Is there nursing phenomenology after Paley? Essay on rigorous reading


  • Olga Petrovskaya RN BScN

    PhD Candidate, Corresponding author
    1. School of Nursing, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada
    • Correspondence: Ms Olga Petrovskaya, PhD Candidate, School of Nursing, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria BC V8W 2Y2, Canada. Tel. +250 885 7839; e-mail:

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At the bedside, nurses are expected to be precise when they read indications on screens and on the bodies of patients and decide on the meaning of words framed by the context of acute care. In academia, although there is no incident report to fill when we misread or misrepresent complex philosophical ideas, the consequences of inaccurate reading include misplaced epistemological claims and poor scholarship. A long and broad convention of nursing phenomenological research, in its various forms, claims a philosophical grounding in the ideas of Husserl, Heidegger, and other thinkers. But for nearly two decades, nurse phenomenologists' knowledge claims have been challenged by well-informed criticisms, most notably by John Paley. At the heart of criticism lies an observation that Continental phenomenological thought is misrepresented in many nursing sources and that nursing phenomenology, both descriptive and interpretive, cannot appeal to the authority of either Husserl or Heidegger. Taking these criticisms seriously, I am asking, Is phenomenology after Paley possible? If misreading seems to be an issue, how can – or should – we read rigorously? My thinking through these questions is influenced by the ideas of Jacques Derrida. Under a condition of a play of language, of Derridian différance, when meaning is never self-identical and never fully arrives, I suggest that one has to negotiate meanings through reading for differences. I develop this idea in relation to the methodological conventions of phenomenological nursing research and argue for a careful rereading of the whole field of phenomenological nursing research. Such rereading presupposes and necessitates interdisciplinary engagement between nursing and the humanities and interpretive social sciences. Greater familiarity with research practices of those disciplines that stress theoretical and writing rigour might make visible the limits of nursing research approaches and their quality criteria. An understanding of philosophical and theoretical works – a condition of quality scholarship – depends on our reading of both originary texts and contemporary literature from the humanities and the social sciences. This understanding, far from obliging researchers to always trace (often erroneously) their work to its philosophical roots, opens other, often more sound, methodological possibilities.