Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 08-August-2003, Vol 116 No 1179
Sociology of health in New Zealand
Kevin Dew and Allison Kirkman. Published by Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-195584-54-6. Contains 303 pages. Price $44.95
A broad range of sociological themes in health and healthcare is canvassed in this readable text. The book is designed to support introductory courses in the sociology of health but will have wider appeal, being an accessible introduction to sociological analysis for readers from a variety of backgrounds, including clinicians. The authors aim to ‘sensitise you to this approach, and to demonstrate the strengths of a perspective that emphasises the social (rather than biological or psychological) factors that shape our experiences of health and our relationship to health services.’
Basic sociological concepts are explained in the introductory chapter, and successive chapters discuss inequalities in health, stigmatisation, sexuality, institutions of healthcare, medicalisation, death and dying, the relationships between professional groups, consumerism, mental health, the media, public health and health technology. The bibliography is a fascinating collection of New Zealand research and selected overseas literature for novices in this field, and the listing of relevant web sites is a bonus. A glossary is provided to help overcome the jargon gap.
A major strength of this book is the use of recent New Zealand material wherever possible to illustrate generic themes. However, a brief overview for students of a wide range of topics must be limited in depth, and so some complex and emotionally charged issues relevant to the working lives of health professionals have been reduced to a few generalisations. The changes in functioning and culture of healthcare institutions with the rise of managerialism, and the demoralisation of the healthcare workforce with resulting shortages, are major contemporary issues that are largely untouched. Differences of attitudes, politics and understandings within groups are sometimes moulded into painful caricatures, inviting readers to swallow them whole or cast them aside. For readers of this journal, who have experienced the diverse realities of actually working in the health sector in New Zealand over the past twenty years, this can be somewhat alienating.
Overall, this book discusses a range of interesting and important health-related issues, in a New Zealand context. The sociological approach of the discussion may offer the reader new insights and new challenges.
Department of Community Health
University of Auckland
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