Sociology and Nursing
so·ci·ol·o·gy (ss-l-j, -sh-) KEY
The study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society. Analysis of a social institution or societal segment as a self-contained entity or in relation to society as a whole.
Nursing practice without sociology is akin to sexual congress without orgasm - possible to enact, but highly unsatisfactory. It is the equivalent of entering a strange country without a map to explain the contours and pitfalls of the land. The traveller may eventually find the desired journey's end, but the route taken will be meandering and hazardous. There is a dynamic and fundamental role for sociological knowledge within nursing (and health care generally). Sociology demystifies the nature of health and illness, highlights the social causes of disease and death, exposes power-factors and ethical dilemmas in the production of health care, and either directly or indirectly helps to create a discerning practitioner who then becomes capable of more focused and competent decision making. Starting in the latter part of the twentieth century, unprecedented discoveries and 'reshaping' of human knowledge about the physical world have taken place. In the fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, molecular biology, computing, pharmacology and medicine (both in terms of diagnosis and treatment), the accumulation of and transformation in knowledge have been nothing short of incredible. Through its foundations in critical thought, it is the task of sociology to examine just how authentic these changes are. We study certain areas where Sociology and Nursing interface: Imagination
to understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them. … To be able to do that is to possess the sociological imagination. (Mills 1959:10/11)
Sociologists imagine the world differently compared with the way it is viewed for example, by psychologists, and biologists, or by those who proffer 'common sense'. In this chapter 'the sociological imagination' is delineated through an exploration of three major theoretical frameworks. I am using the term 'theoretical framework' to describe the grouping of perspectives which may have subtle differences that distinguish them, but which have similar philosophical routes, and complementary observations to make about the organisation of society and human action. The first theoretical framework I have chosen regards society as both existing and having a set of configurations that to a greater or lesser extent induces humans to behave and think in preordained ways, including that of 'being sick'. As an alternative to this structural understanding of human behaviour and thinking, which can be interpreted as viewing all thought and behaviour as 'determined' by society, the second explanatory genre projects the notion of individual volition. That is, it is argued that humans can and do direct their own lives. The third theoretical framework has gained popularity in nursing literature in the last couple of decades, and has been extracted from a range of sociological theorising that aims to 'deconstruct' reality (including the actuality of 'disease') in one way or another. There is nothing totally 'natural', 'God-given' or inevitable about personal and social behaviour. Falling in love, committing a crime, achieving success in a career, or being ill, are all influenced by social factors. The basis of the 'sociological imagination' is to look beyond the obvious, and to challenge both our own preconceived ideas and those of others. This is of particular importance when those with power in society hold prejudicial views about already vulnerable and dispossessed people. Above, all, it is to always ask the question 'why', and to keep on asking the question 'why'! It was C. Wright Mills (1959) who pointed to the...
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