Thinking about Ideas in Nursing: 13th Philosophy in the Nurse’s World/23rd International Philosophy of Nursing Society Conference

Welcome to Jessica Dillard-Wright, who has now joined our
Nursology.net blogging team!
Jessica is a founding member of the
Nursing Theory Collective and
currently a PhD Student at Augusta University (Georgia)

I knew I was going to love Moby-Dick when I read the line, “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; […] especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can” (Melville, 1851/1953, p. 17). And I did love it, still do. Sometimes the hypos get the upper hand of me, too, in particular when I am mired in the politics of nursing and education (not to mention the state of affairs we find ourselves in more broadly in the United States). This is especially the case when my ideas feel a couple of standard deviations outside the nursing norm. And then I find my way toward the niches and corners where other nurse dissidents reside and it’s like being at sea. 

The 13th Philosophy in the Nurse’s World/23rd International Philosophy of Nursing Society Conference was held August 18-20, 2019 in Victoria, B.C., a glorious coastal town IPONSlogothat satisfies the seaward impulse and welcomes a conference full of nursing philosophers. Dr. Thomas Foth’s opening plenary on the evening of the 18th softened my perioral grimness, asking us to contemplate the disciplinary apparatuses imposed through humanitarian efforts, focusing specifically on Canadian harm reduction and safe injection efforts for intravenous drug users. Here, Foth made the case that such humanitarian efforts paradoxically perpetuate individualist downstream interventions while failing to address structural inequalities. To this end, humanitarian efforts then shore up the neoliberal state, which in turn reproduces individual inequality and suffering. Foth concluded that the way forward for nursing was political action, oriented toward structural solutions to eliminate the foundations of human suffering. 

The question of politics was picked up in the second plenary session on the morning of the 19th, delivered by Dr. Sally Thorne. Thorne advanced a discussion of Carper’s ways of knowing in which she critiqued the dimension of personal ways of knowing. Thorne cited anti-science views held and advanced by some individual nurses, using anti-vaccination beliefs. Thorne urged nurses to develop a collective set of priorities and to use these priorities as a way to advance nursing writ large in an effort to avoid getting mired in individual nurses’ politics and beliefs. Following Thorne’s plenary, the concurrent sessions began.

In Dr. Kylie Smith’s collaboration with Foth on nursing history as philosophy, my soul found further refuge as Smith unpacked the complex legacy of nursing, the notion of care, and the work required for nurses to contribute to health equity and social justice. This marked another commonality in the concurrent sessions, which explored the hidden and suppressed stories of nursing, including the history of nursing, the colonialist and racist narratives housed within nursing’s assumptions, and the connection of nursing to greater social, cultural, and global challenges like climate injustice, enforced ignorance, and the impact of capitalism.

The critical thread that kicked off the conference was again picked up in a remarkable series of papers in the final concurrent session Dr. Marilou Gagnon first gave a concept analysis of the notion of “whistleblowing” in nursing, unpacking the complexity and muddiness of the concept. This was followed by Dr. Amelie Perron’s talk on the effects of ignorance and knowledge in nursing, advancing the idea of whistleblowing as an act of “epistemic disobedience,” challenging hegemonic order in nursing and healthcare systems. Together, Gagnon and Perron are directing the Nursing Observatory, a project focused on analyzing, acting, amplifying critical perspectives in Canadian nursing. The closing plenary was delivered by Dr. Janet Rankin, an empirical analysis of the “ruling forces” that shape nursing practice as nursing becomes increasingly technologically-dependent.

Of note, in contextualizing ideas in the nurses’ world, most of the papers (including those not commented on specifically here!) connected nursing to “outside” ideas like posthumanism, New Materialism, radical feminism, intersectionality, poststructuralism, neoliberalism, and social justice, situating nurses as political agents, encouraging nurses to engage critically with the ideas and influences that impact their practice, the communities they serve, their profession, and the world around them. A balm for the November drizzle, “the great flood-gates of the wonder world swung open” (p. 21) revealing possibility for nursing praxis, education, philosophy, and policy (Melville, 1851/1953). A call to political action for nursing. If you are interested in reading more, you can find the concurrent session abstracts here.

Currently, the International Philosophy of Nursing Society website is under construction but IPONS would love to have you. Please contact Mark Risjord at mrisjor@emory.edu to join. Look for more information soon on the IPONS conference for 2020, which will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden. 

References

Melville, H. (1953). Moby-dick or the white whale. London, UK: Collins Clear-Type Press.

(Original work published 1851).

 

This was written in conjunction with Jane Hopkins Walsh, who also attended IPONS 2019.