Tag: Sociological imagination

“The University in Ruins”

Constructing the Paraversity using the web.

 

Introduction

Higher Education institutions across the globe are changing and changing fast. Several writers have expressed dismay, as well as seeing opportunities to move in different directions, in response to what has been called the ‘University in Ruins’ (Readings 1996).

 

Gary Rolfe (2013), picking up on Reading’s work addressed ‘scholarship in the corporate university’ and suggested that academics must ‘dwell in the ruins’ in an authentic and productive way through the development of a community of philosophers who will dissent, subvert and challenge the ‘corporate university’ from within. Tools for subversion are at hand. Social media, blogging, open access journals and the development of new academic websites such as Researchgate and academia.edu, give academics new ways to reach students, and indeed anybody, way beyond the physical confines of their campus. Accepting that there are issues of peer review and hence quality, these tools allow free access and may facilitate dialogue in ways unheard of just few years ago. This paper explores the ruins, argues for critical dissensus, and shares one experience of using such tools and suggests that this might then assist in building Rolfe’s ‘community of philosophers’ or what Slavoj Žižek has called ‘liberated territories’ (Žižek 2008).

 

Following a note on pedagogy and addressing what the purpose of education  might be,  the idea of the Paraversity will be outlined, and importantly a central notion of dissensus highlighted. Why nurse educators and student nurses should engage in dissensus, as well as professional training, is a point to be debated. To do so, I will refer to the work of C Wright Mills’ on ‘intellectual craftsmanship’. Secondly, an example of constructing this Paraversity will be shared, not that this is a paradigm case, but as only one way to do so, a way that of course may prove fruitless as we acknowledge the variety of approaches and uncertainty of any outcomes. Indeed ‘outcomes’ themselves may be part of the language of a certain mindset that is antithetical to the Paraversity.

So, what follows is a thesis, which may draw forth an antithesis resulting in a new synthesis, which in turn can be challenged. Consensus and agreement is not the point; dialogue is. This paper is overtly political; drawing upon Freire’s ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’, Marx and the heirs of Marx, to argue that nursing is locked into a matrix of social systems that are oppressive and marginalising, and that Higher Education itself, in the guise of the ‘University of Excellence’ is increasingly commodified, and losing its way as it tries to meet the needs of the ‘Knowledge Economy’ in the production of ‘Cognitive Capitalism’.  I argue we need to revisit the question ‘what is education for’?

 


 

A note on Pedagogy

 

Paulo Friere’s first premise concerns a humanistic value base, upon which a pedagogy should be constructed. The human being is a ‘subject’, rather than an ‘object’ ready for construction by oppressive forces. Our ‘ontological vocation’ is towards ‘humanization’; to be able to engage in ‘conscientização’   which is learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality.

Stephen Sterling (2001) later argued that we need a paradigm shift away from transmissive forms of education towards transformative forms of education. Transmitting an education that ensures graduates are better equipped to perform clinical skills is first order learning.  However it is a partial education at best. First order learning takes place within current educational boundaries and philosophies. It is adaptivelearning, e.g. the acquisition of skills and knowledge to assist in adapting to new roles as registered nurses.

 

Education ought to be a process of transforming individuals so that base values, assumptions and paradigms are taken into account and challenged  – this is what Sterling calls second and third order learning.

 

Second order learning involves critically reflective learning. This is about examining the assumptions that underpin first order learning.

Third order learning is transformative learning and allows us to change perspectives and paradigms. It is creative, is a ‘shift in consciousness’, and involves a ‘deep awareness of alternative world views’ (Sterling 2001 p15).

 

Education in this sense is for humanity rather than just the transmission of knowledge, skills and values for the corporate, or employment, sphere. The Paraversity could be such a space in which this pedagogy operates. Thus, the process of education is as important, if not more important, than the end product. However, this is an issue for nurse education – to what degree is the product more important than the process? Do certain professional values, regulation and the needs for an NHS workforce outweigh the experience of a critical pedagogy? If so, are we constructing the student as passive object, who also self governs, rendering them unable to engage with countervailing voices against a one dimensional political hegemony in which the ‘market is king’?

We need to challenge pedagogical assumptions because, contrary to what many would have us believe, history has not ended, business can’t be ‘as usual’ and this is not ‘the best of all possible worlds’:

“The truth is that many things on which our future health and prosperity depend are in dire jeopardy….this is not the work of ignorant people. Rather it is largely the results of work by people with BAs, BScs, LLBs, MBAs and PhDs.” (Orr 2004 p.7)

The global financial crisis of 2007-8 was not caused by blue collar workers, nurses or teachers, but arose out of the activities of very clever people recruited from so called elite universities, many of whom studied economics mired in orthodoxy, rendering it unable to foresee the systemic risk building up within finance capital.

