'The body in question': presence, paradox and the practice of nursing

Draper, Janet (2010). 'The body in question': presence, paradox and the practice of nursing. (unpublished).


Pro-vice chancellor, in my 30th year of being in nursing, it is very special to stand here today in front of family, friends and colleagues – both past and present – and give my inaugural lecture.

Occasions like this are, of course, rites of passage, marking the transitions we make in life, from one status or position to another. But today is not merely a celebration of my own rite of passage to professorship. I want it equally to be a way of formally acknowledging the investment others have made in my journey of becoming. My family who have always, through thick and thin, supported my academic ambitions and aspirations. And of course colleagues both past and present, who have over the years and in many different ways influenced my thoughts and actions. This inaugural is therefore a celebration of all our efforts.

I wonder what some of you might have thought, when you read the summary of the lecture content on the posters and invitations. Were you interested? Intrigued? Did you understand it? My family told me there were too many big words! So, I hope that in delivering a theoretical inaugural lecture, I can make it understandable, thought-provoking, entertaining and, perhaps most importantly, relevant to our practice as nurses and educationalists. So, let the lecture begin!

With respect to the title, the lecture could be about a whole number of different bodies: the body of nursing, the statutory regulatory body, bodies of knowledge, bodies of evidence, professional bodies, a body of people, the body of the nurse, or the body of the patient. However, what I’m going to focus on is what might be described as the ‘literal’ body (as opposed to metaphors of the body) – the body of the patient in particular, and also the body of the nurse.

There has been an explosion of writing over the last 20 years, across a range of disciplines on the body and embodiment – that is what it means to live in and through the body. As a predominantly ‘body-based’ profession, nursing serves to benefit significantly from these theoretical insights and yet, with a few notable exceptions, theoretical and empirical investigation of the body in mainstream nursing has remained largely neglected. So, despite the body being so obvious in the work of nurses – the body of the person ‘to-be-healed’ (the patient) and also the body of ‘the healer’ (the nurse) – its presence is strangely absent. This inaugural lecture is all about this paradox.

It is arranged in three parts. The first part – ‘presence’– locates my own interest in this area and briefly describes the centrality of our bodies to our existence and identity and how our presence in the world is all body-based. In the second part – ‘paradox’ – I set out a brief history of the development of different forms of authoritative, body-knowledge before reaching the hub of my argument, which is that despite increasing interest in ‘the body’, the emphasis on ‘body theory’ has, paradoxically, left bodies out. In the final section – ‘practice’ – I ask why all this matters and how, through a process of embodied engagement, we might (with thanks to the sociologist Arthur Frank) ‘bring bodies back in’ to nursing.

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