Agents of care and agents of the state: bio-power and nursing practice


  • Amélie Perron BScN RN,

  • Carol Fluet BScN RN,

  • Dave Holmes PhD RN

Dave Holmes,
School of Nursing,
University of Ottawa,
451 Smyth Road,
Ottawa, Ontario K1H 8M5,


Aim.  This paper presents a conceptual analysis of the concept of bio-power in the context of nursing, including a critique of the widespread rhetoric that nursing is deprived of power and consequently is an apolitical agency.

Background.  Traditionally, power tends to be defined in terms of repression, interdiction and punishment. On the contrary, work by Michel Foucault with regard to bio-power brings into evidence the productive and positive nature of power at the heart of society. Despite being often used by various academic and professional disciplines, the concept of bio-power is rarely cited in nursing.

Findings.  Nursing as a profession is at the heart of bio-power in that nurses lie at the crossroads between the anatomo-political and bio-political ranges of power over life. They therefore contribute to social regulation through a vast array of diverse political technologies. Nurses are at the flexing point of the state's requirements and of individual and collective aspirations. They occupy a strategic position that allows them to act as instruments of governmentality. Consequently, nurses constitute a fully-fledged political entity making use of disciplinary technologies and responding to state ideologies.

Conclusion.  The concept of bio-power offers a rich theoretical perspective for nursing, as it questions the definition of nursing care as neutral and mainly provided according to patients’ best interests.