Sociology of Health and Illness On Illness, the Body and the Working Class
To truly understand the significance of the body in creating social, political and economic agency for the individual, it is prudent to first examine how these attributes suffer when the body performs at a suboptimal level. This phenomenon can be clearly observed when the body falls ill and becomes a burden to its owner, struggling to fulfill the tasks and requirements it once met with ease. It is important to note, however, that the ways in which illness is experienced change depending on not just the social and economic class of the individual, but also the nature of the illness. Whether the illness is temporary or chronic, along with the method by which it is contracted, this will change which populations are most susceptible to the disease and how it is treated, thus changing the sociological ramifications of the illness.
Infectious Disease in Working Class Environments
The significance of the healthy bodyas multifuncitonal agent for the individual is better perceived when the effect illness produces to the whole variety of the body's functions . It is important to note however, that the ways in which an illness is experienced changes depending on not just the social and economic class of the individual, but also the nature of the illness. The amount of time the illness lasts, along with the method by which it is contracted, will change which populations are most susceptible to the disease and how it is treated, thus changing the sociological ramifications of the illness.
While it is true that there are many differences between each illness with regards to the exact influence it has on the sufferer’s life, the general trends surrounding illnesses show that their consequences are felt more frequently and more severely by the lower social and economic classes (Matthews 2015). There are many reasons why this is the case, though a large amount of them are relevant specifically to infectious disease caused by pathogens like bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Lower paying occupations such as refuse or care home workers have a higher exposure to infectious illnesses due to the environments they work in and the low of income these people earn from their jobs typically correlates with a lack of education on the appropriate health and safety methods to keep themselves healthy (Haagsma et al. 2012). This only exacerbates the existing wealth inequalities between the infected impoverished population and their richer counterparts, as poorer people will be more dependent on their day-to-day earnings to provide food and shelter for their families and themselves (White 2002). Furthermore, the many working-class occupations involving manual labour have few opportunities to work from home, and as owning a car or other means of personal transportation is rare for them, many working class citizens have no choice but to use public transport to commute (Morales et al, 2022). While they are convenient and relatively cheap, the high concentration of people in public vehicles combined with a lack of sufficient ventilation means that said transport remains a hotspot for airborne diseases like the common flu, and more recently COVID-19, further increasing the chances of infection for members of the working class (Park & Kim, 2021).
In more extreme cases of poverty, a lack of access to basic necessities like clean water or sufficient shelter leads to more deadly and debilitating illnesses like cholera and hypothermia, which due to the nature in which they spread remain exceedingly rare among the wealthier echelons of society. Even in the unlikely event that either of these diseases happens to infect the richer populations, wealthier people can afford to pay for better and more quickly administered health care, turning medicine into a classist barrier to good health (Waitzkin, 1978). In this sense, illness becomes a form of social control: it is more likely to affect poorer populations, and the consequences of becoming infected reduce the economic mobility of these people as it becomes harder for them to make ends meet and take time off for self-improvement to climb up the economic ladder (White, 2002). Arguments that the frequent occurrence of illness in working-class communities are a result of illness dragging the individual down economically ignore how an illness is a byproduct of simply spending time in working-class environments and being unable to afford treatment when disease does spread (White, 2002).