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May 2022

Contra-Foucault: Soldiers, nurses and power

Journal/Book: Sociology. 1996; 30: Unit 3G, Mountjoy Research Ctr,, Stockton Rd, Durham, Durham, England DH1 3UR. British Sociological Assoc. 59-78.

Abstract: The primary purpose of this paper is to challenge the assumptions that lie behind the Foucauldian concepts of power and surveillance. The argument is made in two stages. The first stage, concentrating on Foucault's general theory of power, attempts to demonstrate that his nominalism, in combination with his contention that power is ubiquitous, leads to analytic confusion if applied to substantive instances. First, the structural determinates of power differentials are hidden from view. Second, it becomes impossible to differentiate between different degrees of power. Empirical support for this position comes from a comparative examination of the powers of surveillance enjoyed by Irish nurses and British soldiers. The second stage of the argument challenges the Foucauldian notion that the surveillance and 'subjectification' of individuals is universally becoming more intense and ubiquitous. This is done by critically engaging with neo-Foucauldian commentaries on nursing, which have portrayed it as part of the ever-encroaching matrix of surveillance. Empirical support for this challenge is based upon ethnographic interviews with clinical nurses.

Note: Article S Porter, Queens Univ Belfast, Dept Sociol & Social Policy, Belfast BT7 1NN, Antrim, North Ireland

Keyword(s): Foucault; nursing; power; surveillance; military; Ireland; KNOWLEDGE; PATIENT

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