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Nursing, art and science: Revisiting the Two Cultures


  • Philip Darbyshire RNMH, RSCN, DipN(Lond.), RNT, MN, PhD

    1. Women’s and Children’s Hospital Chair of Nursing, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, University of South Australia and Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
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Correspondence: Dr.P.Darbyshire, Department of Nursing and Midwifery Research and Practice Development, Women’s and Children’s Hospital, 72 King William Road, Adelaide, SA 5006, Australia. Fax: +618 8204 7704; Email: <>


I begin this paper by setting out the importance of the Two Cultures debate, given that many nurse authors would agree with Closs’s position that the art versus science debate should be closed finally. I suggest that issues are every bit as present and urgent in our current era as they were in the past. A brief tracing of the history of the Two Cultures debate highlights the relevance of the central features of the debate for nursing. I then focus on nursing’s current understanding of science and art and attempt to defend science from some of the accusations levelled at it, while also questioning some of the claims made on behalf of the arts. In the latter sections of the paper, I make a case for the development of ‘nursing humanities’ and argue the vital importance of overcoming the Two Cultures divide for the everyday practices of nurses and midwives.

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