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Sociological Perspectives of Health and Illness

The development of sociology of health and social perspectives of health and illnesses provided an introduction to how has “health” and “illness” been conceptualized in the past? (Plechner, 2000). How do we become cognizant of intricacies of health systems given that there are copious variables (such as socio-psychological, socio-economic, political, and demographic) that shape and mold health, medicine and well being (Plechner, 2000). There are different sociological perspectives of health, namely Marxist, Foucauldian and Feminist perspectives.

Briefly, Marxist approach proposes that health and illnesses are an outcome of a capitalistic society because Marxist approach assumes that the society is largely exploitative. Hence, it assumes that current health care services help the bourgeoisies gain profit. For instance, the government still allows the selling of cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol despite the fact that these substances are harmful to human body. These services help maintain the social hierarchy in society. The Foucault perspective on health emphasizes on the social role of medical knowledge in controlling population. It emphasizes the dissemination of nature of power relationships in society.

This response paper will be extensively discussing the feminist perspective of health and applying it to the medicalization of women’s reproductive health specifically surrogacy and reproductive rights. Weiss & Lonnquis (2005) explain Feminist perspective on health and medicine stems from the assumption that health systems operate to maintain the subordinate position of women. There has been an intense medicalization of female reproductive system. Pharmaceutical industries have given a low priority to developing male contraceptives, which further solidifies women’s role as a housewife and a child bearer. In general, medicinal industry has allowed western patriarchal medical philosophy to conceptualize women’s bodies functions (Weiss & Lonnquis, 2005). There has been an increased medicalization of female bodies especially when it comes to periods and childbirth (Weiss & Lonnquis, 2005). The medicalization of periods has created an idea that periods are a problem instead of being a normal biological process. Throughout history, most cultures have also categorized periods as a taboo subject and contextualized it as an undesirable bodily process (Weiss & Lonnquis, 2005). However, feminist movements in recent past have tried to seek control over their own bodies and normalize female bodily functions that have previously been aggressively medicalized. Such efforts include natural childbirth, home birth, midwifery and safe abortion (Weiss & Lonnquis, 2005).

Advancement of medical technology and medicalization of women’s bodies has also led to introduction of surrogacy (Nelavala, 2015). While surrogacy is a successful alternative for couples who can’t have children as well as same sex couples, it still remains a complex topic. Surrogacy has become increasingly commercialized in the last few years especially in countries like India, Cambodia and Thailand. Not only has surrogacy become a fast growing business but also increasingly manipulative (Nelavala, 2015). Many families internationally choose Indian women as surrogates because it’s the most economical (cheapest) option. The feminist critique of commercialization of surrogacy says that the system of surrogacy is based on an exploitative system. It treats women and the ability to give birth as cheap labor (Nelavala, 2015). Women are looked as baby factories and simply narrowing the process to giving birth to “production” and assigning a price to this valuable process (Nelavala, 2015). Further, it takes advantage of poor and illiterate women. Many surrogates are not aware of the side effects of surrogacy and have to deal with them after delivering the child. Given how patriarchal Indian society is, a lot of these women are forced by their families because of their economic situation (Nelavala, 2015). A lot of the women don’t even have a say on how to use the money they receive and usually spend it to pay off debt or pay dowry. Further, surrogates are forced to take up surrogacy because of financial reasons, which also objectifies them as sexual objects for a commercial purpose (Nelavala, 2015).


Ms Miha Alam

(University of Waterloo,Canada)

Work Cited:

Deborah Plechner, (2000), Women, medicine, and sociology: thoughts on the need for a critical feminist perspective, in Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld (ed.) Health, Illness, and use of Care: The Impact of Social Factors (Research in the Sociology of Health Care, Volume 18) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.69 – 94.

Weiss, Gregory L. The Sociology of Health, Healing, and Illness. Prentice Hall, 2005.

Surekha Nelavala, (2015), Surrogate Mothers in India--Are they empowered or exploited? A discussion from a feminist perspective: Journal of Lutheran Ethics. 

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