The Theory-Practice Relationship in Nursing: the Practitioners' Perspective

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Journal of Advanced Nursing, 1999, 30(1), 74±82

Philosophical and ethical issues

The theory±practice relationship in nursing: the practitioners' perspective Gerard M. Fealy MEd BNS RGN RPN RNT
Lecturer in Nursing, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University College Dublin, National University of Ireland, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Accepted for publication 15 September 1998

FEALY G.M. (1999)

Journal of Advanced Nursing 30(1), 74±82 The theory±practice relationship in nursing: the practitioners' perspective Within contemporary scholarly discourse, there are a number of distinctive approaches to understanding the theory±practice relationship. Carr identi®es four principal approaches, each of which is sustained within explicit views about the nature of theory. Carr terms these approaches the `common-sense' approach, the `applied-science' approach, the `practical' approach and the `critical' approach. Each approach is recoverable from the explicit and implicit content of scholarly literature. The study reported here sought to uncover the ways in which practising nurses understand the relationship between theory and practice and to establish the extent to which their explicit and implicit understandings accord with Carr's typology. The study involved in-depth interviews with six practising nurses. The purpose of the interviews was to prompt each study participant to enter into a re¯ective mode in a way that would generate narrative information, which would illustrate the various ways in which each theorized with respect to the theory±practice relationship. In this re¯ective theorizing, the study participants indicated that they understood the theory±practice relationship in ways that accorded with elements of Carr's typology. A brief discussion considers the limitations of the study and the implications for further research into the theory±practice relationship. Keywords: discourse, nursing, phenomenology, practice, practitioner, theorizing, theory±practice dispositions to act or, at the very least, it may offer a gateway for exploring these dispositions. It is to the task of offering such a description that the present study was directed.

INTRODUCTION
The basis upon which professional practice proceeds is not clearly determined since the caring engagement is one of openness and complexity. The engagement requires, on the part of the practitioner, no single but many different dispositions to act. One possible way of describing the basis of professional actions, or `dispositions to act', is to describe the ways in which nurses view nursing practice, nursing theory and, most especially, the relationship between theory and practice. Such a description may in and of itself constitute a de facto description of nurses' Correspondence: G.M. Fealy, 80 Woodview Heights, Lucan, Co. Dublin, Republic of Ireland.

Ways of viewing the theory±practice relationship in contemporary social practices The English philosopher Wilfred Carr has articulated a certain position on the ways that theory and practice in education are to be understood (Carr 1980, 1987) and he has also done much to bring together, to characterize and to summarize the most commonly held positions on the theory±practice relationship (Carr 1986). Carr's (1986) Ó 1999 Blackwell Science Ltd

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Philosophical and ethical issues writings offer a framework for describing and critiquing the ways that the relationship between theory and practice is commonly understood within nursing. Carr (1986) offers four accounts of the ways in which the theory±practice relationship is commonly understood, with each account being sustained within explicit views of (educational) theory. Carr (1986) terms these accounts the `common-sense' approach, the `applied-science' approach, the `practical' approach and the `critical' approach, and these four approaches may, for the purpose of exploring the phenomenon within nursing discourse, be viewed as a typology of theories of...
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