Health Sciences Sociology Discussion Questions
1. Since we are talking about research and ethics in research this week, the topic of pharmaceutical companies and the opioid epidemic is a topic related to both. Please read the following article at the link provided here:
It is, admittedly, a long article but it is very interesting from both the sociological and medical perspective. (If you cannot get on the website, let me know and I can provide a copy for you to read.)
Chapter 5 – Laud Humphreys
1. Watch this student made video about Laud Humphreys’ research. This is a classic case of misrepresentation. However, would his results have been reliable had he identified himself?
Laud Humphrey's Tearoom Trade
Chapter 5 – Sample Survey
1. Take the sample survey. Discuss it. Tell me about the issues with it.
The survey questions:
How old are you? Less than or 5, 5 -10, 11-15, 16-20, older than 20
How satisfied is your family with the technology in your house? Highly Unsatisfied- Highly Satisfied
How wrong do you think it is to massacre innocent animals in order to eat and wear them? Very wrong, Somewhat wrong, Not too wrong
Here is the CHAPTER 5 document:
Many people (including students of sociology) often wonder about the relevance of sociology to health issues. In general, it is often a challenge to discuss the nexus between social science and health. Why medical sociology? What does sociology have to do with medicine or health? These are some of the pressing questions that require explanations. The fundamental problem starts with a lack of deeper knowledge of the meaning and focus of sociology. Therefore, it is necessary to proceed by defining sociology and briefly explaining some of its foundational focus. After this, its relevance to health will be explained.
Sociology has been variously defined since Auguste Comte coined the term in 1838. Simply, sociology is the study of human society and social problems. Sociology is the scientific study of social relations, institutions, and society (Smelser 1994) . In addition, sociology can be defined as the scientific study of the dynamics of society and their intricate connection to patterns of behaviour. It focuses on social structure and how the structures interact to modify human behaviour, actions, opportunities, and how the patterns of social existence engender social problems. Social institutions include kinship, economic, political, education, and religious institutions. The institutions are like pillars that hold up society because they are the constituent parts of the social system (society). These parts are interdependent and interrelated with specialised functions towards the survival of the society. This is why the human society is often referred to as a social system. Every institution fulfils some functional imperatives. The family institution supports the procreation and socialisation of new members of society while the economic institution deals with the production and exchange of goods. The economic institution employs people from the family institutions, and the family in turn needs the goods and services produced by the economic institution. The health institutions are organised to cater to the well-being and survival of human beings.
Generally, sociology employs scientific approach to study and develops generalisations about human patterns, groupings, and behaviour. In a more concise definition, the American Sociological Association (ASA) defined sociology “as the study of social life, social change, and the social causes and consequences of human behaviour”. Social life is the most central part of the focus of sociology; it implies the connection which an individual holds with others in the society. To sociologists, social life or interaction is the essence of human existence. The process of social interaction itself may put individuals at risk of some communicable disease such as tuberculosis (TB) , severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) , and measles. In terms of communicable diseases, mere contact with an infected person (in the process of social interaction) can normally put others at risk. The investigation of social “causes” and consequences is basic in sociological research. There is often a problem of biomedical reductionism , assuming “only the germ causes the disease” without an interrogation of the social conditions enabling vulnerability to diseases. For instance, commercial sex work puts an individual more at risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) than many other occupation groups: that is a kind of occupational condition, which is a risk factor for HIV.
Health Problems as Social Problems
The historical focus of sociology is on social problems in human society. Social problems include health problems, crime , deviance, violence , poverty , inequality, population problems, delinquency, and institutional instability. Social forces such as modernisation and industrialisation marked the beginning of unprecedented social alteration, especially since the beginning of the eighteenth century. This social change led to a number of problems as a result of changes in the relations of production. The industrial revolution led to new forms of production systems, community relations, migration , urbanisation , and especially new forms of employer-employee relations. Industrialisation marked the overthrow of the family as an economic unit. This was a tremendous change in the social system with resultant consequences, hence emerging social problems such as unemployment, poverty, child labour , gender discrimination, crime, and health problems. This is not to argue that all these problems only emerged during the industrial revolution , but they rapidly multiplied during that period. Social problems are conceived as strains within the system, seen as the product of certain objective conditions within the society, which is inimical or detrimental to the realisation of some norms or values for members of the society (Lyman et al. 1973, p. 474) . Any issue that threatens the well-being or survival of the society is regarded as a social problem. Weber (1995, p. 9) defined social problems “as a social phenomenon that is damaging to the society or its members, is perceived as such, and is socially remediable.”
It is important to note that just as crime is damaging to the society or individual, so is any health problem. Apart from this fact, a social problem can be identified through the following characteristics, which include:
It is an objective condition. This implies that it can be empirically defined. A social problem exists as a condition that can be verified. Even when subjective interpretation may be required, a social problem is an evidence-based problem, not just mere perception of an individual but a general knowledge that is usually definite. This represents a utilitarian view, which holds that social problems are objective things, or what Durkheim regarded as social facts (Smelser 1996) . Smelser observed that the assertion is like the medical model which views social problems as a form of disease with an identifiable cause, definite symptoms, and calls for a cure.
