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How Sociological and Lay ideas about Illness Differ from those of Biomedicine (Term Paper Sample)


This paper simply discusses how Sociological and Lay ideas about Illness Differ from those of Biomedicine


How Sociological and Lay ideas about Illness Differ from those of Biomedicine
Perhaps the majority agree that illness is an inevitable misfortune to the society, yet there are a number of competing views regarding illness from biomedicine and other perspectives regarding this phenomenon. Recent research, however, has shown that neither of these perspectives sufficiently explains illness and its various tenets (Downey, 2008). Broto et al. (2009) observed that despite the strength and predominance of biomedicine, other perspectives like sociological and lay concepts and practices are increasingly upheld and play an important role towards understanding illness. This brings us to an important point concerning illness. An understanding of the different views is necessary to foster a profound insight into the phenomenon.
There are many definitions of illness depending on the context of definition. From a sociological perspective, illness is defined as a form of deviant behavior (Larsen, 2011). This is derived from established guidelines of the society that influence its members. Lay ideas are held by a section of the society who are not experts in any field of scholarship and are also referred to as lay beliefs, lay theories, or commonsense theories or models (Downey, 2006 p.6). Throughout this paper, sociological and lay will be used interchangeably to collectively refer to the application of non-scientific concepts and explanations of illness. From a biomedical perspective, Nettleton noted that illness refers to the dysfunctions in invariant biological structures and processes (2006, p.3). It is worth noting that definitions of illness vary even within a particular perspective.
This paper explores how sociological and lay ideas about illness differ from biomedicine. These differences will first be presented from a general dimension, and then from five major specific areas relating to illness. These areas include etiology, time and mode of onset of symptoms, pathophysiology, course of sickness and treatment.
General beliefs about illness
The society has evolved its own notion of illness over the years. While this work focuses on illness, a slight insight into the sociological view of health can go a long way in providing an understanding of illness. According to Albrecht, in sociology, health is considered a metaphor for well-being (2006, p.265). This implies that for one to be healthy, they must show certain characteristics or behavior such as a sound mind as well as body. Albrecht further argued that health constitutes a balance (2006, p.266). In contrast, illness is viewed from the opposite dimension to health. It constitutes an imbalance, whereby one lacks the ability to maintain a synchronized state (Sobo and Loustaunau, 2010). As a result, people will tend to categorize individuals as mentally ill, for instance, due to the latter's inability to effectively coordinate mind and body activities. An individual's perspective on health, and therefore illness, is largely dependent on cultural values of the larger society (Beasley and Warin, 2008). Consequently, lay ideas on illness may not be far removed from the society's beliefs.
Lay beliefs are more specific in scope than sociological views, though are a subset of the latter, because they are generally held by people who do not have specialized knowledge or experts in a particular scholarly field (Nettleton, 2006). This means that lay views on illness are confined to a section of the society lacking in specialized knowledge, while sociological views are held by the larger society regardless of whether the population consists of both lay people and experts. As stated in the preceding paragraph, one's views on illness normally resonate with the cultural values to which they subscribe. This orientation is likely to incline the perspectives of members of a particular community, culture or society towards a particular belief.
The biomedical perspective is scientific in nature and attempts to explain illness from the functioning of biological structures and processes (Sobo and Loustaunau, 2010). Arguably, the model attempts to explain illness from by disruptions in physical parts or deviations from the normal structure or processes. Illness is determined using scientific procedures and a cure is also determined scientifically. According to Wade and Halligan (2004), this model has dominated healthcare practices throughout the past century. The role of a physician is underscored by this model. A physician is necessarily an expert in a certain field of medicine.
The different perspectives on illness can have significant consequences in terms of both strengths and shortcomings. The dominance of the biomedical model over the past century is associated with the benefits it is believed to accrue to the society that adopts it. Waden and Halligan argued that biomedical models …benefits of biomedical models. This model is considered deficient in explaining illness since it does not take into account the human aspects and experiences of those who happen to be ill, and also discredits social and cultural explanations of illness which are equally significant (Larsen and Lubkin, 2011).
The biomedical model
As is sufficiently introduced above the biomedical model is based on the ideology that health constitutes the freedom from disease, blemish and ache and is largely focused on the biological factors (Annandale, 1998). Annadale idealizes the model as focused on physical processes exemplified by scientific concepts such as pathology, physiology and the biochemistry of a disease. This model observes disease as a consequence of physiological, biological or psychological damage. Perhaps the most succinct conceptualization of disease is borne by Bilton et al in a rather expansive discourse (Bilton et al, 2002). Disease is out lined thus:
As an organic condition: non-organic factors associated with the human mind are considered unimportant or are ignored altogether in the search for biological causes of pathological symptoms.
Disease is a temporary organic state that can be eradicated and has remedial measure of cure by medical intervention. This then presents a sick individual as an object of curative measures through medical intervention
Disease is treated after the symptoms appear – the application of medicine is a reactive healing process.
It is observable from the background above that this model concerns itself with scientific conceptualization of the physical processes of the body. It completely dissociates with the psychological, environmental, and social influences in respect of illness and health (Annandale, 2008). According to Annandale (2008) it excludes the individual subjectivity and the role of social factors in heath matters. Bilton et al (2002) says it is founded on a technically powerful science hinged on laboratory analysis of the anatomical and neuro-physiological structures of the body. It is the bedrock of medical profession and the model under which modern medicine was established. Foucault (1977) describes it aspects of the model as ‘medical gaze.' This model has assumed supremacy over the other models for its functionality and perceived efficiency (Bilton et al 2002) and underlies the modern definition of health officially adopted by international bodies such the WHO.
It has been described as the hallmark of modernity and an absolute displacement of folk and or lay medicine (Wade & Halligan, 2004). Bilton et al best describes this thus: Modernity is about expertise, not tradition; about critical inspection, not folk beliefs; about control through scientific and technical regulation of the body, not customs and mistaken notions of healing.
The general concept of this model is built upon certain tenets. These include the doctrine of specific etiology which posits that every disease condition has a biologically defined causative organism. This revolves around the idea that all disease is caused by agents which are at least theoretically identifiable – germs, parasites, trauma, bacteria (Blaxter, 2006). Secondly is the assumption of generic disease that is the idea, that each disease has its distinguishing features that are universal within the human species (Bruce, 2006). This notion perceives disease as capable of been described by specific features whatever part of the world and culture it persists. Thirdly is the concept of ill-health as deviation from the normal with health defined as equilibrium and disease as a disturbance of the body's function (Giddens, 2009). The underlying notion being that there is always a difference between health and illness and the same is capable of observation. Fourthly is the principle of scientific neutrality, that is the belief that medicine adopts the values of objectivity and neutrality on the part of the observer, and sees the human organism as the product of biological or psychological processes over which the individual has little control (Blaxter, 2006).
These tenets form the basis of assumptions and principles which underlie the biomedical principle. A distilled analysis of these tenets establishes certain principles and assumptions deriving from the general concept of the model. They include: Mind-Body Dualism- body as machine incapable of influencing physical factor; medicine as a mechanical metaphor; Technological imperative of medicine (merits of technological intervention overplayed); Reductionism- disease reduced to entirely biological causes with changes in social and psychological factors ignored; and all the above accentuated by the germ theory.
These postulates have gradually been questioned. Bilton et al say that the power and status of the medical profession and the health industry in general...
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