Bissell, Paul, Traulsen, Janine Morgall and Haugbølle, Lotte Stig (2002) Sociological Theory and Pharmacy Practice Research: (2) An introduction to functionalist sociology: Talcott Parsons' concept of the “sick role”. International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, 10 (1). pp. 60-68. ISSN 0961-7671

This article, the second in a series highlighting the relevance of sociological theory to pharmacy practice, provides an introduction to functionalist sociology through a discussion of the work of the influential sociologist Talcott Parsons. As we noted in the first paper, the discipline of sociology consists of a number of competing perspectives which seek to understand the nature of the social world: functionalism is one perspective that has had an enduring influence. Drawing on metaphors from biology, functionalist sociologists view societies as wholes or systems, which consist of interacting and self-regulating elements. Each of the elements works to maintain the whole, so ensuring the stability or order of the system. Parsons focused on one of the elements within the social system — medicine — and, specifically, on the doctor-patient relationship, in order to illustrate his ideas. In this article, we will be discussing Parsons' contribution to functionalist sociology, his depiction of the relationships between health professionals and patients and his assertion that these play an important role in sustaining order within society. We provide a critique of his ideas before assessing his relevance to the contemporary health services and pharmacy practice research agenda. A reading list is supplied at the end of the article for those who wish to follow up his ideas. As we suggested in the first paper, our aim for this series is to stimulate critical engagement with key sociological concepts among pharmacy practice researchers, with the hope of strengthening the inter-disciplinary explanatory capacity of this body of work.

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