Medicalization and Pharmaceuticalization: A Conceptual Analysis

Tom Douglass, Michael Calnan

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Medicalisation has been one of the major conceptual and empirical interests in medical sociology since the late 1960s. A widely accepted definition is that medicalisation is the process whereby social problems come to be defined and treated as medical conditions. During its long history, the concept of medicalisation has passed through several phases of thought, and its influence on the concepts and ideas of medicine and health reflects broader changes in society. This chapter covers three main phases of thought and the associated changes in society, setting out how these have led scholars to question the limits of the explanatory power of medicalisation and the need for alternative concepts, notably pharmaceuticalisation. It begins by exploring the initial accounts of medicalisation encompassing the late 1960s-early1980s and the focus on how deviant behaviours came to be socially defined as a medical issue. It then moves to explore more contemporary arguments, beginning in the mid-1980s. As well as discussing the medicalisation of risk and lifestyle, this section reflects on whether medicalisation is superseded by newer concepts, or whether they are complementary to medicalisation. The following section uses a case study of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the prescription of statins to illustrate the different strands of the conceptual analysis of medicalisation and pharmaceuticalisation. The final section examines how medicalisation and pharmaceuticalisation can provide one lens to analyse and process the COVID-19 pandemic.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe SAGE Handbook of Social Studies in Health and Medicine
EditorsSusan C Scrimshaw, Sandra D Lane, Robert A Rubinstein, Julian Fisher
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherSAGE Publications
ISBN (Print)9781526440662
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 2022


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