Jihadist social movements have gained ground in part to the ideologically based bumblings of Yale, Harvard and Oxbridge Educated elites, who with characteristic hubris and with appalling lack of insight, declared ‘mission accomplished’, and are now fretting about ‘radicalisation’ while doing little to address the socio-political causes of jihadist ideological narratives that drive young men and women into armed conflict.

Older people, their families, and those with mental health problems, in contemporary capitalist societies are experiencing crises in health and social care provision as successive governments have failed to put the interests of people before profits and capital accumulation.

With a few exceptions, for example Michael Burawoy’s (2004) notion of ‘public sociology’ or Paul Hawken’s notion of the ‘Blessed Unrest’, we have largely failed to produce enough countervailing voices, or a new vision of care that is fit for the 21st century. There is little in the way of critical guiding philosophies in operation for nursing beyond individualised biomedically dominated notions of ‘care and compassion’ in the context of instrumentally orientated curricula obsessed with competence – ‘doing rather than thinking’. This is not to deny the existence of critical voices in the literature, just to acknowledge the often ahistorical, apolitical and anti theoretical nature of what passes for scholarship in and for clinical practice.

This might seem irrelevant, idealistic, utopian and antithetical to professional nursing practice. Nonetheless, it is a notion that can be discussed within the paraversity as an element of dissensus.


 

What is the ‘paraversity’? (Rolfe 2013).

Gary Rolfe  suggest that the ‘paraversity’ runs alongside the visible University, going unnoticed or unseen. The paraversity is a ‘mental space’ of dissensus, seeking no unity of thought or acceptance of any grand narrative. As such, the Paraversity may well throw up an antithesis to this thesis. It is invisible, subversive and a virtual institution. It is not owned by corporate interests, it is not influenced directly by research bodies, funding streams or research programmes or corporate management strategies. The national student survey is irrelevant to its continuance. There will be no physically identified building or faculty – it exists in the form of a community of philosopher scholars exploring and deconstructing and reconstructing ideas.

In the paraversity there is no need to arrive at consensus or agreement or a system of unified thought. It does not exist to fulfil the corporate university’s aims and objectives, it is the ‘pursuit of difference’ to keep open debate and discussion and not to shut it down. It also operates to call the corporate university to intellectual account.

In this aim, it fosters countervailing voices to critique one dimensional thought and implicitly evokes the critical theory of Herbert Marcuse, Theodore Adorno and Louis Althusser, but is of course not merely the intellectual heir to such thought as if the matters regarding ontology, epistemology and philosophy were settled. This uncertainty of certainty could be potentially unsettling for nursing thought and practice which seeks certainty and truth in professional practice.

 

What are Universities for?

“In a world characterised by complexity and uncertainty, our long term survival lies…..in our willingness to bend the rules in unforeseen circumstances and even operate beyond our level of knowledge as we make our world view” (Paul Vare p2).

Vare acknowledges that the problems besetting the world require thinking differently, acting differently and challenging many long held assumptions. Academic disciplines which cannot evolve their thinking will produce graduates who will engage in ‘business as usual’ chasing fewer and fewer ‘plum’ jobs as they join the precariat (Standing 2011) as ‘graduates with no future’ (Mason 2012) .

 

The ‘University of Excellence’.

It might be argued that within the ‘Enlightenment’, the historic missions of Universities focused on ‘truth’ and ‘emancipation’. Docherty (2014) writes

“In 1946, the political theorist Hannah Arendt received a copy of The Idea of the University, which was written by her mentor, Karl Jaspers. Jaspers had revised the book, originally published in 1923, for the post-war context, when German universities needed to recover from explicit institutional and ideological conformism to Nazism. He advances a reconfiguration of academic freedom that, today, is everywhere threatened again, thanks to a failure of political will – and of leadership – that allows intellectual freedoms to be sacrificed to financial priorities. Writing to Jaspers on receipt of the book, Arendt firmly expressed the view that, given the cost of the higher education system, it must be state-funded. But it was vital that the professoriate should not thereby become tacitly politicised “civil servants”. Academic freedom meant that universities should be governed by intellectual demands, without improper political interference”.

