Journal of Professional Nursing

A View of Nursing Knowledge Development Through Postmodern Glasses 

Stephen Neville, RCpN, BA (Nursing), MCNA (NZ), Senior Academic Staff Member, Christchurch Polytechnic 

Reference:  Neville, S. (1997) A view of Nursing Knowledge development through Postmodern Glasses. Nursing Praxis in New Zealand, 12(3), 16-23.


This paper explores postmodernism in relation to the development of nursing knowledge.  Although there is no all-encompassing definition of postmodernism there is a growing body of knowledge, originating from postmodern thought, that is critical of modernity and the pervasive way it has influenced our world, particularly in nursing.  Nursing education, research, practice and knowledge development have been influenced by scientific methodologies based on empirical ways of viewing the world and developing knowledge.  Consequently, other forms of knowledge are seen as mere speculation, opinions that are not accepted as accurate conceptualisations of knowledge.  As nursing has been influenced by the modern paradigm it is important we enter the postmodern debate in order to respond to rapidly changing health care systems and to fulfil our social mandate with our communities.  Critical thinking and reflexive practice are two ways of challenging the status quo and have been used here as an example of how postmodernism can be utilised to assist in the development of nursing knowledge. 

postmodernism, modernism, nursing knowledge

Postmodernism is an exasperating term and so are postmodern, postmodernist, postmodernity, and whatever else one might come across in the way of derivation (Bertens, 1995, p. 3).  There has been a multitude of articles and books published since the late 1950’s on postmodernism, all of which are critical of the modernist paradigm.  Lyotard (1984, p.xxiii) uses the term modern “to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse … making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialects of the Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth”.

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