University of Sussex
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What happens to bruised or damaged nurses?

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posted on 2023-06-08, 19:06 authored by Mark Radcliffe
This project is largely creative in nature offering the first half of a now published novel entitled Stranger Than Kindness and a textual and critical analysis of that novel that explores the experience of traumatized or ‘bruised’ nurses. The novel, half set in 1989 and half set in 2013, follows the clinical and personal traumatization of two nurses and their tentative steps towards restoration. It reveals a backdrop of a sometimes subtle institutionalized brutality and a culture that lends itself to the individual collection or absorption of difficulty. It uses gentle magical realism to counterpoint the gritty backdrop of the pre-community care asylum of the 1980s and the neoliberal, free market setting of the modern world of healthcare in the second half of the book. It’s dénouement is a celebration of whimsy in the face of hard industrialized science. The novel reveals the capacity of the nurse to collect emotional residue, trauma or bruising and be both changed and hurt by the experience of care to the point of being damaged. It essentially resorts to poetics to explore the ‘felt’ world of the nurse or carer. In tone and in theme the book is a novel of the emotions. Valuing an emotional literacy over medical rationalism, it seeks to gently reclaim the idea that caring for others is a pursuit or enactment of embodied wisdom rather than just the exercising of scientific knowledge. The critical discussion uses the text of the novel to make three observations in relation to the research question. The first is that the question is political. It is strikingly unaddressed in policy responses to ‘The Francis Report’ (2013) and perhaps in terms of mainstream research it is unaskable because it addresses the felt world. In the same way that the novel explores a hierarchy of values in the caring profession, the ensuing critical discussion reveals a hierarchy of knowledge. The second observation is that it is our tacit understanding of what reason is and how we make sense of the world we have constructed that helps make questions about bruised or damaged nurses somehow beyond convention. Iain McGilchrist’s The Master And His Emissary (2009) offers a way of making sense of that by exploring the contemporary imbalance between the logical and linear thinking of the left hemisphere and the integrative and imaginative right hemisphere. We have come to prize the measurable over the experiential or contextual and reflective to such an extent that we organize the world accordingly. The third observation, which emerges from the first two and the novel, is the suggestion that nursing is assuming an ill-fitting Cartesian epistemology that cannot do justice to its breadth or holistic need. I suggest that a philosophy that took clearer account of the body, the senses and the felt world would more comfortably accommodate and legislate for the needs of the nurse and the profession of nursing. An embodied realism (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999) that emerges from Damasio (2000, 2012) and Merleau-Ponty (2005) offers the potential to restore a more balanced and less reductionist philosophy that might enable a fuller and more person-centred response to the nursing crises. A further more general observation the thesis makes is that fiction can inform social science and offers a way in which it can do that. Thus it finds itself in a tradition of narrative inquiry (Clandinin and Connelly, 2000). However, it also notices the potential paradox in valuing art as a sociological resource: something that offers us knowledge, meaning and even moral review while turning to cognitive neuroscience to legitimize that methodology.


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  • doctoral

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  • eng


University of Sussex

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