Now, this narrative has been replaced with that of the neoliberal capitalist narrative of efficiency and profitability, i.e. the narrative of the market. Readings (1996) argued that the ‘pursuit of excellence’ within this narrative is a legitimising idea. However, ‘excellence’ refers more to administrative processes in which ‘excellence’ is a unit of measurement, devoid of qualitative content, which we now measure through such metrics as attrition, the number of firsts, impact factors, the number of research grants awarded and student perception questionnaires. An excellent nursing degree is one with low attrition, satisfied students, high employability and high numbers of firsts. Who would disagree with that?  Rolfe (2013) suggests this view of excellence is one of quantity rather than quality and brings us into the realms of ‘efficiency, profitability and administration’ (p9). He goes on to argue

“The vision and mission of the University has shifted from the production and dissemination of thought and ideas to the generation and sale of facts and data” (Rolfe 2013 p 81).

This suggests that the role of Universities now is often that of contributing to the local and national economy and to train graduates for the job market, and I would suggest that in many nursing departments that is the sole ‘raison d’etre’.

This instrumental orientation to nursing education (Goodman 2012) is evidenced by the dominance of competency based education, fit for practice, fit for purpose curricula, based on the NMC’s educational standards. The student nurse or graduate registrant who questions and critiques the ontological, political, ideological and epistemological assumptions upon which care is designed, delivered and evaluated would not be that welcome in clinical practice and perhaps only marginally tolerated in many nursing modules based on the transmission of facts and theories for clinical practice, grounded as many are in the assumptions of positivist and empiricist science. Nursing theory, let alone feminist or critical theory, may have disappeared from nurse education.  We may now be less able within nursing curricula to question the basis of social knowledge and care practices from critical perspectives that seeks to illuminate the subject positioning of women and the marginalisation of older people as unproductive burdens on society.

What is being lost is the notion of ‘intellectual craftmanship’ in favour of the search for empirical certainty, data and hard facts to guide practice. Indeed, evidence based practice education can be reduced to issues of methodology rather than issues of epistemology, philosophy and ontology. Perhaps many nurse scholars themselves have lost the ability to engage in this activity, and thus to be role models, buckling under the pressure to deliver clinical skills and other diverse teaching while also delivering empirically based research which provides facts and answers to practical questions. Many of course will have been schooled in the biomedical sciences and thus would not have had the critical epistemological enquiries and paradigms of social science. What we end up with is the pressure to produce ‘denotative’ writing – the telling and informing process through powerpoints and scientific reports as the dominant discourse of knowledge production and dissemination.  This is the ‘University of Excellence’.

 

What are academics for in the ‘University of Excellence’?

 

Brock (2014) asked “what is the function of the social movement academic’? However I would rephrase this and ask “what is one of the functions of the nurse academic? I would respond, as Brock does, with the suggestion that it is partly “to debunk the knowledge on which the powerful rest”.  One of those notions being peddled currently is that the NHS and society will not be able to afford care for older people,  that free at the point of delivery will no longer be possible, and that expensive external monitoring and inspections are worth the money spent on them. All the while corporates lobby behind the scenes for bits of the profitable NHS pie; see this list by Andrew Robertson on his site ‘social investigations’.

To engage in debunking requires ‘intellectual craftsmanship’ and is important for critical enquiry in the paraversity. What might that look like?

 

On Intellectual Craftsmanship  (C Wright Mills 1959).

 

In the appendix to ‘The Sociological Imagination’ Wright Mills outlined his view on ‘doing’ social science in which he suggested that ‘Scholarship’ is more important than empirical research for the social scientist. He considered that Empiricism was the ‘mere sorting out of facts and disagreements about facts’. Wright Mills’ critique of abstract empiricism contained in ‘The Sociological Imagination’ is that argument made manifest. Rules of method and arguments on methodological procedures and validity are just so much navel gazing which Wright Mills wished to avoid if he could possibly do so:

 

“Now I do not like to do empirical work if I can possibly avoid it” (p205) and “there is no more worth in empirical enquiry as such than in reading as such” (p 226).

 

The task of social science is thus to critically engage in the real world, joining personal experience and intellectual life through critical reflective reason as the

 

“advance guard in any field of learning” (p205).

He argued:

“It is the political task of the social scientist — as of any liberal educator — continually to translate personal troubles into public issues, and public issues into the terms of their human meaning for a variety of individuals. It is his task to display in his work — and, as an educator, in his life as well — this kind of sociological imagination. And it is his purpose to cultivate such habits of mind among the men and women who are publicly exposed to him. To secure these ends is to secure reason and individuality, and to make these the predominant values of a democratic society” (p187).

The personal trouble of obesity is a public issue not a personal moral failing of weak willed individuals. We must look to the role of fossil fuels instead of food, in providing energy; we must look at the marketing and distribution activities of the food industry; we must look to portrayals of the body in the media;  we must look to the structures od sedentary employment…..

