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Sociological theory in nursing research - what is required?

Lipscomb, Martin


Martin Lipscomb


Many published nursing studies involve or might be considered forms of sociology. However, substantive sociological theory is not often described or critiqued in these studies (or commentaries thereon). This may be problematic. Nurse researchers who employ sociological concepts explicitly or implicitly assume positions relative to those concepts but, if these positions are not ‘recognised’, if they are not formally noted or theorised, logical muddle and incoherence can ensue. Conceptual confusion may occur within a single study. Alternatively, when the results of studies on allied topics are compared or judged alongside each other by nurses seeking to base practice on evidence, if differences in researcher conceptual thinking are not acknowledged, false or erroneous judgements about the consistency and possible significance of results may be concluded. Definitional problems notwithstanding, it could therefore be argued that nurse researchers (and commentators on research) should engage more fully and profoundly with sociological theory than is currently the case. And, if we concede that some and possibly most sociological nursing studies discuss theory superficially, then this potentially reflects negatively on the value of at least some of that work. These arguments clearly extend beyond sociological studies and, vis-à-vis theory more generally, noted nursing scholars assert that, for nurses, first, theorising is or should not be an end in itself. And, second, theory is of interest/importance only insofar as it beneficially enables discipline development and/or improvements in practice. Both claims have intuitive appeal. Yet it is difficult to specify how and where the line between (put crudely) care-focused or allowable theorising and abstract or non-care-focused disallowed theorising is to be drawn. Further, if the divide between potentially ‘useful’ and ‘non-useful’ abstract ideas/theory cannot be agreed then perhaps restrictions should not be placed on the scope or range of theoretical emersion that nurses permit themselves. Dissolving self-imposed limits to engagement with theory may however, disturb established and cherished ideas regarding nursing’s disciplinary boundaries and identities. Such a move might therefore be resisted.


Lipscomb, M. (2015, August). Sociological theory in nursing research - what is required?. Presented at International Philosophy Of Nursing Society (IPONS) Conference 2015, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Presentation Conference Type Lecture
Conference Name International Philosophy Of Nursing Society (IPONS) Conference 2015
Conference Location Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
Start Date Aug 24, 2015
End Date Aug 26, 2015
Publication Date Aug 24, 2015
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords nursing, sociological theory
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : International Philosophy Of Nursing Society (IPONS) Conference 2015

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