Expertise or performance? Questioning the rhetoric of contemporary narrative use in nursing Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • BACKGROUND: In the early 1980s there emerged in nursing a self-conscious and well-articulated concern to articulate nursing's contribution to patient care. This has fostered the production of a large volume of practice narratives that today form the basis of professional self-understanding. First-person practice narratives are now widely used as the evidence base for nursing expertise, not only in their natural home, the world of interpretative research, but also in the bureaucratic-judicial domain of professional regulation, health care organizations, trades unions and professional associations. AIM: The aim of this paper is to question the use of individual narrative accounts of nursing practice as evidence of nursing expertise. METHOD: We examine the model, method, and continuing consequences of these discursive formations of practice. First, we present a methodological discussion of how personal narratives are produced by the interplay between discourse and subjectivity. Second, we explore clinical narratives of expertise in the work of Patricia Benner and others to uncover the common template for contemporary narrative. DISCUSSION: Narrative production in nursing has led to particular constructions, rather than free representations of practice. It is these particular constructions that we call into question. Rather than viewing these narratives as revelatory of nursing practice, we argue that they place a 'spotlight' on the individual actor - the nurse - with an absence of structural practice context. CONCLUSION: We make the case that treatment of these narratives as individual evidence of expertise fundamentally misunderstands their function and purpose, and reduces the constitution of nursing expertise to the performance of a palatable and highly desirable discourse for a nursing audience.

publication date

  • September 2004