Becoming a nurse : cultural identity and self-representation for mature women

Harden, Jane (1999) Becoming a nurse : cultural identity and self-representation for mature women. Doctoral thesis, University of Northumbria at Newcastle.

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Abstract

This thesis sets out the pluralism of six women's experiences when attending a preregistration nursing programme. It is concerned with the process of 'becoming' a nurse; particularly, how women students produce new cultural identities. Much has been written about how education 'empowers' women, and how this 'empowerment' leads to conflict and tension as consciousness is raised to the circumstances of their oppression. Feminist research in the modernist tradition has privileged the subject as the authentic and authoritative source of knowledge, but in postmodern terms their subjectivities are just another product of dominant discourses. My first thesis, therefore, is that women do not 'change' because of the 'emancipatory' nature of education. To suggest that they do would be to assume that their subjectivities are in some way fixed and
unitary, and that the learning process may 'switch' them to another different fixed unitary position, albeit an 'enlightened' one.
By adopting a postmodernist perspective, the autobiographical narratives of the women, which one may consider prosaic, or even mundane, can be deconstructed to reveal the discursive practices which shape their subjectivities. I have undertaken this deconstruction by employing a specific methodological tool. Borrowed from the discipline of literary criticism, a chronotopic analysis has allowed a theorization of the subject as decentred and detotalized. The different subject positions which were presented by the women students are influenced by a variety of prevailing discourses, and so reveal the individual as a site of identity production. Chronotopic analysis can, in a sense, situate the subject within specific discourses, at specific time/space juxtapositions.
The professional education of nursing equips the women with a language that allows for a better articulation of the plurality of their multiple subjectivities. Thus the impression of 'change' is given in what is a site of tension for them as they struggle to represent themselves in the process of 'becoming' a nurse. But there is also an assumption that nursing is a 'fixed' thing too, that people pass through its educational processes, entering as 'non-nurse' and leaving as 'nurse'. However, nursing provides a pluralistic experience also, and, in doing so, it articulates a multiplicity of competing discourses which too are ever changing. Thus, the women in my study are in a constant struggle of identity production and their professional experiences can only be expressed within given nursing discourses, while their personal experiences can only be expressed through popular cultural discourses. My second thesis is that both these forms of discourse which pervade nursing have served to repress and subjugate it as a profession.
This research then, gives the women a voice for a brief moment. Like a kaleidoscope we see the arrangement of their self-representational practices within the professional space. But discourses are ever changing and the arrangement of the women's identities will constantly change, for in the metaphorical kaleidoscope, language is the mirror. Language is dynamic, and we may never see this particular representation again. The process of 'becoming', by definition, never actually ends, nor is it confined to professional spaces. It does however allow us a view of a
profession in transition.
My choice of research participant was that of 'mature' women; this implied that they could adopt a range of subject positions not available to the traditional nursing student (a female aged 18-20) by virtue of the simple fact that they have lived longer.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: Thesis digitised by the British Library e-thesis online service, EThOS.
Subjects: B700 Nursing
L300 Sociology
Department: University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: Ellen Cole
Date Deposited: 25 Oct 2019 15:22
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2019 16:07
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/15724

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