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Nursing as means of governmentality


Dave Holmes, Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Nursing, 451 Smyth Road, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1B 8M5. E-mail:


Background.  This paper conceptualizes nursing as a health profession in transformation at the beginning of the 21st century. We frame our analysis using Michel Foucault's concept of governmentality. While extensively quoted and used in other disciplines, the work of the late French philosopher has been cited infrequently in the nursing literature. Yet a closer look at his work reveals how Foucault offers a relevant entry point for revisiting nursing theory and nursing practice.

Aim of paper.  The aim of this paper is to reflect on nursing practice as it is inscribed within the state's modus operandi. We discuss the prevalent notion that nurses are powerless and suggest they do exercise power in many ways and that they are a powerful group.

Results.  In this paper we show how nursing is a means of governmentality of individuals and of the population because its practices contribute to the management of society through a vast range of power techniques. These techniques range from disciplining individuals to promoting discourses that construct desirable subjectivities. Within this perspective, the emergence of political aspects of nursing theory and nursing practice are made explicit.

Conclusion.  We explore the limits and potentials of the concept of governmentality to the understanding of nursing as a health profession. This concept can generate a form of critical immobilism, but also promotes a more politically complex understanding of nursing practice.