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Keywords:

  • curriculum planning;
  • discourse analysis;
  • governmentality;
  • interviews;
  • nurse education;
  • qualitative approaches;
  • student autonomy

Abstract

Title. Governmentality, student autonomy and nurse education.

Aim.  This paper is a report of a study to explore how governmental practices operated in nurse education.

Background.  Since the 1980s nurse education internationally has been strongly influenced by educational theories that aim to promote student autonomy by encouraging self-direction and critical thinking. Newer curriculum models advocate transformative approaches leading to greater emancipation, social equity and inclusion. Although these changes have been positively evaluated there had been limited critical research on how student behaviour is governed.

Method.  A discourse analytic study was conducted from 2000 to 2004 using interviews (n = 30) with a purposive sample students and teachers in one United Kingdom university. Data were also collated from the course curriculum and student handbook for the students’ programme. Data were analysed to identify how student behaviour is governed.

Findings.  Two governing practices are described: control and technologies of the self. These practices contribute to an overall system of governing student behaviour that creates tension between the avowed progressive empowerment discourse and taken for granted everyday educational practices. Students are subjected to a range of governmental and disciplinary strategies and, through a process of normalization, ultimately become their own supervisors within the system.

Conclusion.  The tensions between the demands of a professional outcome-based nursing programme and notions of empowerment and student autonomy have not been resolved. Instead, present educational practice is characterized by normalizing discursive practices that aim to produce a specific version of a student subject as autonomous learner. Thus, discourses of both empowerment and professional behaviour govern students.