Postmodernism and Nursing Science

By Walker, Charles A. | Journal of Theory Construction and Testing, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Postmodernism and Nursing Science


Walker, Charles A., Journal of Theory Construction and Testing


Once a chic perspective that challenged prevailing social institutions and conventional ideas, postmodernism has become almost passé in 21st century scholarly discourse. Its relevance to science may seem obscure. Even so, it is worth considering the influence of a postmodern perspective on the development of nursing science.

The postmodernist spurns traditional science and distrusts the dehumanizing technologies it has spawned, recognizes the limits of language, and asserts that scientific conclusions are not objective truths. A postmodern thinker deconstructs modern systems of thought by turning cherished modernist assumptions inside out (Foucault, 1972). Recent mandates for accessible health care and evidence-based practice require up-to-the-minute, though tentative, nursing knowledge founded on reliable research and solid science. These mandates lead us to deeply question the tenets of modernity.

Four tenets of modernity that demand serious consideration by nursing scientists are logocentricity, binary logic, the privileged voice, and individualism (Habermas, 1971). These four tenets will serve as anchoring motifs for the following discussion.

The first motif, logocentricity, literally means "centered on the word." It suggests that the act of naming an unnamed idea or phenomenon calls it into existence (Derrida, 1976). Logocentric thinking fragments and distorts lived experience. The tautological assertion, "It is because I say it is" represents a kind of reasoning that is both circular and self-serving. For instance, the concept of burden has become such a mainstay in caregiver research that it is difficult to imagine caregiving through another lens (i.e., "Caregiving is burden). However, Loeb (Spring 2005 issue of JTCT) convincingly elucidates the concept of perseverance as one with utility for research on family caregivers of chronically ill older adults. Interestingly, Loeb uses the logocentric, content analysis method to reveal what it means to persevere.

The second modernist motif is binary logic. In addition to the on/off operations familiar to computer aficionados, binary logic possesses a long history in modern systems of thought (Durant, 2002). Cartesian dualism, for example, brought forth an unfortunate splitting of mind and body, exalting one thing or idea over another. Similarly, Hegel's dialectic presented polar opposites, paradoxes, and negations of competing worldviews and experiences. But "either-or" can be an untenable position. "Either-or" implies there are primarily two courses of action or modes of thought - a right way and a wrong way (Foucault, 1997). Because the nursing profession is rapidly changing, nurse scientists can no longer maintain this elitist stance. Nurses benefit from an inclusive worldview. In the spirit of inclusion (i.e., "bothand") nurse researchers, Arhin and Cormier (Spring 2005 issue of JTCT), cogently argue for an alternative to classical group comparison design. They assert that single subject experimental design provides one solution to racial disparity in health-related research.

The third modernist motif, privileged voice, aggrandizes a masculine, Eurocentric heritage epitomized by such social authorities as the Church and medical establishment. But the ethos of ambition and competitiveness perpetuated by the patriarchy has proved to be a dismal failure (Donovan, 1985). …

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