Rituals and nursing: a critical commentary


Susan Philpin, School of Health Science, University of Wales, Swansea SA3 1EH, UK. E-mail: s.m.philpin@swansea.ac.uk


Rituals and nursing: a critical commentary

Aim of the paper. This critical commentary explores the concept of ritual in the nursing and social science literature in terms of investigating different understandings of its meaning and purpose.

Rationale. The term `ritual' is often used in a pejorative sense in nursing literature to refer to unthinking, routinized action by nurses, which lacks any empirical foundation. The purpose of this paper is to explore alternative understandings of the meaning of ritual, suggesting that the negative usage described above misses out on the wider symbolic meaning of the word.

Method. The literature search used a combination of electronic databases (CINAHL, ASSIA, MEDLINE and RCN) from 1960 to 2000 and serendipitous references in texts.

Findings. The commentary is presented under the following two broad emerging themes: first, the complex issues surrounding the definition of ritual, including the relationship between rational and rational action and second, the purposes served by ritual.

Conclusions. The paper concludes with the recommendation that the rituals nurses use in the performance of their care are worthy of research as a rich source of insight into the meaning and purpose of nursing actions.