Sociologists and Their Work: Inter-Country Comparisons in the Sociology of Health and Medicine

By Collyer, Fran | New Zealand Sociology, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Sociologists and Their Work: Inter-Country Comparisons in the Sociology of Health and Medicine


Collyer, Fran, New Zealand Sociology


Abstract

Since the 1980s, universities in all countries have become subject to the increasing pressures of globalisation and marketisation. Despite rising concern amongst academic workers about these new conditions, their impact on the production of scholarly knowledge has yet to be fully assessed. This study draws on an analysis of journal publications to ascertain some of the effects of this new employment context on sociological practices and production 'outputs'. The field selected for examination is the sociology of health and medicine: an arena of sociological investigation which has continued to thrive since the beginning of its institutionalisation process in the 1950s. Comparing the publications of authors from the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, findings suggest relationships between a sociologist's location within the world knowledge system, their place in the university system and the knowledge they produce. Specifically, the study offers evidence for the impact of recent changes to the university system on sociological practices and the production of sociological theory. Some of the implications of these findings for the discipline are examined.

Introduction

In the 1960s and 1970s, sociologists of health and medicine raised questions about whether employment within medical faculties might encourage the adoption of the perspectives and values of medicine and hinder their capacity to maintain a critical distance from their subject matter. The subject matter was the practice and professions of medicine, and the debate was usually configured as the 'sociology of medicine' versus 'sociology in medicine' (e.g. Freeman et al., 1963; Freidson, 1970, 1978; Straus, 1957; Gold, 1977; Greene, 1978; Cockerham, 1983). Although the employment of sociologists in medical schools, nursing faculties and public health departments in countries such as Britain, Canada, the United States and Australia increased throughout the second half of the 20th century (Badgley, 1971; Bloom, 1986; Cockerham, 2005; Willis, 1982); such debates have become less frequent within the discipline. It is only with the emergence of a new literature about changes to the world's university sectors, that it has become evident the issue has pertinence for the production, not just of sociological knowledge, but scholarly knowledge as a whole.

While it is the case that the sociology of health and medicine has not been central to this newer debate, interest has nevertheless been gathering about the impact of globalisation and the changing academic market on sociology and the social sciences (e.g. Sanda, 1988; Akiwowo, 1988; Loubser, 1988; Willis, 1982; 1991; Baldock, 1994; Macintyre, 2010; Keim, 2011). 'Academic capitalism' has become a key concept of this literature, embracing the opening of the university sector to the logic of capitalism, documenting the growing ascendancy of market forces and the capacity of these to re-shape the disciplinary landscape. This process, increasingly apparent from the 1980s, has been characterised by the imposition of a specific neo-liberal world view, and a shift in academic competition from the national to the international arena where it operates between trans-national corporations (Kuraswa, 2002:335-6).

For universities, this has heralded a new role. No longer envisioned as centres of scholarship, they are a source of human resources for national and trans-national enterprises and a means to gain a competitive edge in the global arena (Kuraswa, 2002:336). Moreover, university decision-making has been taken from the hands of academics and placed with a new breed of university managers and administrators. Restructuring and administrative 'reform' are now commonplace. Academics speak of 'managerialism' and the threat to scholarship in a new environment which favours easily monitored and documented activities (Currie and Vidovich, 1998: 115-6). As university budgets shrink and academics are pressured to apply for external research funds and collaborate with other disciplines, the state, the community and corporate sectors; concerns are raised about the pressures to avoid damaging the commercial interests of sponsors, to refrain from criticising capitalism itself, and instead produce results favourable to the sponsors (Kuraswa, 2002: 338; Martin, 1992). …

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