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Symptoms and illness : The cognitive organisation of disorder

Locker, David (1979) Symptoms and illness : The cognitive organisation of disorder. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94488) (KAR id:94488)


The research reported here is largely concerned with the theoretical development and empirical elaboration of a sociological concept of illness and a theory of social action related to that concept which would contribute to the understanding of illness and illness behaviour. I took this to be of relevance since the concept of illness employed by medical sociologists has been inadequate and the study of illness behaviour characterised by an absence of explicit sociological theory. That is, by a general failure to specify and systematically apply a set of assumptions regarding the nature of social phenomena and social action. As I argued in 1975 (1), and as others have since argued (2), the social problem of why people do and do not use health services has been confused with the sociological problem posed by illness and illness behaviour. This confusion is rooted in the pragmatic origins of medical sociology, its patronage by medicine and its adoption of the epidemiological model of science.

The main theoretical assumption employed here is that illness is a social phenomenon constituted by the meanings actors construct in making sense of observed or experienced events. A related and equally important assumption is that the meanings imputed to these events have an influence on how they are subsequently managed. These ideas are derived from symbolic interactionism and labelling theory. For the most part, medical sociologists have ignored meanings; illness has been treated as an objective entity and causal explanations of illness behaviour offered whose implicit theories of action do not call for attention to meanings. The above assumptions have also been used to argue that disease and illness are distinct phenomena and must be studied in ways V which take account of their individual nature. While some medical sociologists have drawn this distinction between illness and disease, they have rarely followed up its implications in terms of theory or research. One reason for this is that the conceptual separation involved is usually asserted rather than having its origins in explicit propositions about the nature of social reality. The focus of the study reported here is on meanings. It aims to identify and describe some of the cognitive and interactional processes by means of which they are constructed. The methodological stance I adopt has been influenced by the sociological naturalists and the writings of the ethnomethodologists. Consequently, language, categorisation and social order are key and recurrent themes. It is then both sociology of illness and sociology of everyday life.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Morgan, David
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94488
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 25 April 2022 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: illness, illness behaviour, medical sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 23 May 2023 15:00 UTC
Last Modified: 23 May 2023 15:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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