ILLNESS AND SELF IN SOCIETY by Claudine & Janine Pietret Herzlich

ILLNESS AND SELF IN SOCIETY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

How do the sick experience and present themselves to society? How does society influence the sick? These are the fundamental questions addressed in this solid sociological inquiry. The authors--both sociologists, both French (this is a translation of a 1982 work)--investigate the experience of illness over the centuries by examining historical analyses, documentation such as letters and diaries, and works of fiction, and (where possible in recent years) by interviewing Herzlich and Pierret correctly point out that ""in our society the discourse of medicine is so loud that it tends to drown out all the others."" Their accomplishment here is to identify and amplify the individual's experience of illness, and to relate this to the rest of society--keeping the medical as just one voice in many that make up our collective consciousness. The authors look at the history of ""diseases and their victims"": as medicine brings under control the predominate scourges of each age, so our perception of what illness means will change. When infectious diseases were the major cause of death, the ill were shunned because their illness was generally visible; at the same time, since their disability was visible, it was acknowledged as valid. Now, with chronic disease more prevalent and dangerous, the ill can keep their condition hidden and avoid exile--but may be branded as lazy simply because they appear normal. As the authors approach the current decade, their omission of AIDS (it was identified just as the book was written) becomes a real liability; veneral disease here is termed to be no longer a serious biological threat, and thus ""now occupies a space that no longer has anything to do with religion, health or morality."" There's then a section on ""Reading and Interrupting Disease,"" and another that discusses ""Identities of the Sick""--from accepting fate through to self-help and the ""duty to be healthy."" This work suffers at times from awkward translation, but its biggest problem is, of course, the lack, of AIDS-related material. For readers simply looking for a historical view, however, the authors offer sound sociological exploration with some valuable lessons.

Pub Date: Nov. 6th, 1987
Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press