The social construction of illness: Key insights and policy implications.

P. Conrad, K.K. Barker

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    312 Citations (Scopus)


    The social construction of illness is a major research perspective in medical sociology. This article traces the roots of this perspective and presents three overarching constructionist findings. First, some illnesses are particularly embedded with cultural meaning--which is not directly derived from the nature of the condition--that shapes how society responds to those afflicted and influences the experience of that illness. Second, all illnesses are socially constructed at the experiential level, based on how individuals come to understand and live with their illness. Third, medical knowledge about illness and disease is not necessarily given by nature but is constructed and developed by claims-makers and interested parties. We address central policy implications of each of these findings and discuss fruitful directions for policy-relevant research in a social constructionist tradition. Social constructionism provides an important counterpoint to medicine's largely deterministic approaches to disease and illness, and it can help us broaden policy deliberations and decisions.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)67-79
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Health and Social Behavior
    Issue number1 Supplement
    Publication statusPublished - 01 Jan 2010


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