Learning OutcomesLearning Outcomes
Understand the social construction of
Discuss sociological theories of illness i.e.
Parsons’ sick role, Freidson’s sociological
types of illness
Social Construction of HealthSocial Construction of Health
Social ConstructionSocial Construction
• Conrad and Barker (2011) use the
example of the social construction of
• For example, in the early 19th
pregnant women were discouraged from
driving or dancing for fear of harming the
• Today they are discouraged from
smoking or drinking alcohol.
Three pregnant women relax in medical 'space-suits' in 1965 in an
attempt to ease childbirth and raise the intelligence of their offspring.
A suction pump next to the chairs lowers pressure inside the suits,
while a gauge in front of them gives a constant reading
Retro advertising from
the 1950s also shows
how attitudes towards
pre and post natal care
What does it mean to be healthy?What does it mean to be healthy?
In groups, take notes on what is considered
healthy today. This will be what the medical
professionals say, the media and so on...
What must you do to be healthy?
What can’t you do in order to maintain health?
Has it always been this way?
If not, are these changes always for the better?
Health is a Social Construct!Health is a Social Construct!
• Health is a relative concept which varies
according to age, lifestyle, personal
circumstances, culture, environment etc.
• What counts as health is a social
construct – it is a result of individual,
social and cultural interpretations and
Social Construction of IllnessSocial Construction of Illness
• At first glance, the concept of a social
construction of illness does not seem to make
sense. If you’re ill you’re ill...
• However, it’s not that simple for example, who
decides what is an illness
• Medical professionals?
For example...For example...
Our culture, not our biology, dictates:
• Which illnesses are considered disabilities and which
• Which are stigmatized and which are not
• Which are deemed contestable (meaning some
medical professionals may find the existence of this
ailment questionable) as opposed to definitive
(illnesses that are unquestionably recognized in the
medical profession) (Conrad and Barker, 2010)
If you ARE ill...If you ARE ill...
Society has a way of dealing with you
The Sick RoleThe Sick Role
‘The sick role refers to the pattern
of behavoiur expected of
someone who is ill.’ (Browne, 2008:438)
So what is expected of you when you are ill?
Talcott Parsons and the Sick RoleTalcott Parsons and the Sick Role
According to Parsons, illness is a form of deviance which
threatens the stability of society
This is because those who are classified as sick are able
to avoid their normal social responsibilities like going to
work, school or college, looking after the family etc.
If too many people did this society would collapse.
Sooo, ill-health is something that needs to be managed in
order so that society can function smoothly
(cited in Browne, 2008:438)
Sick RoleSick Role
Ill health is managed by
what Parsons refers to as
the sick role.
The sick role enables
people to escape from their
roles and responsibilities
and lets others take over
until they have recovered.
(cited in Browne, 2008:438)
Individuals are excused from
normal social activities. This
requires approval by
teachers, employers AND
family members. The doctor
plays a role in diagnosis and
Individuals are not blamed
for their illness and it is
recognised that they need
help to recover
The person must want
to get well, and see
their sickness as
The person must seek
and accept medical
help and follow
Evaluating the Sick RoleEvaluating the Sick Role
Answer the questions on your sheet
Sick RoleSick Role
Warning!! – nudity/printed swear word
Variations of the Sick RoleVariations of the Sick Role
Eliot Friedson devised a scheme to illustrate
1)Variations of the sick role exist depending on one’s
2)That how sick people are treated depends on the
imputed seriousness of their disease and whether or
not it is stigmatized with in the society
3)That the illness label is not objective but rather a
reflection of societal norms and cultural traditions.
Freidson (1970)Freidson (1970)
States that not all illnesses are the same
Conditional sick role
Unconditionally legitimate sick role
Illegitimate sick role
Read the excerpt from Giddens (2008) – you
can reference this on your worksheet!!
Summarise what is meant by each type of sick
List some illnesses that can fit into each
Examples of Stigmatized DiseasesExamples of Stigmatized Diseases
AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections
Alcohol and drug related diseases
Smoking related diseases
Diseases associated with obesity
Mental health related illnesses
Which diseases are the most stigmatized? Which are the
least? Is this different in different cultures or social
Sheldon is SickSheldon is Sick
Browne, K. (2008) Sociology for AS AQA. (3rd
Conrad, P. and Kristin B. (2010) The Social Construction
of Illness: Key Insights and Policy Implications. Journal of
Health and Social Behavior. Vol 51: 67–79.
Giddens, A. (2006) Sociology (5th
Weiss, G. and Lonnquist, L. (2015) Sociology of Health,
Healing and Illness. (8th
ed.) Oxon: Routledge.