An archaeology of caring knowledge

Authors


John Paley, Department of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA, UK. E-mails: jhp1@stir.ac.uk

Abstract

An archaeology of caring knowledge

Background. There have been repeated attempts, especially during the last 20 years, to say precisely what caring in nursing is. Authors who undertake this task usually begin with the observation that the concept of caring is complex and elusive, and suggest that their contribution will help to clarify this most confused of notions. However, they are always followed by other authors, who do exactly the same thing. We seem to be no closer, now, to a clarification of caring than we have ever been.

Aim. The paper offers a diagnosis of this situation, and explains why the project of retrieving caring from its elusiveness is an impossible one. I will suggest that this has nothing to do with the concept of caring, as such. Rather, the impossibility of the task follows from what these authors take to be knowledge of caring.

Method. I present an analysis of some presuppositions about what knowledge is. These presuppositions pervade the literature on caring, and can be summarized as follows: knowledge of caring is an aggregate of things said about it, derived from a potentially endless series of associations, grouped into attributes on the basis of resemblances, and conceived as a holistic description of the phenomenon. Further, I suggest that this analysis is akin to the one which Foucault offers of sixteenth century knowledge.

Conclusions. The analysis suggests that this way of knowing is approximately 350 years out of date, and explains why the task of arriving at knowledge (in this sense) is impossible. Moreover, Foucault’s claim that sixteenth century knowledge is ‘plethoric yet absolutely poverty-stricken’ applies, with equal force, to nursing’s knowledge of caring.

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