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Soc Sci Med. 1989;28(11):1165-70.

The reluctant imperialism of the medical profession.

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  • Institute of Sociology, University of Amersterdam, The Netherlands.


Medical authority is invoked ever more frequently, also in situations that are outside the scope of scientific medicine. The main but latent function of this medicalization is the resolution of social conflict. This occurs more often than not in tacit collusion between a work organization (or the wider community) on the one hand, the individualized 'patient' on the other hand and the doctor as the arbiter who defines socially contested issues in terms of medical problems. As scientific medicine provides insufficient justification of these medical interventions, they threaten to become the subject of open controversy within the organized medical profession and thus to undermine professional unanimity, and with it the authority of the profession as a whole. This explains the reluctance of organized medicine to claim these new fields as its legitimate province.

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