Nursing and Critical Theory Research Paper

Nursing and Critical Theory

Nursing theorists have come to recognize that nursing is an institution that is inseparable from the social context in which it is embedded. Furthermore, since researcher and practitioner are immersed in this social context, the prejudices that inform their practices are influenced by their sociocultural backgrounds. In order to combat prejudices that represent social forms of domination and inequality, critical theory has been adopted by theorists and researchers, who follow the theoretical insights of the Frankfurt School and the form of criticism it has leveled upon more traditional epistemologies — namely, positivism.

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The critical theory, or the Frankfurt School, is a project that was initiated by Max Horkheimer in the 1930s. According to Horkheimer, critical theory was a method for protecting people from false consciousness, which could prevent them from identifying their true interests. Therefore, critical theory, from its inception, has been interested in liberating man from all forms of domination, which might be perpetuated by the false ideology that is disseminated by the ruling class (Kim & Holter, 1995).

Critical theory has expanded from the original insights made by Horkheimer to include the writings of influential social theorists such as, “…Habermas and Freire, and other figures, belonging to feminist, grassroots and emancipatory movements. (Weaver, 2006: p. 461)” Habermas, who eventually assumed the chair of the Frankfurt School, has been its most influential contributor for the past 25 years.

In addition to its goal of identifying the false consciousness cultivated by the spread of the ruling class ideology, critical theory attempts to remedy such a condition through normative proposals. In other words, critical theory works to construct prescriptions intended to produce a state that is free from false consciousness and the forms of domination that it legitimizes (Kim & Holter, 1995).

According to Kim and Holter (1995), it is Habermas’ conceptualization of the ideal speech situation that can be applied when formulating prescriptions for nursing. Habermas stipulated that the “ideal speech situation” consists of interactions that possess symmetry and reciprocity. When the nurse interacts with patients, he or she should attempt to do so under conditions that approximate the ideal speech situation. Therefore, the nurse would engage in dialogue with the patient that she or he attends under conditions that allow both interlocutors to coequally address one another with either their own validity claims or arguments raised against the validity claims of the counterpart.


Kim, H.S., & Holter, I.M. (1995). Critical Theory for Science of Nursing Practice. In A. Omery, C.E. Kasper & G.G. Page (Eds.), In Search of Nursing Science. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication Inc.

Weaver, K. (2006). Understanding paradigms used for nursing research. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 53(4), 459 — 469.

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