Derrida and the tasks for the new humanities: postmodern nursing and the culture wars


  • 1 As is well acknowledged in nursing studies, particularly in the work of John Drummond, the later Foucault focused on the ‘care of self’ as a major thematic where questions of truth, power and subjectivity intersect. I would have thought therefore that Glazer’s characterization of ‘caring plus science’ (if we talk of the social sciences and maybe, even biology; see, in particular, Foucault’s notion of biopower) lends itself to a Foucaultian analysis. I was interested to read in his essay ‘Technologies of the self’ (Foucault et al., 1998, p. 31) the following excerpt: ‘The care of the self isn’t another kind of pedagogy [after Plato]; it has to become permanent medical care. Permanent medical care is one of the central features of the care of the self. One must become the doctor of oneself’. We should add, perhaps: ‘one must become the nurse of others’?

  • 2 The seventh point differs from the other six programmatic tasks in that it attempts to go beyond the other six reminders by emphasizing the dimension of the event, of something yet to take place, that is, beyond what Derrida, after Austin, calls the ‘performative’ or the ‘as if’.

Correspondence: Michael Peters, Department of Educational Studies, University of Glasgow, 8 University Gardens, Glasgow G12 8QH, UK. E-mail:


Abstract Jacques Derrida is perhaps the foremost philosopher of the humanities and of its place in the university. Over the long period of his career he has been concerned with the fate, status, place and contribution of the humanities. Through his deconstructive readings and writings he has done much not only to reinvent the western tradition by attending closely to those texts which constitute it but also he has redefined its procedures and protocols. This paper first introduces the notion of postmodern nursing, its relation to the culture wars and some of the main characteristics of so-called poststructuralism, considered as a response to the scientific pretensions of structuralism. Secondly, it provides some background to Derrida, who Althusser believed to be the most important French philosopher of the 20th century. Thirdly, it explores a recent essay where Derrida outlines seven programmatic theses or what he calls ‘seven professions of faith’ for the new humanities. Finally, and very tentatively, it suggests what such a view might contribute to the nursing humanities.