This paper is based on a recent social science research project that aimed to examine gender- bias as experienced by women nurses who practiced as nurse unit managers and/or clinical nurse specialists in two Western Australia (WA) public hospitals. These nurses, defi ned here as middle-level women nurses (MLWN), had combined responsibilities to achieve their hospital's managerial fi scal agenda with their nursing care professional values. Scant literature was available that explored the experiences of nurses who practised in these kinds of roles. At the time of undertaking the research project the international sociopolitical context for nurses in senior health system organisations, not dissimilar for women generally in western society, was one of gender inequality (see for example, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2004; Byers, 2001; Department of Community Development, Government of WA, 2004; Furst & Reeves, 2008; Glass, 2000). For nursing, the change in governance focus, from medical dominance to managerialist fi scal control in the health services in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other Western economies (Powell, Brock, & Hinings, 1999) further marginalised nurses (Glouberman & Mintzberg, 2001; Wigens, 1997). This shift revealed that care, which forms a central value in nursing, continued to be absent in the health economics equation (Turkel, 2001).
The paper begins by explaining the impetus for the research, the research question and objectives for the ethnographic approach used in the study. The next section outlines the gap in knowledge within which the project was positioned. This is followed by an introduction to ethnography, informed by feminist postmodern perspectives, and the selection of the participants. The subsequent presentation of the fi ndings and their implications are then discussed. The authors' concluding remarks contend that the application of the research methodology and methods have the potential to contribute to the body of professional nursing knowledge that not only reveals the oppression of women nurses but also the optimistic emancipatory practices by nurses and other women.
RESEARCH IMPETUS, QUESTION AND OBJECTIVES
Middle level nurse managers hold senior positions in hospital hierarchies as ward managers or clinical specialists. They practice in the confluence of corporate and nursing professional values where they are expected to be expert practitioners, leaders, and managers. Their roles integrate responsibilities to achieve their hospital's corporate fiscal agenda, foster the values and practices of effective nursing care and undertake nursing workforce management. However, little is known about how they experience their roles and so the initial research question was what meanings do middle level women nurses attribute to their experience of practicing in Western Australian public hospitals? The intention was to reveal the ways in which women nurses empowered themselves in their work role and the network of power relations present in their practice settings. In doing so the researcher sought to contribute to the professional nursing dialogue related to recommendations from state and national reports into nursing practice and education. For example, The Report of the West Australian Study of Nursing and Midwifery 'New Vision, New Direction' focussed on internal nursing issues, such as career progression, professional education, workforce improvements and where 'nursing and midwifery leaders must ensure a cultural change occurs that empowers nurses and midwives to value each other within the profession' (Pinch & Della, 2001, p. 27). The National Nursing and Nursing Education Taskforce Report 2002 (N3ET) (Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002) was established to implement recommendations of Our Duty of Care Report (Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002). The key focus areas identifi ed in Our Duty of Care Report was the 'need for a national focus, a coherent voice on nursing issues, nursing leadership and recognition and affi rmation of nurses' (Department of Education, Science and Training, 2002, p. …