Nurse educators might read this and think, actually, no it is not my political task at all!  Nurse students do not need to think about their personal lives and the lives of others as they relate to wider social and political issues…they need to be able to deliver care – to provide pain relief, comfort and explanations to vulnerable people, to interpret cardiac rhythms and administer medications, to assess wounds and decide upon management plans….that is the stuff of nursing and the rest of this is mere frippery. This is a view I have heard expressed by students as they cry “when are we going to learn proper nursing?”

In this they might be supported by the Corporate University which, in response to the demands of its customers, industry, commerce and the economy, has shifted the emphasis of the role of the academic from raising questions to providing answers, from problematizing to problem solving. Many nursing students want answers, not to raise questions. Thus empiricism and the tenets of positivistic science have been dragooned to support this mission. This is in opposition to many notions regarding personal and social transformation.

 

Michael Burawoy argued:

“The original passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better world, that drew so many of us to sociology, is channeled into the pursuit of academic credentials. Progress becomes a battery of disciplinary techniques—standardized courses, validated reading lists, bureaucratic ranking intensive examinations, literature reviews, tailored dissertations, refereed publications, the all-mighty CV, the job search, the tenure file, and then policing one’s colleagues and successors to make sure we all march in step. Still, despite the normalizing pressures of careers, the originating moral impetus is rarely vanquished, the sociological spirit cannot be extinguished so easily”.

Can we replace sociology with nursing in this paragraph? Can we say our original passions have been channeled into pointless mindnumbing bureaucratically led education programmes that do nothing to challenge or change the context of care in which currently we are facing major issues in mental health and the care of older people with long term conditions?

Antonio Gramsci’s (1971) archetypal theory of the intellectual may also be illuminative and raises questions about what we are here for. Gramsci described two types of intellectual: the ‘traditional’ and the ‘organic’. The traditional is the academic who secures the status quo and the organic as the activist whose function it was to ‘construct a transformative historical bloc’, an alternative basis of consent for social order (Cresswell and Spandler 2012 p4). Although written many decades ago, this archetype may well be seen within the corporate university which supports and encourages the traditional and ignores the activist.

Nursing, and nurse academics, have a question to address. Are we engaged in the development of a practice based discipline interested only in the ‘sorting out of facts and the disagreements of facts?’ Are we traditional and/or organic academics? Is there room for both, either as separate individuals or as two roles within the same person? Justification for the ‘discovery of facts’ may be founded on its usefulness for policy and clinical practice and of course should be foundational knowledge for clinical nursing practice, after all we do not want the wrong drug to be administered because we have not sorted out the ‘facts’.

However, empirical research does not take place within a political vacuum and it would be a mistake to see the relationship of research to policy and practice as a simple linear relationship. The purist model of ‘research-policy relationships’ which takes for granted that research informs policy action by generating knowledge, or the problem solving model whereby research is driven by the need for a policy answer, do not adequately describe the process and is a far too narrow a focus for scholarship. It just does not address some of the fundamental questions underpinning human health and well-being which are as much to do with human agency and social structures within certain political economies, as to do with biomedical processes.

Research and policy then is a political activity. Wright Mills in arguing for craftsmanship in intellectual life implicitly acknowledges in the Sociological Imagination the need to go beyond simple empirical knowledge in forming policy action when he enjoins social scientists in a political and intellectual task to clarify the contemporary causes of “uneasiness and indifference to personal troubles and public issues” (p13). The social scientist is not to merely describe the contemporary elements of social life, but to engage in it.

The use of the word ‘craft’, undefined by Mills, appears here to differentiate the activity from that of (mere?) mastery of elaborate discussions of research method and ‘theory-in-general’, which would quickly make one “impatient and weary” (p195). A craft suggests development of skill by diligent constant practice, honing one’s technique by reference to finished products and products in the process of being to evaluate their flaws and strengths and then adjust accordingly. This is reflexive practice in that the work as it continues is being constantly worked and reworked as required. It suggests leaps of imagination and intuitive thinking and practice in the creation of a project. It calls for a departure from strict adherence to a rigid structure of routines, methods and frameworks. It also suggests a measure of artistry in thinking.

The scholarly craftsman is his work as his craft develops alongside who he is. Scholarly craftsmanship then is a state of being not only doing:

When Wright Mills argued that:

“admirable thinkers…do not split their work from their lives” (p195), he also argued

“Scholarship is a choice of how to live as well as a choice of career” (p196).

And:

“Scholarship is writing”.

