Use of sociological theories and models in research

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Forty years ago, Christine Chapman wrote in the first volume of the JAN about the use of sociological theories and models in nursing research and practice (Chapman 1976). Her article was ground breaking and well ahead of its time. Chapman's thinking is remarkable given that much of nursing care was delivered at the time by task allocation and a ‘see one, do one, teach one' mentality where nursing skills were commonly learnt on the wards. Back in 1976, use of nursing models to inform practice was the exception rather than the norm. The ‘Nursing Process', which introduced patient allocation and the concept of nursing outcomes from care was not introduced in the UK at least until the early 1980s.
Although Chapman's paper was published first, it is Priscilla Alderson's paper describing the importance of theories in health care that is considered by many as the seminal text which created the mark in the sand and got the broader health research community to acknowledge the value and use of theories in research (Alderson 1998). Alderson's paper was published in the British Medical Journal 22 years after Chapmans paper was published in JAN.
Looking back at Chapman's paper it is, however, clear that she laid the foundations for others to follow in the field of health. She showed how the use of theory could help develop a better understanding of compliance and patterns of power and their effect on patient and nurse behaviour and goal attainment in the context of nurse–patient relationships and delivery of care. Chapman argued that theories from outside of nursing could help explain patient and nurse behaviours. Chapman begins to develop lines of logic and rudimentary logic models using sociological theories to explain causal mechanisms leading to behavioural responses in patients and nurses.
In 1976, most nurses probably found Chapman's theory‐informed analysis of situational clinical nursing somewhat challenging to digest, or to see how it related to their day to day nursing interactions with patients. Chapman's article was cited 19 times by other nurses publishing in nursing journals. In contrast, Alderson's subsequent paper has been cited over 90 times in a variety of medical, nursing, psychological and research journals. Although Chapman's paper has stood the test of time, there is a lingering suspicion that the paper has not been afforded the recognition it deserves by those outside of nursing. Forty years ago in 1976, nursing was not considered an academic discipline with sufficient foresight to influence methodological innovation beyond its boundaries. Thanks to the foundational steer of Christine Chapmen and her influential paper published in the first volume of JAN, nurse academics in the 21st Century have become substantial producers of theory‐informed research and prolific producers of theory‐informed systematic reviews.
Chapman and Alderson's work on theories remains contemporary for a current context. In 2016, Cochrane published the first guidance on the selection and use of social theories in systematic reviews (Noyes et al. 2016). The same type of logic as reported by Chapman is used today to describe how an intervention is intended to work and to develop sophisticated logic models showing causal pathways and anticipated impacts and outcomes at various levels of the health system (Blank et al. 2015, Noyes et al. 2016).
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