Power and empowerment in nursing: a fourth theoretical approach

Caroline Bradbury-Jones, Sally Sambrook, Fiona Irvine

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    87 Citations (Scopus)


    Aim. This paper is a discussion of the use of poststructuralism as a means of exploring power and empowerment in nursing.

    Background. Power and empowerment are well-researched areas of nursing practice, but the issue of how to empower nurses and patients continues to cause debate. Power and empowerment are complex issues and other researchers have provided some clarity by proposing three theoretical approaches: critical social theory, organizational theory and social psychological theory. We support their work and propose an additional poststructural approach as a means of analyzing power and empowerment in nursing.

    Discussion. The concept of power in nursing may be critiqued by drawing on the work of Michel Foucault and paying particular attention to two areas: disciplinary power and knowledge/power relationships. Foucault's contention was that behaviour is standardized through disciplinary power and that power and knowledge are intertwined. Nurses who seek an understanding of empowerment must first grasp such workings as hierarchical observation, normalizing judgement, the examination, and power/knowledge relationships, and that cognizance of such issues can promote nursing practice that is empowering. They need to adopt a more critical stance to understanding power and empowerment in nursing, and one way of fostering such criticism is to view nursing practice through a poststructural lens.

    Conclusion. A poststructural approach merits a place alongside other approaches to understanding power and empowerment in nursing.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)258-266
    Number of pages9
    JournalJournal of Advanced Nursing
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2008


    • Empowerment
    • Nursing
    • Poststructuralism


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