To undertake this craft he asked students and social scientists to keep a journal to enable the development of the intellectual life, of the craftsmanship of social science. This should consist of ideas, personal notes, excerpts from books, bibliographical items and outlines of projects. He suggests that journals should record ‘fringe thoughts’, snatches of conversation and even dreams. This will also include the taking of copious notes from books and this needs developing into a habit.

Since Wright Mills outlined notes on journal keeping there has been the explosion onto the scene of information technologies, elearning and web 2.0. These are now new tools that were unavailable to Wright Mills. However the essential nature of scholarly activity should not be lost in any infatuation with new technologies, rather these gateway technologies could facilitate critical enquiry, journal keeping and the connection of a community of philosopher scholars engaged in dissensus and critique through a process of what Paolo Freire called dialogics.

To assist in this process, scholars need to write, and to write essays or blogs and not just research reports; to engage in discussion and not just to tell; write to invite commentary, to clarify one’s thoughts, to learn about oneself as well as to explore ideas and investigate one’s area of interest. Nursing is a socio-political activity and not just an applied set of techniques; and as such requires critique, understanding, discussion, reflexivity and transformation. The corporate university may not be interested in these ‘outcomes’, fixated as it may be on contracted commissioning targets, workforce development, league tables, SPQ results, attrition rates and ill defined notions of the ‘student experience’. The early career nursing academic will be faced by a host of external constraints on their intellectual development and their ‘success’ or performance development reviews may rest on targets and values not of their own making. What may be ignored by ‘impact metrics’ is any of their writing, which is createdover and above the research ‘write up’ focused on answering an empirical question according to a matrix of methodological imperatives. Graham Scambler (2014), as a now retired academic,  makes the point that he benefitted from the freedom to engage in intellectual activity unchained from the demand s of the Corporate University chasing its position in league tables:

“I was rarely during my career forced onto the back-foot, obliged to define achievement in terms of research revenue generated or publications in high-impact journals.”

And…

“I have encountered several ‘young’ sociologists whose expertise by far exceeds mine and who have played significant roles in facilitating as well as contributing to virtual networking and innovation but whose pioneering expertise in social media remain institutionally unrecognized and unrewarded” (my emphasis).

 

Karl Marx, C Wright Mills, Antonio Gramsci, Paulo Freire, Pierre Bourdieu, Michael Burawoy,  recognized that intellectuals can play a crucial role in ideological warfare against the dominant classes. The Paraversity may assist in this by creating

 

“havens of thinking into which thinkers can migrate and from which thoughts can proliferate and social change can reify” (Žižek 2008).

 


 

What might the Paraversity begin to look like?

 

The examples below are not definitive, it is up to the community of scholars to construct the Paraversity and if it is based on dissensus, it may look very different and take on a dynamic nature. If the idea is to create dialogue, to share ideas, to critique, to go beyond the physical confines of the Corporate University, the web 2.0 technologies might assist in this process.

 

1. Social Science and Nursing

2. Graham Scambler

4. Benny Goodman’s blog

5. Researchgate

6. Academia.edu

7. Facebook

8. Twitter

 

The links above will provide examples of critical thought and the sharing of ideas accessible by anyone anywhere and at anytime. They provide platforms for commentary and feedback, both synchronously and asynchronously. Their credibility may be built upon already established reputations and research outputs and/or by the clarity and force of the arguments. They will stand or fall by the readership wanting to engage and share and the commitment and enthusiasm by the creator.

 

Conclusion

 

Human health and wellbeing depend on many things. Critical education and challenging taken for granted assumptions are part of the foundations for human progress, if we still believe in progress. Universities may not provide the fertile soil for critical enquiry and discourse, but we do not have to wait for this to occur. We can right now live in the ruins of the University and engage in scholarship that is subversive, critical and potentially engaging and do so in the full knowledge that traditional rewards and recognition may not be forthcoming. That makes it risky. That also makes it fun.

References

Brock T (2014) What is the function of the Social Movement Academic? The Sociological Imagination. http://sociologicalimagination.org/archives/15545

 

Burawoy, M. (2004) Public Sociologies: Contradictions, Dilemmas and Possibilities. Social Forces, 82(4), 1603-1618.

 

Cresswell M. and Spandler H. (2012) The Engaged Academic: Academic Intellectuals and the Psychiatric Survivor Movement, Social Movement Studies DOI:10.1080/14742837.2012.696821.

