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Keywords:

  • feminism;
  • fieldwork;
  • interviewing;
  • nursing;
  • qualitative approaches

Aims.  This paper draws on the literature to explore some of the issues of concern to nurses undertaking fieldwork in contemporary healthcare settings.

Background.  The emergence of poststructuralist and postmodern perspectives has raised questions about ethnographic approaches, and problematized the role of researchers in the construction of plausible and credible ethnographic accounts. As a practice discipline, nursing needs to negotiate a thorny path between methodological purity and practical application, with nurse researchers required to take account of both philosophical and pragmatic concerns.

Discussion.  There is general agreement that researching with an individual or group rather than researching on an individual or group is the more effective way to approach fieldwork. Feminist writers appear to have dealt with this issue best, advocating intimacy, self-disclosure, and reciprocity in encounters with research participants. The duality of the nurse researcher role; power and politics and the moral implications of fieldwork are acknowledged as factors influencing nurses in the planning and conduct of fieldwork. Nurses as researchers may be better equipped than other social researchers to deal with contingencies in the field.

Conclusions.  Laying the epistemological ground for the participant observer role during fieldwork and understanding its impact on the resultant ethnographic account is essential to methodological rigour in field research. Consideration of some of the practicalities and predicaments experienced by nurses as researchers when conducting fieldwork prior to going out into the field is an important research strategy and will facilitate methodological potency.