The Sick Role

Remember that short post I wrote about how health is not morality?

In my rhetoric class this semester, we’ve been assigned some reading that touches on the same subject.  It’s good stuff, but I thought y’all might be interested in this segment in particular, on page 32 of a book on deviance and medicalization by Peter Conrad and Joseph W. Schneider:

As Talcott Parsons pointed out in his classic writings on the “sick role,” both crime and illness are designations for deviant behavior (Parsons, 1951, pp. 428-479)… Parsons further argues that there exists for the sick a culturally available “sick role” that serves to conditionally legitimate the deviance of illness and channel the sick into the reintegrating physician-patient relationship.  It is this relationship that serves the key social control function of minimizing the disruptiveness of sickness to the group or society.  The sick role has four components, two exemptions from normal responsibilities and two new obligations.  First, the sick person is exempted from normal responsibilities, at least to the extent necessary to “get well.”  Second, the individual is not held responsible for his or her [sic] condition and cannot be expected to recover by an act of will.  Third, the person must recognize that being ill is an inherently undesirable state and must want to recover.  Fourth, the sick person is obligated to seek and cooperate with a competent treatment agent (usually a physician).

Sound familiar at all?

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