Health and Social Change: A Critical Theory

Health and Social Change: A Critical Theory

Health and Social Change: A Critical Theory

Health and Social Change: A Critical Theory


• How have health, illness and medicine been affected by social change?
• What are the implications of disorganized capitalism, neo-liberalism and the 'Third Way' for health and healing?
• How important are class, gender and ethnic relations for health care reforms and the distribution of health?

Health and Social Change offers a clear and incisive examination of the social changes that have affected capitalist societies, and their ramifications for health and for systems of healing. It reviews the major paradigms of medical sociology and considers theories of the 'postmodern turn'. The author draws on critical realism and critical theory to demonstrate the significance of the shift from organized to disorganized capitalism for health care reform, in particular in Britain and the USA; for the present widening of health inequalities; and for people's use of popular, folk and professional forms of healing. He goes on to examine the role of a critical sociology and its necessary relationship to civil society and deliberative democracy. The result is an engaging and thought-provoking text for students, researchers and professionals interested in health and social change.


Collectively, the social sciences contribute to a greater understanding of the dynamics of social life, as well as explanations for the workings of societies in general. Yet they are often not given due credit for this role and much writing has been devoted to why this should be the case. At the same time, we are living in an age in which the role of science in society is being re-evaluated. This has led to both a defence of science as the disinterested pursuit of knowledge and an attack on science as nothing more than an institutionalized assertion of faith, with no greater claim to validity than mythology and folklore. These debates tend to generate more heat than light.

In the meantime, the social sciences, in order to remain vibrant and relevant, will reflect the changing nature of these public debates. In so doing, they provide mirrors upon which we can gaze in order to understand not only what we have been and what we are now, but to inform possibilities about what we might become. This is not simply about understanding the reasons people give for their actions in terms of the contexts in which they act, and analyzing the relations of cause and effect in the social, political and economic spheres, but also concerns the hopes, wishes and aspirations that people, in their different cultural ways, hold.

In any society that claims to have democratic aspirations, these hopes and wishes are not for the social scientist to prescribe. For this to happen it would mean that the social sciences were able to predict human behaviour with certainty. One theory and one method, applicable to all times and places, would be required for this purpose. The physical sciences do not live up to such stringent criteria, while the conditions in societies which provided for this outcome, were it even possible, would be intolerable. Why? Because a necessary condition of human freedom is the ability to have acted otherwise and thus to imagine and practise different ways of organizing societies and living together.

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