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Critics such as Ehrenreich and English argued that women's bodies were being medicalized by the predominantly male medical profession. Menstruation and pregnancy had come to be seen as medical problems requiring interventions such as hysterectomies. Marxists such as Vicente Navarro linked medicalization to an oppressive capitalist society. They argued that medicine disguised the underlying causes of disease, such as social inequality and poverty, and instead presented health as an individual issue. Others [4] examined the power and prestige of the medical profession, including the use of terminology to mystify and of professional rules to exclude or subordinate others.

Tiago Correia [5] offers an alternative perspective on medicalization. He argues that medicalization needs to be detached from biomedicine to overcome much of the criticism it has faced, and to protect its value in contemporary sociological debates. Building on Gadamer 's hermeneutical view of medicine, he focuses on medicine's common traits, regardless of empirical differences in both time and space. Medicalization and social control are viewed as distinct analytical dimensions that in practice may or may not overlap. Correia contends that the idea of "making things medical" needs to include all forms of medical knowledge in a global society, not simply those forms linked to the established bio medical professions.

Looking at "knowledge", beyond the confines of professional boundaries, may help us understand the multiplicity of ways in which medicalization can exist in different times and societies, and allow contemporary societies to avoid such pitfalls as "demedicalization" through a turn towards complementary and alternative medicine on the one hand, or the over-rapid and unregulated adoption of biomedical medicine in non-western societies on the other. The challenge is to determine what medical knowledge is present, and how it is being used to medicalize behaviors and symptoms.

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Several decades on the definition of medicalization is complicated, if for no other reason than because the term is so widely used. Many contemporary critics position pharmaceutical companies in the space once held by doctors as the supposed catalysts of medicalization. Titles such as "The making of a disease" or "Sex, drugs, and marketing" critique the pharmaceutical industry for shunting everyday problems into the domain of professional biomedicine. At the same time, others reject as implausible any suggestion that society rejects drugs or drug companies and highlight that the same drugs that are allegedly used to treat deviances from societal norms also help many people live their lives.

Even scholars who critique the societal implications of brand-name drugs generally remain open to these drugs' curative effects — a far cry from earlier calls for a revolution against the biomedical establishment. The emphasis in many quarters has come to be on "overmedicalization" rather than "medicalization" in itself. Others, however, argue that in practice the process of medicalization tends to strip subjects of their social context, so they come to be understood in terms of the prevailing biomedical ideology , resulting in a disregard for overarching social causes such as unequal distribution of power and resources.

The physician's role in this present-day notion of medicalization is similarly complex. On the one hand, the doctor remains an authority figure who prescribes pharmaceuticals to patients. However, in some countries, such as the USA, ubiquitous direct-to-consumer advertising encourages patients to ask for particular drugs by name, thereby creating a conversation between consumer and drug company that threatens to cut the doctor out of the loop.

Additionally, there is a widespread concern regarding the extent of the pharmaceutical marketing direct to doctors and other healthcare professionals. Examples of this direct marketing are visits by salespeople, funding of journals, training courses or conferences, incentives for prescribing, and the routine provision of "information" written by the pharmaceutical company. The role of patients in this economy has also changed.


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Once regarded as passive victims of medicalization, patients can now occupy active positions as advocates , consumers , or even agents of change. The antithesis of medicalization is the process of paramedicalization , where human conditions come under the attention of alternative medicine , traditional medicine or any of numerous non-medical health approaches.

Medicalization and paramedicalization can sometimes be contradictory and conflicting, but they also support and strengthen each other since they both ensure that questions of health and illness stay in sharp focus in defining human conditions and problems. A editorial in the British Medical Journal warned of inappropriate medicalization leading to disease mongering, where the boundaries of the definition of illnesses are expanded to include personal problems as medical problems or risks of diseases are emphasized to broaden the market for medications.

The authors noted:.

DEVIANCE & MEDICALIZATION: From Badness to Sickness

Inappropriate medicalisation carries the dangers of unnecessary labelling, poor treatment decisions, iatrogenic illness, and economic waste, as well as the opportunity costs that result when resources are diverted away from treating or preventing more serious disease. At a deeper level it may help to feed unhealthy obsessions with health, obscure or mystify sociological or political explanations for health problems, and focus undue attention on pharmacological, individualised, or privatised solutions.

Kirk have "been accusing psychiatry of engaging in the systematic medicalization of normality".

More recently these concerns have come from insiders who have worked for and promoted the American Psychiatric Association e. Benjamin Rush , the father of American psychiatry, claimed that Black people had black skin because they were ill with hereditary leprosy. Consequently, he considered vitiligo as a "spontaneous cure".

According to Franco Basaglia and his followers, whose approach pointed out the role of psychiatric institutions in the control and medicalization of deviant behaviors and social problems, psychiatry is used as the provider of scientific support for social control to the existing establishment, and the ensuing standards of deviance and normality brought about repressive views of discrete social groups. According to Kittrie, a number of phenomena considered "deviant", such as alcoholism , drug addiction , prostitution , pedophilia , and masturbation "self-abuse" , were originally considered as moral, then legal, and now medical problems.

According to Mike Fitzpatrick, resistance to medicalization was a common theme of the gay liberation , anti-psychiatry , and feminist movements of the s, but now there is actually no resistance to the advance of government intrusion in lifestyle if it is thought to be justified in terms of public health. According to Thomas Szasz , "the therapeutic state swallows up everything human on the seemingly rational ground that nothing falls outside the province of health and medicine, just as the theological state had swallowed up everything human on the perfectly rational ground that nothing falls outside the province of God and religion".

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Deviance and Medicalization Quotes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Society portal. An introduction to the sociology of health and illness. The nature of suffering and the goals of medicine 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. Soc Probl. Culture, Health and Illness.


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  6. Please log in from an authenticated institution or log into your member profile to access the email feature. Medicalization describes a process by which non-medical problems become defined and treated as medical problems, usually in terms of illnesses or disorders.

    Peter Conrad: The Médicalisation of Society | SpringerLink

    Medicalization is now well established as a key sociological concept yet it is difficult to be specific about when it first entered the social scientific lexicon. It seems that the process was originally referred to by critics of the growing influence of psychiatry in the s although these critics did not use the term explicitly , and it increased in popularity in the s when linked with the concept of social control.

    Since then medicalization has been applied to a variety of putative problems that at times contentiously came to be defined as medical, ranging from childbirth and the menopause through to alcoholism CQ Press Your definitive resource for politics, policy and people. Remember me?

    The Medicalization of Society

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