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The Social Construction of Illness: Key Insights and Policy Implications

Peter Conrad and Kristin K. Barker
Journal of Health and Social Behavior
Vol. 51, Extra Issue: What Do We Know? Key Findings from 50 Years of Medical Sociology (2010), pp. S67-S79
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20798317
Page Count: 13
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The Social Construction of Illness: Key Insights and Policy Implications
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Abstract

The social construction of illness is a major research perspective in medical sociology. This article traces the roots of this perspective and presents three overarching constructionist findings. First, some illnesses are particularly embedded with cultural meaning—which is not directly derived from the nature of the condition—that shapes how society responds to those afflicted and influences the experience of that illness. Second, all illnesses are socially constructed at the experiential level, based on how individuals come to understand and live with their illness. Third, medical knowledge about illness and disease is not necessarily given by nature but is constructed and developed by claims-makers and interested parties. We address central policy implications of each of these findings and discuss fruitful directions for policy-relevant research in a social constructionist tradition. Social constructionism provides an important counterpoint to medicine's largely deterministic approaches to disease and illness, and it can help us broaden policy deliberations and decisions.

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