N u rsing and Sociology
An Uneasy Relationship
Deidre Wick s
Why is nursing often depicted in a negative light?
What is the ‘New Nursing’?
What are some of the new developments in nursing in Australia and overseas?
This chapter examines some of the more recent sociological writings on nursing and discusses them in relation to the practical insights they have to offer for nursing. Recent nursing reforms in Australia and the United Kingdom are analysed to see how these might be interpreted through a sociological lens. Implicit in this analysis will be a focus on the tension between the structure of the health system (particularly the influence of medicine) and the agency of nurses in these different accounts of nurses and nursing work.
primary health care
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sexual division of labour
Nursing and Sociology: An Uneasy Relationship
In the period following World War II, nursing training in Australia was broadened to include both the technological and clinical advances that had occurred as a result of nursing experiences in war. Further expansion of nursing curricula occurred during the 1960s and 1970s to include input from the social sciences, namely psychology and sociology. This was based on a view of nursing that held that nurses needed an understanding of the social context of health c a re delive ry as well as the individual, psychological needs and perceptions of their patients. The sociology introduced at that time, with few exceptions, revo l ved around the concept of ‘ ro l e s’ and role relationships, such as ‘the role of the doctor and nurse in health care delive ry’ and ‘the role of the patient in hospital care’. As such, it encouraged an acceptance of existing social relationships and their hierarchies of power and authority. It did, neve rtheless, encourage nursing students to think about social relationships and the impact of these relationships on nursing work and on patient care. As the 1970s pro g ressed, the popularity of more radical approaches within sociology began to be taken up and applied to sociology courses within nursing education. New interpretations of nursing history and practice, based on feminist theory in part i c u l a r, began to appear, especially in theory
the new diploma and later degree courses within universities. These A system of ideas that uses
courses encouraged a more critical examination of nursing history and researched evidence to explain
practice, as well as a more critical interpretation of the relationship of certain events and to show
nursing to other health occupations, especially medicine.
why certain facts are related.
See chapter 2 for an overview of feminist theories
At the same time as broadening the ways of understanding nursing, these more radical approaches had the unintended effect of presenting nursing in a much more negative light; so much so that in recent years, sociological writings about nursing have presented an almost uniformly negative picture. Repeatedly, nursing has been presented as a ‘subordinated’ occupation, and nurses themselves as passive victims of medical power. While there have been differences in the way that various sociological perspectives view nursing, it is also possible to see a consistent theme running through all the interpretations, from...
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