A close-up of various pills, medication, and tablets on a wooden table. This image shows the diversity and complexity of medical treatments and interventions.

Exploring the Role of Social Controls in the Medical Profession

I was recently doing some research on the topic of social controls and the medical profession. The complex interplay between these two concepts posed many ethical questions. In this blog post, I will put forwards some different types of medical social control, how medicalization can be a form of social control and the ethical implications of these processes.

The intricate dance between social controls and the medical profession is a captivating journey. In this blog post, I invite you to join me as we unravel the various dimensions of medical social control, delve into the concept of medicalization, and ponder the ethical dilemmas that arise in this intricate tapestry.

Understanding Medical Social Control

According to Peter Conrad in his article “Types of medical social control,” there are several different types of medical social control, including persuasion, education, and coercion. Each type has its own unique characteristics and can be used to influence individuals in different ways.

  • Persuasion employs the art of influence, nudging individuals towards specific behaviors or attitudes.
  • Education empowers individuals with knowledge, enabling them to make informed choices.
  • Coercion, on the other hand, resorts to force or threats to enforce compliance with societal norms.

As we navigate through these various forms of medical social control, we cannot help but wonder about their strengths and weaknesses. Persuasion can be effective in changing attitudes and behaviors, but it can also be manipulative. Education can empower individuals to make informed decisions, but it can also be used to reinforce existing power structures. Coercion can be effective in achieving compliance, but it can also be oppressive.

Medicalization as a Form of Social Control

Medicalization is the process by which non-medical problems become defined and treated as medical issues. In his article “Medicalization and Social Control,” Peter Conrad argues that medicalization can be a form of social control. By defining certain behaviors or conditions as medical problems, medicine can exert control over individuals and shape societal norms.

We should be struck by the power of medicalization to shape our perceptions and understanding of the world around us. Conditions such as ADHD and depression were once considered normal variations in human behavior. However, through the process of medicalization, these conditions have been redefined as medical disorders that require treatment. This has led to an increase in the use of medication to treat these conditions, as well as changes in societal attitudes towards them.

Medicine as an Institution of Social Control

In his article “Medicine as an Institution of social control,” Irving Kenneth Zola argues that medicine functions as an institution of social control. Medicine has the power to define what is normal and abnormal, healthy and unhealthy. Through its diagnostic and treatment practices, medicine can shape societal norms and influence individual behavior.

Medicine wields immense power in shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Medicine has played a role in defining gender norms by pathologizing certain behaviors or identities. Homosexuality was once considered a mental disorder by the medical profession, leading to harmful treatments such as conversion therapy. While this is no longer the case, medicine continues to play a role in shaping societal attitudes toward gender and sexuality.

Ethical Implications

The use of social controls in the medical profession raises important ethical questions. In a previous post, “Medical Ethics To Bioethics: a Historical Journey,” I discuss the transformation of medical ethics from a focus on individual patient care to a broader consideration of ethical issues in healthcare. I think there was another shift that led to increased attention to the ethical implications of social controls in medicine.  This shift could be traced back to the project “Social Controls and the Medical Profession.”  This project studied how medical professionals were controlled or coerced into doing what the public wanted them to do.

One ethical dilemma is the balance between individual autonomy and societal well-being. Should medicine prioritize individual choice and decision-making, or should it prioritize the greater good? How should medicine balance the rights of individuals with the needs of society?

Another potential ethical dilemma is the potential for abuse of power. Medicine has significant power to shape societal norms and influence individual behavior. How can we ensure that this power is used responsibly and ethically?

These are not easy questions to answer, but they are essential for ensuring that medicine is practiced in an ethical and responsible manner. And therefore, we must ask them of our community.


In conclusion, my exploration of social controls and the medical profession has led me to a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between these two concepts. Through processes such as medicalization and institutional practices, medicine can exert control over individuals and shape societal norms. These processes raise important ethical questions that require careful consideration.

I hope you found this blog post informative and thought-provoking! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share them with me on Twitter at @PaulWagle or by commenting below. I welcome feedback and dialogue as we continue our journey of discovery together.

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