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Discourse analysis: towards an understanding of its place in nursing


  • Marie Crowe PhD RPN

    1. Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychological Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Marie Crowe,
Department of Psychological Medicine,
Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences,
PO Box 4345,
New Zealand.


Aim.  This paper describes how discourse analysis, and in particular critical discourse analysis, can be used in nursing research, and provides an example to illustrate the techniques involved.

Background.  Discourse analysis has risen to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s in disciplines such as the social sciences, literary theory and cultural studies and is increasingly used in nursing. This paper investigates discourse analysis as a useful methodology for conducting nursing research. Effective clinical reasoning relies on employing several different kinds of knowledge and research that draw on different perspectives, methodologies and techniques to generate breadth of knowledge and depth of understanding of clinical practices and patients’ experiences of those practices.

Discussion.  The steps in a discourse analysis include: choosing the text, and identifying the explicit purpose of the text, the processes used for claiming authority connections to other discourses, construction of major concepts, processes of naming and categorizing, construction of subject positions, construction of reality and social relations and implications for the practice of nursing. The limitations of discourse analysis, its relationship to other qualitative approaches and questions for evaluating the rigour of research using discourse analysis are also explored. The example of discourse analysis shows how a text influences the practice of nursing by shaping knowledge, values and beliefs.

Conclusion.  Discourse analysis can make a contribution to the development of nursing knowledge by providing a research strategy to examine dominant discourses that influence nursing practice.

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