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Vocation, caring and nurse identity

Kenny, Deborah (2015) Vocation, caring and nurse identity. Doctoral thesis (EdD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This study begins with a premise that ‘caring’ is no longer as evident in nursing practice, which in turn has repercussions for understanding nursing as a ‘vocation’. The study, therefore, sets out to problematise both ‘caring’ and ‘vocation’ and in so doing identifies that whilst both are elusive ‘caring’ is particularly difficult to ‘pin down’ - in terms of abstracting a definitive definition, and importantly, how it is articulated in practice. By situating the study within social constructionism (Berger and Luckmann, 1991) and communities of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1991) and by additionally drawing on narrative inquiry, the study pays attention to the stories of six final year student nurses. By closely reading these accounts, through a number of theoretical frames, including Sheldon Stryker (1980), it becomes possible to glimpse some of the interactions and oscillations where an individual’s nursing ideals situates them in what MacLure describes as a ‘moral universe (2003: 9). It is by disentangling this ‘universe’ that I am able to catch some of the meanings that circulate around ‘care’ and which reverberate with the notion of nursing as a ‘vocation’. Further disentanglements, especially those relating to discourses and discursive power occur when Foucault is brought into the picture. Whilst this study is unable to provide a definitive account of what it means to care or provide guidelines for nursing as a vocation it does nevertheless raise a number of pressing and critical questions; questions that highlight the political, social, emotional and ethical work that student nurses have to undertake where hopes, beliefs and ideals in relation to ‘care’ have to find ‘some sort of place’. Moreover, by working with Judith Butler’s theoretical ideas relating to ‘performance’ I am obliged to (re)turn again to the data so as to radically (re)consider the means by which the participants are con(script)ed to perform care in some ways and not others. The study also illustrates the reflexive journey that I have undertaken, where my own ideological longings in relation to ‘care’ have been sorely tampered. It is argued that such tampering is a necessary irritant and component within the context of the university classroom where it obliges both me and the students to work together so that we can, together, (re)think and (re)configure what it means to ‘care’.

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