The term ‘theory to practice gap’ is often used when describing a disparity between research results and practical observations. At first glance, it seems an apt way of describing the analysis of research on social identity and the importance of belonging to groups presented in The Social Cure: Identity, Health and Wellbeing. This broad collection of literature, contributed to by over 30 leading researchers, shows that the metaphor does not adequately describe the extent of this body of research and the degree to which it is understated in everyday practice. A ‘theory to practice gap’ implies polar positions that require connecting, ‘as if a third concept is needed which carries meaning from the theory side to the practice side, and vice versa’ (Short, 2000, p. 334). The text suggests that most members of society find the third bridging concept in a range of diverse social networks: family, friends, schools, teams, organisations and community groups. The editors describe the observed void more aptly as a ‘blind spot’ (p. 3). This suggests the failure of practitioners, theorists and the general public to acknowledge the importance of social identity and social relationships to our life satisfaction, health, and wellbeing.
This book addresses the blind spot by presenting the rationale that social isolation and loneliness can have a significant and negative impact on our health and wellbeing. It shows that social relationships are just as important to our mortality as blood pressure, healthy diet, quitting smoking and physical exercise. As one of the editors, Alex Haslam states, ‘from a social psychological perspective, all I'd say is that we are social beings for whom group life is a lot more than just an optional extra’ (personal communication, November 2012). This sentiment alone underpins the literature presented in the book.
Many of us have the means and skills to implement knowledge and resources related to social identity. However, there remains a blind spot. The book links this with society's tendency to prioritise medical, pharmacological or technological innovations, and discourse over more humanistic and socially founded interventions. As the editors make clear, the simplicity and ease with which most people form and maintain social relationships can lead to the dangerous assumption that individuals require little encouragement to join groups. This has implications across the lifespan. The editors also warn that not all groups are a means of social support. When it comes to group membership, it is quality, not quantity, that matters, and the editors stress the importance of social identification rather than simply assuming the benefits of social contact alone.
Using a Social Identity Approach, the book explores the unique influence of social factors on physical factors such as ageing and health, psychological factors such as wellbeing, coping, stress, and resilience, and experiential factors related to trauma, discrimination, recovery and rehabilitation. Collating a broad body of research from different perspectives, settings, populations and disciplines, the book draws an argument towards a social cure. The text draws attention to the importance of this growing area of research and offers implications for practice and policy. Meeting its objectives to educate and inspire, the book would appeal to researchers, academics, practitioners and anyone wishing to further understand the importance of belonging to social groups.