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Towards understanding the unpresentable in nursing: some nursing philosophical considerations

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While nursing practice embodies certain observable and sometimes habitual actions, much inheres in these actions that is not immediately discernible. Taking on Lyotard's exegesis of the unpresentable, I undertake an analysis of the unpresentable as it occurs in nursing practices. The unpresentable is a place of alterity often excluded from dominant discourses. Yet this very alterity is what practising nurses face day after day. Drawing from two nursing situations, one from a hermeneutic phenomenological study and the other from the literature, I elucidate the unpresentable from a nursing point of view. Evoking Lyotard as well as selected philosophers from the continental philosophical tradition, I also question whether nursing in its present discourse is capable of responding to the unpresentable in nursing situations. Through the philosophical stance of presentation and representation, I delineate the urgent need to bring the otherness of the unpresentable into our nursing discourse. Nurses in practice confront a wide array of human differences and diversities and come to the realization that no framework alone can ever really have primacy over the multiform presentations of human suffering that so strikingly evoke alterity.

Keywords: nursing practices; nursing theory; philosophy; presentation; representation; unpresentable

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006


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