• autobiography;
  • Bakhtin;
  • chronotopic analysis;
  • data analysis;
  • discourse;
  • nursing;
  • clinical case history;
  • life story

Language, discourse and the chronotope: applying literary theory to the narratives in health care

One of the most significant developments in nursing has been the recognition of the power of the narrative approach. Narrative knowing has evolved from both the patient and the nurse experience. In the case of the individual, it can be told through case history (clinical) and life story (theory-building). The life story of the individual as a patient represents him or her to the nurse and is in turn responded to through appropriate care. Alternatively, the life story of the individual as research participant represents him or her to the researcher and is in turn responded to through appropriate interpretation. The value of the narrative is that the ‘otherness’ of the teller/writer can be regarded by the listener/reader. There resides a major tension, however, whether in theory building or the practice setting: meaning What this paper argues, is that the emphasis placed on the subject to provide an authentic story of their life is misguided, whether in the care setting or in interpretive research. My contention is that we need to develop a less naive understanding of the complexities of the language with which the individual speaks. This can be achieved by adopting post-structural analyses of the spoken or written word, from both the originator’s and recipient’s experiences. By reconceptualizing such narratives as ‘autobiographies’ it is possible to borrow from the field of literary criticism a tool known as chronotopic analysis to perform this task.