Student-friendly textbook about the sociology of health

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Inge Kryger Pedersen
Sociologisk Institut, Københavns Universitet


Anne-Marie Barry & Chris YuillUnderstanding the Sociology of Health: 3rd edition 359 sidor, hft., ill. London: Sage Publications 2012 ISBN 978-1-4462-0188-6

Anne-Marie Barry & Chris Yuill
Understanding the Sociology of Health: 3rd edition
359 sidor, hft., ill.
London: Sage Publications 2012
ISBN 978-1-4462-0188-6

“Very student-friendly. Sociology just became fashionably exciting!”, to quote one expression among others we find on the back cover of the 3rd edition of Understanding the Sociology of Health. I completely agree with this assessment, made by a nursing student. Equipped by this publication by the two British sociologists, Anne-Marie Barry and Chris Yuill, lecturers have a quality textbook of sociology of health that can be used on health and social care as well as sociology of sports & exercise courses.

Were I to author a textbook myself in this field, I might have chosen the same themes of the seventeen chapters. Within the first section about ‘Theories, Perspectives and Concepts’ five chapters are presented:

  1. Sociological theory: explaining and theorising;
  2. Concepts of health and medicine;
  3. Medical power and knowledge;
  4. Challenging medical dominance;
  5. Evidence and enquiry: an overview of sociological research.

Section 2 about ‘Key Themes’ includes the following chapters:

  1. Class and health;
  2. Ethnicity, race and health;
  3. Gender and health;
  4. Mental health;
  5. Sexualities and health (with Megan Todd);
  6. Sociology of the body: chronic illness and disability;
  7. Health, ageing and the life course.

The third section, ‘Contexts’ comprises:

  1. Places of care;
  2. Health care in context (with Clare Swan and Pedro Morago);
  3. A brief social history of health and healing;
  4. Sport, health, exercise and the body;
  5. Death and dying.

The book, published in 2012 (first edition was published in 2002), has four chapters added to the second edition from 2008, namely, Sexualities and health; A brief social history of health and healing; Sport, fitness and exercise; and Death and dying.

A collection of key concepts and their definitions is presented in a six-page glossary, following chapter 17 and preceding References and Index. Terms accessible in the glossary are ordered alphabetically, and include for example ‘alternative medicine’, ‘civilised body’, ‘embodiment’, ‘qualitative research’, ‘secularisation’, and ‘stigma’. Some of the definitions are however too short and simple and therefore also debateable, e.g. the definition of ‘sociology’ – “the study of the interaction between groups and individuals in human society”. Sociology is not only about interactions, but also about culture, structure, institutions and society. Yet another essential sociological concept, in fact the most basic concept in sociology, ‘society’, is defined as “a range of external factors that influence our beliefs and behaviours”. However, society is the totality of human relationships and not only external factors that influence individuals. A glossary should keep it simple – but why so simple? Let me reassure prospective readers, though, that the definitions within the chapters are more specific. So why not skip the glossary and recommend the students to use the nice register that follows the list of references.

Each chapter includes:

  • an opening summery of the main points, issues and concepts that are covered in the chapter;
  • a list of keywords that indicate the main content of a chapter;
  • definitions of key concepts;
  • questions, which allow the reader to reflect or the students to discuss on topics raised in the text;
  • links for related information in other chapters;
  • a case study that allows the reader/the students to apply the knowledge they have gained from the chapter to a particular situation;
  • a list of recommended reading;
  • finally, a companion website where teaching and learning material for lecturers and students can be accessed.

With this book the authors address cases that are referring to the British health system and society as well as British empirical information and issues. This might not be a problem for Scandinavian students. They will get informed of another country’s health system and the lecturer can ask the students to compare with national cases and issues from their home countries.

I can highly recommend Understanding the Sociology of Health, also in a Scandinavian context. Although not really covering everything (for example, the book includes only a very brief text about policy development, health strategies and health promotion), after having read Barry & Yuill’s book any student will have gained knowledge about the most essential concepts and issues of relevance for the sociology of health. In the light of the tendency that health issues increasingly invade the area of sports and physical fitness, this book will not be a bad choice on sociology of sports and exercise courses.

Copyright © Inge Kryger Pedersen 2013

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