among the people shows how the societal notions about the lack of suitability can shape the responses of individuals towards biomedicine.

Barker (2010) further elaborated the impact of societal forces on shaping the nature and perception of illnesses experienced by individuals. The analysis of changing societal perception about ailments such as hysteria and neurasthenia provides examples in this regard. In the Western world, these illnesses were a common occurrence till the early 20th century. However, the alterations in the attitude of people about these illnesses and rising acknowledgement of medical explanation for illnesses has provided the society with an opportunity to shift the lay man perception towards hysteria and neurasthenia.

Blaxter (2010) has further explained how social explanation of hysteria has focused on its association with the possession by evil forces, personality traits and a form of emotional state which was used by females as a means of expressing the frustration they…

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