• embodied knowledge;
  • gender;
  • nurse's body;
  • occupational closure;
  • space

Gestures of resistance: the nurse's body in contested space

This paper is based on a one-year ethnographic study that focused on nurse-patient relationships on a ward where therapeutic nursing and professional autonomy were explicit nursing goals. Through participant observation and semi-structured interviews, it was found that nurses, as a team, adopted a highly relaxed form of posture. Their informal and open stance served to emphasize their ‘closeness’ with patients, supporting nurses' claim of a special role in the healthcare team, and making flesh some of the differences between nursing and medical roles. The interpretation of nurses' bodily practice rested in part on the meanings given to the ward space: patients felt the ward to be a private domain in which nurses' informality endorsed their sense of being cared for as if by family, while for medical staff the ward remained a public space in which female nurses tacitly challenged their authority as men through the adoption of a masculine bodily praxis. The paper thus looks at links between the gendered body, the gendered professions of medicine and nursing, and the gendered nature of space. It argues that work on occupational closure has previously privileged the discursive, and suggests that understanding how nurses arbitrate professional boundaries in everyday practice will benefit from consideration of the nurse's body as a point of political resistance.