History of the Journal “Nursing Inquiry”

Contributor: Sally Thorne, RN, PhD, FAAN, FCAHS, FCAN

Mysteries of Publishing
History of Nursing Journals

Nursing Inquiry is an international peer-reviewed Journal of interest to nurses, health care professionals, social scientists and health policy makers on ideas and issues pertaining to nursing and healthcare. Established as a vehicle for critical reflection and substantive dialogue on topics of emerging interest internationally, it aims to foster debate and dialogue, advance new conceptualizations, and challenge current thought on a wide range of nursing and health phenomena. The Journal publishes original research, discussion papers, review articles and commentaries on topics consistent with its aims and scope.

In the early 1990s, although many nurses had begun to appreciate the potential value of the social sciences and humanities for shedding new light on some of the intricate complexities of nursing practice, it was difficult to find a publishing venue for scholarly work that was not explicitly research reporting or nursing theorizing. Mainstream nursing journals prioritized evidence building over philosophical discussions about nursing, and although social science journals were comfortable with theorizing, they were less interested in what its relevance might be to nursing. This led a group of Australian nurses at La Trobe University to envision a new kind of nursing journal – one that explicitly valued a focus on the essence of nursing practice, but was willing to entertain experiments in thinking about it from the perspective of critical and social theorizing. They began by compiling a self-published collection of such scholarly papers, and were thrilled when they were approached by representatives of the Blackwell publishing house with the opportunity to formalize this kind of work into a new journal. A delightful photo exists commemorating the official launch of this new journal, to be named Nursing Inquiry.

Judith Parker

The inaugural edition of the journal in 1994, under the editorship of Dr. Judith Parker, set out the initial aims and scope as follows: “The Editor welcomes contributions on philosophical, historical, methodological, ethical and substantive issues relating to everyday nursing” (Parker, 1994, p. i). This expression of ‘everyday nursing’ was strategic, in that a central interest to this group of scholars was that which is intimately familiar to the practice of the discipline but largely ‘unremarked’ in a scholarly context, including the thoughts, feelings and actions associated with practice that are so frequently normalized and overlooked as having clinical, scientific or theoretical significance. That first edition also introduced an international Editorial Board comprised of recognized thought leaders whose work reflected that joint commitment to critical social theorizing/philosophizing, and the nursing discipline. These included Margarete Sandelowski, David Allen, Anneli Sarvimäki, Joan Anderson, James Smith, Beverly Henry and Anne Marie Rafferty, each of whom had written letters of support for the development of the journal.

Over the years, Blackwell merged with the Wiley publishing house, and Wiley assumed responsibility for the scholarly journals section. Its Melbourne branch was transferred to the central office in Oxford, UK, which remains the journal’s publishing home. This move signaled an explicitly international focus for the journal, requiring the journal community to withstand the colonial forces of publishing standardization as it continued to value the various intellectual fashions and writing style conventions of nurses around the world. A distinctive characteristic of the journal that has remained to this day is respect for author preference in spellings (eg North American versus British conventions), and the willingness to allow authors to ‘push back’ with respect to ways in which they chose to use distinctive language signifiers to construct and deconstruct meanings (Thorne, 2022).

Sioban Nelson

In 2006, Dr. Sioban Nelson (also at the University of Melbourne at that time, although she later relocated to Canada), formally took on the role of Editor-in-Chief. She had worked closely alongside Judy Parker for several years by that time, and shared her commitment to the special nature of the journal. A nurse historian, she also added a deep commitment for the relevance of historical theorizing in building an understanding of present-day nursing practice issues. Sioban furthered the international reach of the journal, building up a community of thoughtful peer reviewers and authors who were at the leading edge of disciplinary thinking about matters of central importance to nursing and health care globally. In 2011, I was appointed to the Editor-in-Chief role and have greatly benefited from the ongoing engagement of these two former editors, both of whom remain enthusiastic about the mission and vision of the journal as it evolves over time. In the journal’s 30th Anniversary edition, the three of us published a history of the journal, drawing on insights articulated in several of our various editorials over the years and our own reflections on how the relevance of the journal to the ongoing study of nursing has developed over the decades (Parker, Nelson & Thorne, 2023).

Nursing Inquiry continues to publish work that demonstrates critical reflection on the ideas that shape nursing and health care. And from time to time it hosts special editions on topics of emerging interest, such as Critical Realism, Beyond the Gender Binary, Anti-Racism, and Critical Posthumanism.  Although the popular social theorists from whom nurses gain inspiration may have shifted over time, and nursing practice has certainly undergone major developments with the evolution of health care services and systems, the matter of what it is to do nursing and why that is so very important remains the journal’s abiding focus.


Parker, J. (1994). Editorial. Nursing Inquiry, 1(1), 1-2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1440-1800.1994.tb00117.x

Parker, J., Nelson, S., & Thorne, S. (2023). Editorial: Nursing Inquiry at 30. Nursing Inquiry, 30(1), e12543. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nin.12543

Thorne, S. (2022). The evolving language of diversity. Nursing Inquiry, 29(2), e12491. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nin.12491

About Sally Thorne

Dr. Thorne is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Nursing Inquiry. She is a Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Her scholarly interests over the years have included nursing epistemology and philosophy, qualitative methodology, and human experience in the complex contexts of cancer, chronic illness, and end-of-life. She is a Fellow of the American and Canadian Academies of Nursing and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, and was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau’s Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame.

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