Parsons medical sociology has recently
been recognized for its importance to his theory of society. But the double focus
of his explanations of illness is not yet widely understood. It comprises a capacity
model based on economic thinking and a deviancy model based on psychoanalytic thought.
In the 1930s and 1940s Parsons undertook
to understand medical practice in order to focus on liberal democracy in modern society.
He used medical practice as an example and also as a metaphor to demonstrate the
mechanisms of liberal democracy as against those of capitalism , socialism and the
then contemporary racism. By considering this background, the link
between models of illness and the theory of society, established in The Social System,
ought to be recognized by Parsons’ critics who then might not have charged
him with advocating a non-democratic solution to the problem of how the social order
is possible. By recommending the recognition of the double focus of Parsons’
illness explanation, and its viability for his theory of action system, it is argued
that Parsons was criticized too readily
in the 1960s and that his humanistic standpoint can be recovered by focusing on his
early contribution to medical sociology.