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Pierre Bourdieu: Expanding the scope of nursing research and practice


  • Nursing

Document Type

Published Date

  • 2017-10


  • Bourdieu is an important thinker within the sociological tradition and has a philosophically sophisticated approach to theoretical knowledge and research practice. In this paper, we examine the implication of his work for nursing and the health sciences more broadly. We argue that his work is best described as a reflexive realist who provides a space for a nonpositivist approach to knowledge that does not fall into the trap of idealism or relativism. We emphasize that Bourdieu was not an abstract theorist, but only utilized theories to understand and explain the social world in all its empirical complexity. Theory is emphasized over method without denying the importance of method. We then provide a brief overview of some of his key concepts: habitus, field and capital. His work is a scientifically astute practice that has an emancipatory purpose, with particular resonance to the problems of nursing as a social practice. Some have criticized Bourdieu for undermining agency and we briefly address this issue, but argue that his conceptual framework helps us to understand what endures in social practice and why change is often problematic. In short, this paper argues that Bourdieu's work is a fruitful resource for critiquing existing nursing approaches that are preoccupied with agency over structure.
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