Health: A Social Phenomenon


With movements made by the governments and medical professionals of developed countries in the interests of giving patients more choice, the definition of “healthy,” especially in contemporary society, has become subjective (Freemantle and Hill 2002, Armstrong 1995, Bury 2008, Van Krieken et al. 2006: 379-380). Variations in interpretation appear between groups divided along socio-political, demographical lines, or even between individuals themselves (Freemantle and Hill 2002: 864, Heath 2005: 954, Blaxter 2000:44, Van Krieken et al. 2006). This ambiguity has underscored debates and conflicts in recent years between patients, academics, politicians, and medical practitioners on issues of medical authority, the extent of involvement in the decision making process over personal health as well as the health of others related to them through social structures and institutions (Van Krieken et al. 2006, Blaxter 2000, Bury 2008, White 2002).

This essay will attempt to illustrate how “health” is a social phenomenon through the examination of power and inequality. It will focus on the social causes and effects of medicalisation and how the attitudes and positions people occupy in society influence their medical needs. This essay will also highlight some of the challenges faced by the societies around the world in addressing medical inequality.

Medical dominance and medicalisation

According to Foucault and Illich (in Van Krieken et al. 2006: 351-352), doctors and the medical profession have traditionally been empowered by their knowledge as the authority that society defers to with regards to the definition of disease and health. With improvements in medical technology as well as the advent of the hospital, an evolution...

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