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Narrating Nursing Jurisdiction: “Atrocity Stories” and “Boundary-Work”


Direct all correspondence to Davina Allen, Centre for Nursing, Health and Social Care Research, School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies, University of Wales College of Medicine, Health Park, Cardiff CF14 4XN, UK; e-mail:


Sociologists have long recognized that the division of labor is, at its root, a process of social interaction. Although “negotiations” figure centrally in symbolic interactionist studies of work, relatively little attention has been given to the ways in which the structure of workplace talk contributes to the social constitution of occupations. Drawing on the insights of discourse and conversation analysis, this article examines occupational atrocity stories and considers how they accomplish boundary-work in the hospital setting. I focus on the stories British nurses told about doctors and use data generated in ethnographic research into the routine accomplishment of nursing jurisdiction. I conclude with some general observations about how the detailed analysis of stories and storytelling can contribute to the wider study of social group formation.