Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

The Birth of a Speciality: The Sociology of Health and Medicine in Australia

Academic journal article Health Sociology Review

The Birth of a Speciality: The Sociology of Health and Medicine in Australia

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

There has been insufficient scholarly investigation of the origin and development of health and medical sociology. The most detailed national histories are those of the USA: a history usually presented as if it were the history of health and medical sociology, rather than only one of many possible histories. Of particular concern has been the way the conventional origin story of the discipline propagates an erroneous view of the sociological 'founders' as uninterested in issues of health and medicine (cf: Cockerham, 2005, p. 11; Gerhardt, 1989; Jefferys, 2001, p. 16; Williams, 2003, p. 133). This claim, first voiced in mid-twentieth century America, became the 'official' version, asserting that the emergence and growth of medical sociology (and, indeed, of all speciality areas within the discipline), have their own history, as well as their own precursors and founders, distinct from sociology itself (Barber, 1959; Lipset, 1959; Merton, 1959, pp. 30, 33). The result has been a distorted disciplinary history, in which sociology's specialities have been understood to have developed independently from the parent discipline. In the 'official' history, sociology is considered an eighteenth to nineteenth century phenomenon of the industrial and French revolutions (Alexander, 1997, p. 5; Nisbet, 1967), while medical sociology is a development of 1950s America, derived from twentieth century medicine, public health and sociology (Bloom, 2002, p. 37; Petersdorf & Feinstein, 1980, p. 27; Scambler, 1987).

The problem has arisen principally as a result of the failure to distinguish between the discipline's intellectual and institutional development. Intellectual histories aim to establish a pathway of ideas reaching from the present back through the decades. Institutional histories, on the other hand, attempt to show the establishment of the social institutions and organisations that nurture intellectual ideas, and which are, at the same time, the product of these ideas and their associated social practices.

The birth of sociology as a response to the major revolutions of Europe and America is a claim about the intellectual past of the discipline, as is the assertion about a dearth of interest in health and medicine among the classical scholars. The shortcomings of the first story - of sociology as a child of the revolutions - have been dealt with by Connell (2005, p. 5) and others (Eichler, 2001; McLaughlin, 1999). The difficulties inherent in the second have also been examined elsewhere (Collyer, 2010). In the latter it is argued that the portrayal of an interest in health, illness, the body, and medicine as a new sociological preoccupation of the mid twentieth century, is part of a doctrine, a disciplinary canon, strategically constructed in the interests of professional unity in the midst of diminishing resources, the growing domination of biomedicine, and fears about the fragmentation of sociology in mid-century America (Collyer, 2010, p. 99).

This paper takes a quite different approach, examining the institutional development of the discipline of sociology and the speciality field of health and medicine in Australia. If we were to undertake an intellectual history, our starting point would have to be the nineteenth century, for there were a handful of recognisably sociological works in this era (cf: Connell, 2005, p. 6; Timms & Zubrzycki, 1971), including those of W.E. Hearn and Stanley Jevons. The writings of women between the 1830s and 1950s, generally neglected, would have to be included. For example, Jessie Ackermann's social and political investigations of the early colonies, the Australian diaries of Beatrice Webb, and the studies of indigenous issues by Katie Langloh Parker and Daisy Bates. Given that the focus of this paper is the institutionalisation of the discipline and its speciality field, we begin with a brief discussion of the concept of an institution and a theoretical framework for understanding the processes of institutional change. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.