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Keywords:

  • theory;
  • disease;
  • research agenda;
  • sociology

Abstract

We argue for a sociology of health, illness, and disease. Under the influence of Talcott Parsons, the social study of health began as medical sociology and then morphed into sociology of health and illness, focusing largely on the social aspects of health-related topics. Social scientists have been reluctant to tackle disease in its physiological and biological manifestations. The result is an impoverishment of sociological analysis on at least three levels: social scientists have rarely made diseases central to their inquiries; they have been reluctant to include clinical endpoints in their analysis; and they have largely bracketed the normative purpose of health interventions. Consequently, social scientists tend to ignore what often matters most to patients and health care providers, and the social processes social scientists describe remain clinically unanchored. A sociology of disease explores the dialectic between social life and disease; aiming to examine whether and how social life matters for morbidity and mortality and vice versa. Drawing from specific advances in science and technology studies and social epidemiology, we point to ways that sociologists can participate as health researchers.