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Take home assignment

Take-Home Assignment I: Developing a Sociological Model of Disease Maia Pearson 40024587 Concordia University Dr. Shelley Z. Reuter Sociology of Health, Illness, and Medicine – SOCI 321/4 A February 8th, 2019 Developing a Sociological Model of Disease I will be analyzing Anne McGovern’s Atlantic article, “What it’s Like to Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome”, in which she details how irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects not only her physical wellbeing and comfort, but her interpersonal relationships and her confidence in addition. I will first identify several elements from the six elements of the medical model of disease. I will then analyze the article in terms of a sociological model of disease. To begin, four of the six elements of the medical model are seen in the article. First, mind-body dualism is a concept in Western medicine that tends to separate the mind and the body when recommending a course of treatment. McGovern’s article seems to reject mind-body dualism as she states that IBS affects not only the physical body, but the sufferer’s mental health. McGovern suggests that psychotherapy is often used to address stress management as an underlying cause of IBS, but perhaps unintentionally, it also treats the emotional side-effects of having a persistent, incurable, and relatively crippling ailment (McGovern 2016, 3). Next, the doctrine of specific aetiology is seen in McGovern’s experience. McGovern was to keep a food log in order to treat it; however, the cause of IBS is unknown (McGovern 2016, 3). This exemplifies medical professionals attempting to pin IBS on a specific and identifiable cause. IBS is a functional disorder, which results from a bodily malfunction rather than foreign bodies such as bacteria or viruses (McGovern 2016, 3). This connects to the metaphor of a machine, which describes the body as a complex biochemical machine and illness denotes a malfunctioning part. The last element observed is individual as object of regiment and control. This is the notion that individuals are responsible for maintaining and restoring their health, which can result in high levels of self-surveillance. As mentioned above, McGovern notes that she was responsible for keeping a food log in order to pinpoint what was exacerbating her symptoms. In addition, she was instructed to monitor and reduce her stress (McGovern 2016, 3). The term “medicalization” refers to a process by which medical authority is extended into all areas of social life. Medicalization establishes what behaviours are considered “normal” and problematizes anything that falls outside of that criteria. The medicalization of IBS has contributed to much of the stigma surrounding IBS and those who suffer from it. For example, beyond physical discomfort, McGovern notes that she avoided making plans with friends, going on dates, and even dreaded going to work for fear of passing gas, being bloated, or needing to use the restroom too often (McGovern 2016, 4). While that is an involuntary part of life, those with IBS feel shame and embarrassment because their bathroom habits are not considered “normal” by society. McGovern describes a loss of face amongst her peers, and notes that a sufferer of IBS posting on a forum said that they were “afraid to leave the house” (McGovern 2016, 5) likely due to the stigmatization of the ailment causing a loss of face. “Keeping face” refers to conserving a presentation of the self that one shares with the world, and when this presentation is lost, individuals may feel their position in society is compromised by whatever “deviant” behaviour was exposed. Correspondingly, stigma is any physical or social attribute defined as undesirable by society that can cause social exclusion of the stigmatized individual. As a result, many individuals who have an undesirable attribute will keep face through information control, which means they will strategize how to hide these attributes and are careful about disclosing information. For example, McGovern did not tell her friends about what she was experiencing because she believed her friends would not understand (McGovern 2016, 6). She noted that those with IBS are often too embarrassed to talk openly about it, and are often worried about their disorder bothering other people, and as such, will avoid disclosing this part of their lives to others (McGovern 2016, 6). Eventually, McGovern informed her significant other of her illness despite her fears that it would tarnish her relationship, which it did not (McGovern 2016, 6). Finally, Bury’s concept of biographical disruption applies to the McGovern article. Per Bury, there are three stages of disruption, of which the second stage is most applicable. The second stage denotes a fundamental rethinking of biography and self-concept (Bury 1962, 169). IBS causes this to occur when sufferers feel they are forced to give up their social lives, hobbies, and quit their jobs by the fear of their illness (McGovern 2016, 6). In addition, Parsons’s “sick role” is problematized by IBS and McGovern’s account of it. An ailment like IBS cannot demand its sufferers put effort into getting better when there is little known about its explicit cause. In addition, as IBS is somewhat invisible, it is hard to take up the sick role without further stigmatization and exclusion as those who are not affected by IBS may have difficulty understanding the implications, symptoms, and long-term mental and social effects of the illness. To conclude, McGovern’s article provides an insightful and poignant look into the experience of IBS sufferers. Bibliography Bury, M. (1982). “Chronic illness as biographical disruption.” Sociology of Health and Illness 4(2): 167- 82. McGovern, A. (2016). What It’s Like to Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/09/what-its-like-to-have-irritable-bowel-syndrome/501182/ [Accessed 5 Feb. 2019].

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