Sociology of Medical Knowledge is the sociological analysis of medical organizations and institutions; the production of knowledge and selection of methods, the actions and interactions of healthcare professionals, and the social or cultural (rather than clinical or bodily) effects of medical practice. The field commonly interacts with the sociology of knowledge, science and technology studies, and social epistemology. Medical sociologists are also interested in the qualitative experiences of patients, often working at the boundaries of public health, social work, demography, and gerontology to explore phenomena at the intersection of the social and clinical sciences. Health disparities commonly relate to typical categories such as class and race. Objective sociological research findings quickly become a normative and political issue.
Early work in medical sociology was conducted by Lawrence J Henderson whose theoretical interests in the work of Vilfredo Pareto inspired Talcott Parsons’s interests in sociological systems theory. Parsons is one of the founding fathers of medical sociology and applied social role theory to interactional relations between sick people and others. Later other sociologists such as Eliot Freidson have taken a conflict theory perspective, looking at how the medical profession secures its own interests.: 291 Key contributors to medical sociology since the 1950s include Howard S. Becker, Mike Bury, Peter Conrad, Jack Douglas, Eliot Freidson, David Silverman, Phil Strong, Bernice Pescosolido, Carl May, Anne Rogers, Anselm Strauss, Renee Fox, and Joseph W. Schneider.
The field of medical sociology is usually taught as part of wider sociology, clinical psychology or health studies degree course, or on dedicated master’s degree courses where it is sometimes combined with the study of medical ethics and bioethics. In Britain, sociology was introduced into the medical curriculum following the Goodenough report in 1944: “In medicine, ‘social explanations’ of the etiology of disease meant for some doctors a redirection of medical thought from the purely clinical and psychological criteria of illness. The introduction of ‘social’ factors into medical explanation was most strongly evidenced in branches of medicine closely related to the community — Social Medicine and, later, General Practice” (Reid 1976). Sociology of Medical Knowledge has a number of aims. First, it is an attempt to write a sociology of medical knowledge. This project emerges from a longstanding interest in the field that began with a monograph, Political Anatomy of the Body: Medical Knowledge in Britain in the Twentieth Century, published in 1983, and continued with a number of papers over the intervening years. As with the previous work, my debt to Michel Foucault’s writings is large – though this time he is placed in a historical context and therefore only appears as a recognizable figure/author in the final chapters. In some ways, this new book can be seen as a sequel to the earlier monograph in that themes and ideas recur; nevertheless, the overlap of empirical material between the two books is negligible and the ambition of the new is considerably greater.