A Social Realist Investigation of Academic Nursing: Specialisation and Semantics

Friday, July 15, 2011: 1:45 PM

Martin S. McNamara, EdD, MA, MSc, MEd, BSc, RN
Gerard Fealy, PhD, MEd, BNS, RGN, RPN, RNT
Ruth Geraghty, MSc, MA, BA
UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems, UCD Dublin, Dublin 4, Ireland

Learning Objective 1: ...understand the relevance of recent theoretical developments in the sociology of education for understanding the structure of fields such as academic nursing.

Learning Objective 2: ...apply Legitimation Code Theory to the knowledge structure of academic nursing and consider its implications for its current status and future trajectory in the academy.

Aim: To analyse the implications for the field of academic nursing of its knowledge structure, drawing on social realist inspired developments in the sociology of education and, specifically, Maton's Legitimation Code Theory (LCT), which extends and integrates the work of Bourdieu and Bernstein.  Irish academic nursing is used as an illustrative case to demonstrate the relevance and utility of this form of analysis and, in particular, of the concepts of knower and knowledge specialization, verticality, grammaticality, and semantic density and gravity.   

Background: Nursing education transferred to Irish higher education in 2002, yet its place in the academy, the academic legitimacy of its faculty and the field's relevance to its professional base remain contested.

Method: Using Wengraf’s Biographic Narrative Interpretive Method, interviews were conducted with a purposive sample of former nurse tutors (n= 15) that assumed faculty positions in 2002. The aim was to elicit 'languages of legitimation' by which respondents discursively attempted to carve out and maintain an intellectual and institutional space for their discipline, and for themselves, in academia, and through which they constructed a particular representation of their field.  This construction was then analysed using key concepts of LCT.

Findings: The field of academic nursing in Ireland exhibits weak verticality – it possesses limited stimuli for cumulative and integrative knowledge building, and weak grammaticality – it’s theories and concepts relate only ambiguously to its professional base.  The field focuses more on the axiological – the dispositions or gazes of knowers, than the epistemological – powerful and cumulative knowledge.

Conclusions: LCT provides a means of analyzing the knowledge structure of academic fields and assessing its implications for their progression and development.  For academic nursing, LCT points to the need to focus on the stimuli that encourage cumulative and relevant knowledge building and to consider the reasons for the enduring appeal of knower-centred discourses.