Episode 74: Sociology for practice - the 'ology' you’ve been looking for with Dr Rebecca Olson


Welcome to another episode of The Words Matter Podcast.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last couple of episodes exploring pseudoscientific claims and how to think about, and respond to them (here and here). And to give us all a break from the frustration, today I’m speaking with Dr Rebecca Olson about the role and value of sociology for practice.

Rebecca is an Associate Professor of Sociology, and Program Director of the Bachelor of Social Science at the University of Queensland. She’s Director of SocioHealthLab: a research collective that pursues social transformation in health and healthcare through theory- and justice-led applied socio-cultural research.

As a translational qualitative researcher, Rebecca  collaborates with health professionals, health professional educators and emotions scholars, bringing sociological insight to addressing complex healthcare challenges.

And Rebecca follows in the growing line of guests based at UQ including Karime Mescouto (Episode 39: Where’s does the power lie? A critical look at the biopsychosocial model), Jenny Setchell (Episode 50: The Qualitative Research Series - What’s left in the ruins? Post qualitative research) and more recently Nathalia Costa (Episode 68: The Clinical Reasoning Series – Navigating uncertainty).

So on this episode we speak about:

  • The distinction between sociology and social science, and where sociology sits in the landscape of intellectual enquiry.
  • Rebecca introduces sociology as a research field and how she (and others) have engaged with it in relation to healthcare.
  • We talk about medical sociology and the development of related methodologies such as grounded theory (see here and here) and ethnographic research (see episode 45 for more ethnography).
  • The importance and value of sociological theory for practice – and we talk about how there is nothing like a good theory to offer a rich perspective and multiple lenses on clinical practice.
  • And we also talk about what social theories are and where they come from.
  • We distinguish between the natural world and the social world.
  • We talk about the irony that while social factors and determinants of health seem to be important in understanding and predicting illness and recovery, yet sociological knowledge is does not feature strongly in healthcare education and practice.
  • And finally we talk about what can we learn from sociological enquiry and how it can inform practice and policy.

So I really enjoyed this episode. As clinicians we seem to be very happy and comfortable with the other ‘ologies’ – such as biology, physiology and neurology so I hope that this conversation is a gateway to explore how sociology can support and guide clinical thinking and practice.

Find Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaEOlson

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