 

Docherty T (2014) Austerity canard stymies funding debate. THES. July 7th  http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.aspx?storyCode=2014367

 

Goodman B (2013) What are nurse academics for? Intellectual craftsmanship in an age of instrumentalism. Nurse Education Today 33: 87-89

 

Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks. Lawrence and Wishart. London

 

Mason, P. 2012 The graduates of 2012 will survive only in the cracks of our economy. The ‘Graduate without a future’ series. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jul/01/graduates-2012-survive-in-cracks-economy

 

Orr D. (2004) Earth in Mind. On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Island Press, Washington.

 

Rolfe G (2013) The University in Dissent. Routledge. London

 

Readings B (1996) The University in Ruins. Harvard University Press. Cambridge. MA.

 

Scambler, G. (2014) A 100th Blog: A reflexive interlude.http://www.grahamscambler.com/a-100th-blog-a-reflexive-interlude/#respond

 

Standing, G. (2011) The Precariat: the new dangerous class. Bloomsbury. London

 

Sterling S (2001). Sustainable Education – Revisioning Learning and Change, Schumacher Briefings 6. Green Books, Dartington.

 

Vare P (2014) Sustainability Literacy: role or goal? (online) http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/6202/Sustainability-Literacy-Blewitt-and-Vare.pdf in Stibbe A (2014) Handbook of Sustainability Literacy http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/stibbe-handbook-of-sustainability

 

Wright Mills C (1959) The Sociological Imagination. 40th Edition. Oxford University Press  Oxford.

 

Zizek S (2008) Violence. Profile. London.

 

Too posh to wash? Failures of the governing, managerial and political classes

Too posh to wash? Reflections on the future of Nursing.

 

When…only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we look to the character of the man, his skills and his immediate opportunities. When…15 million…are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find the solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual…Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of society and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals”. (C Wright Mills – The Sociological Imagination p9).

 

 

In the many contributions to the debate about poor quality care, there is often a distinct lack of a sociological imagination. While individuals can be rightly criticised for giving poor care, the antecedents are to be found beyond the personal trouble of individual nurses and their patients, and can be classed as a public issue: that of the political, social and economic failures of the governing, managerial and administering classes over the past few decades.

 

‘Too posh to wash’ is the title of a recent publication on the condition of nursing in 2013 and reflects newspaper headlines and the Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt’s, call to student nurses in March 2013. In it there is a range of contributions from various practitioners and experts on the delivery of care in the UK. They were asked to address various questions:

 

1. Why do we have lapses in nursing care and what needs to be done to prevent poor care back into caring?

 

2. In striving for professionalism have we over qualified yet undertrained today’s nurse? Are they too posh to wash? What mechanisms and support systems need to be in place to ‘bring excellence’ back into the profession?

 

3. Has the role of the nurse leader been devalued? Has respect for their knowledge and expertise and a desire to emulate them decreased?

 

4. Why have boards within both NHS and non-NHS organisations appeared to have failed to deliver the expected improvements in quality of care? Are board members unaware of the standards on their wards or in their care settings?

 

Various issues and solutions were raised but the answer to the title appears to be: “no”, students are not too posh to wash.  The myth of a golden age was shown to be just that – a myth. Menzies Lyth’s 1960 paper was quoted and is still worth a read today. I would also refer to Kath Melia’s work around the challenges students faced nearly three decades ago.

 

Among the normative statements made, i.e. what nurses ‘ought’ and ‘should’ do, there was some attempt at analysis of underlying reasons for poor care. This included societal attitudes to ageing and caring, and technology and is affects on communication. There was no call however to return to apprenticeship training outside the University. This accords with the findings of the Willis Commission (2012).

 

What was striking was the almost passing references to systemic failures within the NHS around the structures for providing care. These failures are the responsibility of the governing political and managerial classes who are charged with running the NHS. While we are acknowledging ageing populations, increasing frailties and complex care needs, there is a a requirement to examine the context of care. To examine what structures have been put in place to deliver care to increasing numbers of frail elderly people in acute hospitals and care homes. Student nurses in particular are placed in clinical practices which are not conducive to compassionate care, and are often the least equipped to understand, analyse and bring about change.

 

Universities can support the development of critical thinking and underpinning knowledge but are almost powerless to affect this care context in which students find themselves. No amount of curricular changes emphasising compassion and caring will work if students continue to experience Melia’s 1984 and Lyth’s 1960 descriptions of the care environment.

 

Menzies Lyth (1960) argued that nurses experienced high levels of anxiety due to their work and that there was an absence in the hospital of any mechanism through which to ‘positively help the individual confront the anxiety provoking experiences’. The result was a set of defensiveness techniques including the splitting up of the nurse-patient relationship. A more recent research report (Hillman et al 2013) also report ‘defensive practice’ resulting in an ‘us and them’ subject position regarding their patients as nurses felt the pressures of litigation, complaints and the pressing need to meet the managerial requirements of the organisation.

