(Re)writing ethnography: the unsettling questions for nursing research raised by post-structural approaches to ‘the field’


School of Nursing Studies, Faculty of Nursing, University of South Australia, Smith Road, Salisbury East South Australia 5109, Australia. Trudy.Rudge@unisa.edu.au


Positivist ethnographic research situates the participant observer in an objectivist position towards the field. Using poststructural perspectives to analyse the field challenges and unsettles objectivist assumptions underpinning ethnography. Neither is merging of the two approaches completely unproblematic. A crucial element in a coherent amalgam centres around resolution of potential contradictions emanating from the place of field notes in ethnographic research, and the position of the researcher (author) vis-a-vis such notes. Contemporary approaches to field notes maintain that such notes are not an objective description of the field, unaffected by the voice of the researcher. Rather, observational records are to be regarded as text, with characteristics in common with all texts. The ethnographic record is constituted as much by the positionality of the researcher as by the research participants. The nurse researcher can be viewed as participant in the constitution of the field. In unsettling and challenging taken-for-granted understandings about nursing practice, I am affirming the centrality of the position of the nurse in nursing research.