It has social aetiology or could be linked to it. This implies that a social problem emanates from the pattern of social interaction, organisation, association, or simply is engendered by social conditions. This point should be noted as a relevant perspective in explanation of human health/diseases and not an absolute explanation. For instance, Wellcome (2002, p. 30), summarising Day Karen’s research report, observed that “… Falciparum parasite [malaria] we see today arose about 3200–7000 years ago—an era that coincides with the dawn of agriculture in Africa . This was a time of massive ecological change, when humans began to live in large communities and the rainforest was being cut down for slash-and-burn agriculture… there was also a major change in the mosquito vector at that time, when it began biting humans instead of animals… ” It is further observed that P. falciparum migrated with Africans to other parts of the world. This means that the process of migration aids the spread of malaria . This is why Smelser (1996) also observed that the increasing world traffic of people would internationalise many health problems. It is for this reason that HIV, first diagnosed in the United States in the early 1980s (Jackson 2002) , is now a global problem. Moreover, some diseases are rooted in genetics or heredity, thereby multiplying through marriage patterns or human relationships. Holtz et al. (2006, p. 1665) observed that it is impossible to understand population health without considering the social origins of diseases—“the risk of exposure, host susceptibility, course of disease, and disease outcome; each is shaped by the social matrix… ” Social conditions are now invoked as fundamental causes of diseases in human society because such conditions affect exposure to diseases, as well as course and outcomes of diseases (see Chap. 10.1007/978-3-319-03986-2_4 for social determinants of health, Sect. 10.1007/978-3-319-03986-2_6#Sec5 for fundamental cause theory).
It poses social damage. A social problem often incapacitates the individuals in a society. As poverty prevents individuals from satisfying basic needs, so, too, health problems prevent individuals from functioning effectively as members of society. A health problem may reduce the functionality of an individual within the social system . Invariably, a social problem is inconsistent with the normative value of the society. Society wants its members to be healthy, and the unattainability of this desire shows a discrepancy between social value and reality. Such a discrepancy represents a social problem.
It affects the collectivity. A social problem is different from a personal problem in that the former affects a substantial number of people in the social system (see Harris 2013) . Health problems are ubiquitous like other problems such as crime and poverty. There may be a geographical variation in the magnitude or frequency, but most social problems are a pandemic. It is thus a problem when a significant number of people believe that a certain condition is, in fact, a problem (Kerbo and Coleman 2007) , and it constitute a problem to their social existence or wellbeing.
It requires social action. Social problems require collective action. The solution to any social problem does not reside in just any individual; it requires the majority to act in order to ameliorate the problem. It may necessitate institutional or community approaches. Health problems also require collective action. This is why there has been a lot of implementation of research and policy engagement to improve the health of the people. This is also why health issues often appear in development agendas.
The aforementioned attributes qualify health problems as social problems. This is separate from the social dimensions of health problems, which will be examined later in this book. Health problems can also come with other dimensions apart from the aforementioned attributes. It may not only be socially damaging but also biologically damaging. Often, a health problem may move from being biological pathology to social pathology or vice versa. Whichever form it takes, it constitutes a pathology that must be remedied by the society. Sociology has been relevant ever since Comte conceived it as a science that would provide salvation from all the social problems confronting the world. Improved relevance of sociology in human society will alleviate human suffering and provide equitable well-being. Therefore, the application of sociological methods and perspective and attention to the social dimensions of disease should provide a vital step forward in disease control.
Apart from the fact that health problems constitute a major social problem, it is important to further stress the relevance of sociology to health. First, in this case, it is human health. It is about the people, community, and society. The health of the society cannot be grasped without understanding the intricacies of the community or society itself. George Simmel conceived of human society as an intricate web of multiple relations—of people in constant interaction with one another (Coser 2004) , of people who are bound with common fate, norms, values, socio-spatial conditions, exposures, and opportunities. It is about the health of people who build and share similar health institutions or who live, for instance, in an African rainforest where they are exposed to mosquito bites every day. It is also about the health of the community that has access or otherwise to simple preventive measures for malaria or diarrhoea. Health is about the society where there is self-accountability to take up smoking and bear the associated health risks. As mentioned earlier, any issue concerning the social collectivity is of enormous interest to sociology. Simply, health is one such issue of interest because it concerns the people and also affects the patterns of social interaction.
Apart from focusing on the people, health is intrinsic to human functioning or existence. It confers a form of capacity on the individual to perform social functions in human society. Human value or existence is enhanced by good health. Good health is instrumental to human survival and is required to strive for the basic necessities of life. As a contributing member of the social systems , one needs good health, and lack of this threatens the pattern of social interaction with other members in the social system. Health indicators have been used to assess the level of development in a society. It is also used as a measure of chance of survival in human societies. This is why health is a social value both at the individual and collective levels.