The interprofessional education and practice literature has continued to expand at an impressive rate over the past few decades. While it is encouraging to see an expansion of conceptual, evaluative and theoretical papers, there remains a tendency in the field to focus on psychological, social-psychological, organizational and systems perspectives. As a result of using this particular set of social science perspectives we have an increasingly firm grasp of how individuals may act, teams/groups may function and organisations/systems may operate within different interprofessional contexts. However, the explanations generated from these perspectives overlook wider social factors which form an important pillar upon which interprofessional relations and interactions rest.
In his seminal text, Mills (1967) maintained that sociology had an important role to play in understanding the social influences that affect their lives of people in different societies. He argued that as “neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both” we need to develop a way of exploring the links between individuals and the societies in which they live and interact. Mills termed this particular approach as the ‘sociological imagination’, which he argued could help to connect the individuals’ “experience and the wider society.”
The sociological imagination can be used as a way of viewing the world in social terms, specifically, how social phenomena may interact and influence each other. Importantly, it can help to understand how social context(s) may affect the individuals’ actions and interactions. Through its use, therefore, one could begin to see how the things individuals do are shaped by the social context they are situated within, the values they hold, and their interactions with others. For Mills, the use of the sociological imagination was most advantageous as it could help to understand social patterns and influences related to individuals and their personal (and collective) desires, fears, wants and concerns.
While Mills’ modernist standpoint of using sociology to connect individual (agency-based) and social (structurally-based) factors have lost favour following the rise in popularity of postmodern approaches, its aim on exploring people within their differing social contexts is nevertheless still a helpful analytical tool to use in thinking more about the influence of wider societal factors and processes, and how they can affect interprofessional interactions. It can also provide (a much needed) contrast to ways of thinking about interprofessional issues in a field which continues to focus on individual, team/group, and/or organizational/systems analyses.
Scott Reeves (Editor-in-Chief)
For more information, read: Journal of Interprofessional Care, September 2011, Vol. 25 (5).