Parsons’ sick role concept has become problematic in the face of the increased significance of chronic illnesses and the growing emphasis on lifestylecentred health promotion. Both developments de-limit the medical system so that it extends into the world of health, fundamentally changing the doctor-patient relationship. But as the sick role is firmly based on the reciprocities of a resiliently capitalist achievement society it still informs normative expectations in the field of health and illness. The precarious social position of chronic patients between being governed by and being consumers of medicine, I will argue, can only be adequately understood if one involves, as Parsons did, the moral economy surrounding health and illness.
Related Content
Testing Parsons: Evidence from an Organizational Subunit and Implications for Structural Functional Theorizing
Talcott Parsons’ ideas are shown to have operational meaning when applied to organizations in two respects. (1) Parsons’ typology of system needs provides a meaningful way of categorizing administrative rules (protocols) developed by the subunit under study, and “phase dominance,” anticip...


Brutalization of the social conflict: struggles for recognition in the early 21st century
In several of his analyses, Talcott Parsons describes the establishment of modern societies as a differentiation process across spheres of mutual recognition. In this paper, I use Parsons’ social theory of recognition to examine features of recent social conflicts. I begin with Parsons’ descr...
Merton's Sociology 215-216 Course
For many years, Robert K. Merton taught a famous, year-long graduate course at Columbia called The Analysis of Social Structures. His lectures have been recalled for their dazzling intellectual effects by those who took the course, but none of these former students has described what Merton actua...


Eisenstadt: A sociological giant
This paper considers the work of Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt mainly in the perspective of the author’s specific encounters with his work, in the course of which Eisenstadt’s work is compared with that of Talcott Parsons. There are several aspects of this programme. First, brief attention i...
The Moodiness of Action
This article argues that the concept of moodiness provides significant resources for developing a more robust pragmatist theory of action. Building on current conceptualizations of agency as effort by relational sociologists, it turns to the early work of Talcott Parsons to outline the theoretica...

The mystery of 'historical specificity' or how Geoffrey Hodgson misrepresented Talcott Parsons' life and theory
In this study we analyze Geoffrey Hodgson’s discussion of Talcott Parsons in which Hodgson presents Parsons as a little petty bourgeois, feebleminded and insecure yet opportunistic to the core. Indeed, Hodgson does his utmost to belittle Parsons’ theoretical creativity and cultivation...
Das gefährdete, das gefährliche und das Risiko-Individuum
Far from only being prominent in recent debates, individualization has been a topic in classic sociological work. In systematizing these contributions, the article presents three lines of reasoning about individualization and the individual: firstnegative individualization and the idea of thethre...

The Image of the Institution
How do we make coherent urban plans in an incoherent institutional setting? How are institutions born, how do they evolve? Can they be meaningfully reformed? Or are they destined to bloat and muddle through? Using in situ interviews, document analysis, and participant observation, I investigate t...
Sociology as subversion: Discussing the reproductive interpretations of Durkheim
This article presents a critical analysis of a recurring interpretation of Émile Durkheim’s sociology, namely that it views society as fixed in a rigid, instituted form, doomed to self-repetition, and impervious to any type of change except that of its own necessary internal developm...

System Theory as Global Sociology-Japanese Ramifications of Parsonian and Luhmannian Thought
This article explores various engagements of system theory with Germany and Japan, looking in particular at the theories of Talcott Parsons and Niklas Luhmann. Talcott Parsons based his sociological theory on the idea of a system of the values of a given society. Niklas Luhmann’s extended versi...