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Rethinking ethnography: reconstructing nursing relationships

Authors


Elizabeth Manias School of Postgraduate Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Level 1, 723 Swanston Street Carlton 3053, Victoria, Australia. E-mail: e.manias@nursing.unimelb.edu.au

Abstract

Rethinking ethnography: reconstructing nursing relationships

Aims of the study. Critical ethnography is being adopted increasingly by nurses as a legitimate form of research methodology. This paper explores the research practices and dilemmas that emerge from this methodology using a recently completed ethnographic study of nurse–nurse and nurse–doctor interactions in a critical care hospital setting.

Background. Critical ethnography provides a useful methodology that facilitates mutual dialogue among participants. It may be limited, however, by the central role of researchers and by a tendency to negotiate participants’ realities according to a particular ‘truth’. These concerns have been strongly critiqued by poststructuralists using concepts such as discourse, subjectivity and power. By incorporating the notion of a poststructural analysis into critical ethnography, researchers are in a position to examine critically the tensions in their own practices, and their struggles with documenting and analysing ethnographic accounts.

Design. Six registered nurses comprised the participants of the research group. Through the method of professional journalling, the first author of this paper explored her professional interactions with doctors and other nurses in her role as a nurse in the critical care setting under investigation. Other methods included participant observation, and individual and focus group interviews with nurse participants.

Issues of methodological concern. This paper considers three issues of methodological concern: researcher/participant subjectivity; the movement from empowerment to reflexivity and the construction of one form of ethnographic ‘truth’. These issues are discussed in reference to the research relationships with the nurse participants and the process of analysing ethnographic accounts.

Conclusions. In working with critical ethnography using a poststructural analysis, we were able to generate valuable insights about previously hidden areas of relationships among nurse participants in a research group during all stages of the research process. It also provided a means of informing the analysis of ethnographic texts.

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