 

Melia (1984) outlined two competing ‘segments’ – the ‘educational’, focusing on learning, and the ‘service’ which focused on ‘getting the work done’. In learning to ‘fit in’ students experienced a transient approach to nursing implicitly supporting a lack of commitment to nursing as an occupation. This is mirrored in a 2010 study of Norwegian students in which it is argued:

 

“While clinical practice often has focus on practical problem-solving and procedures, the college tends to focus on abstract theory. Both of these promote the privatisation and neglect of the students’ experience of care. The paper concludes with a call for teaching and learning strategies targeting the use of nursing students’ personal experience of care”. (p73 Solvoli and Heggen 2010).

 

So, no ‘golden age’ then or now.

 

In the 2013 ‘Too posh’ document, three commentators pointed out the critical place that clinical practice experiences have which implicitly build upon Menzies Lyth and Kath Melia.  Professor David Sines argued that there needs to be:

 

 

1. dynamic placement opportunities for students that expose and challenge them to confront the complexity of health and social care, within, between and across clinical care pathways, supported by a curriculum that is ‘wrapped around the patient’s/user’s real experience and journey’;

 

2. robust, enhanced and effective mentorship and preceptorship partnerships with our Trusts;

 

These 2 ambitions will not be achieved in care environments where there is poor skill mix; care given by care assistants who may be poorly supervised and trained; poor staff-patient ratios and minimal professional support and development. Sines goes on to argue:

“Above all our next generation workforce requires access to expert mentorship and role models to nurture and inculcate excellence in practice and resilience in attitude to deliver optimal standards of care at all times, turning each patient encounter into a learning opportunity that leads to sustainable excellence” (p15).

 

Again this is a key issue: ‘Access to expert mentors’. Far too many students report the lack of both access and the quality of support in this area. Therefore this may sadly, in the current context, be too idealistic. This might be born out by Bradbury Jones et al (2011) who reported that not all students have a positive experience:

 

“Unfortunately there were many examples of disregard and disrespect of students as learners. Lack of encouragement and responsibility were significant issues and this had a negative impact on students’ knowledge and confidence. These findings are consistent with nursing literature in terms of lack of support and encouragement and specifically, lack of interest in learners (Lindop, 1999). The findings also mirror those of Levett-Jones and Lathlean (2008), who reported that while a number of students in their study had positive placements, too many had experiences where their learning was not optimised and their competence and confidence were negatively affected. Like the students in this study, Levett-Jones et al. (2009) found that some mentors seemed to disregard students’ feelings and made little attempt to hide their impatience and frustration” (p371).

 

 

Maura Buchanan also focuses attention on the clinical environment:

“ I would argue that the main responsibility for failing standards lies not with nurse education, rather, with the clinical practice environment for which employers must take blame” (p17).

 

Jenny Aston also points to deficiencies in the clinical environment:

 

“With university based training (sic), considerable responsibility is left with the placement mentor to ensure that students have the necessary hands-on nursing skills. Many students have minimal one-to-one learning from their clinical mentors,who are busy with their own responsibilities, and have little or no protected time to teach the essential skills…University lecturers rarely have the time to visit, let alone work, in the clinical areas”. (p21)

 

The responsibility for safe compassionate care rests with Trust boards. NHS management has taken its collective eye off the ball and is often ill equipped to know if poor care is being given. Universities cannot do the work for Trust boards. Any call for a return to apprenticeship training within NHS trusts must address this fundamental issue. In far too many cases there are insufficient governance practices in place to ensure care standards are upheld. Aston argued:

 

“There is a need for governance measures to be in place to ensure that care is of a high standard as there will always be a conflict between cost and quality. Board level

decisions need to be based on a good understanding of how care can best be delivered and measured so on the ground clinicians need to be informing high level decision makers. Great care needs to be taken to measure the right things and not just numbers; otherwise real improvements will not be demonstrated. An experienced pair of nursing eyes and ears can identify good and bad care in a way that complex audits or form filling may fail to achieve”.

 

Roy Lilley has often stated: ‘Fund the front line. Make it fun to work there, that way you will make Francis history”. Nurses and nursing students have been criticised as lacking in compassion. No doubt this is true for some nurses. However, it is the lack of governance and poor clinical environments that both grows uncaring attitudes and fails to weed them out. Trust Boards through excellent management must implement strategies that ensure the front line is properly supported and developed.

