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The determinants of health: Structure, context and agency

Williams, Gareth Howard 2003. The determinants of health: Structure, context and agency. Sociology of Health and Illness 25 (3) , pp. 131-154. 10.1111/1467-9566.00344

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The concept of social structure is one of the main building blocks of the social sciences, but it lacks any precise technical definition within general sociological theory. This paper reviews the way in which the concept has been deployed within medical sociology, arguing that in recent times it has been used primarily as a frame for the sociological interpretation of health inequalities and their social determinants. It goes on to examine the contribution that medical sociologists have made to the debate over health inequalities, giving particular attention to contributions to Sociology of Health and Illness. These have often provided a focus for discussions outside or critical of the mainstream debates that have been driven primarily by epidemiologists. The paper reviews some of the main points of criticism of epidemiological approaches, focusing in particular on the methodological constraints that limit the capacity of epidemiologists to develop more theoretically satisfactory accounts of the inter-relationships of social structure, context and agency in their impact on health and well being. Some recent examples from the Journal of more theoretically innovative and analytically fine-grained approaches to understanding the impact of social structure on health are then explored. The paper concludes with an argument for a more historically-informed analysis of the relationships between social structure and health, using the knowledgeable narratives of people in places as a window onto those relationships.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine
Uncontrolled Keywords: Social structure; health inequalities; determinants of health; context; agency; lay knowledge; narrative
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
ISSN: 0141-9889
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2020 04:13

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