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Med Educ. 2013 Jan;47(1):18-25. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2012.04298.x.

From sick role to practices of health and illness.

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1
Department of Sociology, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta T3B 4X5, Canada. arthurwfrank@gmail.com

Abstract

CONTEXT:

Health care research generally, and medical education research specifically, make increasingly sophisticated use of social science methods, but these methods are often detached from the theories that are the substantive core of the social sciences. Enhanced understanding of theory is especially valuable for gaining a broader perspective on how issues in medical education reflect the social processes that contextualise them.

METHODS:

This article reviews five social science theories, emphasising their relevance to medical education, beginning with the emergence of the sociology of health and illness in the 1950s, with Talcott Parsons' concept of the 'sick role'. Four turning points since Parsons are then discussed with reference to the theory developed by, respectively, Harold Garfinkel, Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu, and what is called the 'narrative or dialogical turn'. In considering these, the author argues for a theory-grounded research that relates specific problems to what Max Weber called the 'fate of our times'.

CONCLUSIONS:

The conclusion considers how medical education research can critique the reproduction of a discourse of scarcity in health care, rather than participating in this discourse and legitimating the disciplinary techniques that it renders self-evident.

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