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Keywords:

  • ironism;
  • postmodernism;
  • poststructuralism;
  • research;
  • trustworthiness;
  • validity

The past decade has seen the gradual emergence of what might be called a postmodern perspective on nursing research. However, the development of a coherent postmodern critique of the modernist position has been hampered by some misunderstandings and misrepresentations of postmodern epistemology by a number of writers, leading to a fractured and distorted view of postmodern nursing research. This paper seeks to distinguish between judgemental relativist and epistemic relativist or ironist positions, and regards the latter as offering the most coherent critique of modernist/(post)positivist nursing research. The writings of poststructuralist philosophers, including Barthes, Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault and Rorty are examined, and a number of criteria for a postmodern ironist concept of research validity or trustworthiness are suggested. Whilst these writers reject the idea of Method as a guarantee of valid research, they nevertheless believe that value judgements can and must be made, and turn to notions of ironism, différance, and the differend. Ultimately, the postmodern ironist reader of the research report must make a judgement without criteria, based on her own practical wisdom or ‘prudence’.