Bourdieu's theory of practice and its potential in nursing research


Sarah Rhynas,
University of Edinburgh,
31 Buccleuch Place,
Edinburgh EH8 9JT,


Aims.  This paper seeks to consider the utility of Bourdieu's Theory of Practice in nursing, and considers specifically its use as a framework for research exploring nurses’ conceptualizations of illness and the patients in their care. Bourdieu's work uses the concepts of field, capital and habitus to explain interactions within the social world. This paper describes these concepts and their relationship with nursing is discussed using dementia care as an example.

Background.  The work of French scholar Pierre Bourdieu has contributed to debates throughout the social sciences, but has had relatively little attention in the nursing literature. Pierre Bourdieu's work developed against a backdrop of change in the academic world. The emergence of the social sciences and the debate around objective and subjective styles of research were influential in the development of his Theory of Practice.

Discussion.  The importance of the conceptualization process is discussed, and the considerable potential influence of conceptualization on patient care is highlighted. Reflexivity is a cornerstone of Bourdieu's work, and is an important feature of nursing research. Examples of health care research using his work as a framework are discussed, and some of the challenges of the approach are outlined.

Conclusions.  The use of Bourdieu's Theory of Practice as a research framework could allow nurse researchers to explore the interactions of nurses with the structures, agents and symbols of illness within the field of care. This work could enhance understanding of how nurses view and react to patients in their care, and promote the development of practice innovations and policy change. The theory may, therefore, have much to offer future nursing research.