 

When only 1 nurse provides poor care, that is their personal trouble….when we have had a catalogue of reports into poor care,  that is a public issue and we should not find the solution in the situation of any one nurse. We must look into the economic and political nature of NHS Trusts and of society to move beyond criticisms of individual nurses and their personal failings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

 

Beer, G. ed. (2013) Too posh to Wash. 2020.org  Too Posh to Wash?

 

Bradbury Jones, C., Sambrook, S., and Irvine, F. (2011) Empowerment and being valued: A phenomenological study of nursing student’s experiences of clinical practice. Nurse Education Today. 31 p368-372

 

Hillman, A., Tadd, W., Calnan, S., Calnan, M., Bayer, A., and Read, S. (2013) Risk, Governance and the experience of Care. Sociology of Health and Illness. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12017  pp1-17

 

Levett-Jones, T., Lathlean, J. (2008) Belongingness: a prerequisite for nursing students’ clinical learning Nurse Education in Practice, 8 pp. 103–111

 

Levett-Jones, t., Lathlean, J., Higgins, I., and McMillan, M. (2009)

Staff-student relationships and their impact on nursing students’ belongingness and learning Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65 (2) pp. 316–324

 

Lindop, E, (1999) A comparative study of stress between pre- and post-Project 2000 students Journal of Advanced Nursing, 29 (4), pp. 967–973

 

Menzies Lyth, I. (1960) The functioning of social systems as a defence against anxiety. Human Relations. 13 (2) 95-121

 

Melia, K. (1987) Working and Learning: The Occupational Socialisation of student nurses. Tavistock press. London.

 

Solvoli, B., and Heggen, K. (2010) Teaching and Learning Care – exploring nursing students’ clinical practice. Nurse education Today. 30 (1) p73-77

 

Willis Commission (2012) Quality with compassion: the future of nursing education. http://www.williscommission.org.uk/

 

Wright Mills, C. (1959) The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

 

Care quality in the NHS

.”‘When…only one man is unemployed, that is his personal trouble, and for its relief we look to the character of the man, his skills and his immediate opportunities. When…15 million…are unemployed, that is an issue, and we may not hope to find the solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of society and not merely the personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals’. (p9). (C Wright Mills – The Sociological Imagination).

….today we hear about the safeguarding tragedy that was Daniel Pelka. Again, communication issues between agencies and the failure to act have been highlighted. His parents are in jail. If only one social worker failed then we should look to the character of that social worker. When we have a historical record of failures which all highlight communication issues and failures to act, we will not find solutions only in the failings of individuals, the socio-cultural systems itself fails. The correct statement of the problem and the the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic, social, cultural and political institutions of society.

….we have heard about the care failings that was Mid Staffs. Again, neglect and abuse of frail elderly patients were highlighted. If only one healthcare professional or manager failed, then we should look to the character of that professional. When we have a historical record of failures which all highlight neglect and abuse, we will not find solutions only in the failings of individuals, the socio-cultural system itself fails. The correct statement of the problem and the the range of possible solutions require us to consider the economic, social, cultural and political institutions of society and not just the striking off professionals from registers.

Sir Brian Jarman stated in a recent Lancet article:

“To improve the quality of care in UK hospitals, I would reintroduce the Independent Review Panels and Community Health Councils and develop monthly complaints alerts similar to the mortality alerts. Regulation would be more independent if the CQC reported in public to Parliament, and there would be better communication if it were integrated with Monitor. Additionally, it is important to ensure  there are minimum staff-to-patient levels of doctors and nurses, with 65% trained nurses and  regulation of health-care assistants (my emphasis). I would aim for

total physicians per head of population at the EU average. Ideally I would also like to see training  introduced for the boards of trusts and for them to
have equal representation of patients, clinicians,  finance, and managers. There has been a decade  of concerns about the quality of care in our
hospitals: patients have been ignored, the  regulatory systems have failed, and there has been a culture of denial”.Instead we get the mess that is the Health and Social Act which is supposedly a ‘reform‘, and the NMC engaging in ‘re-validation’.

When will we learn that inspection and revalidation are external post hoc care quality issues, there is of course a place for these processes but there is a need to ensure the quality of care is structurally built into care delivery systems – and that means ensuring that you have enough staff, enough of the right sort of staff, educate and support them and engage in continuing professional development, appraisal and performance management if necessary.

How might social factors influence experiences of health & illness?

…and ‘How might this be relevant to the work of the nurse’?

 

 

What do we mean by social factors? This term covers a multiple meanings, but lets start by thinking about what people and society do and the categories we place ourselves, and others, into. A social factor then is something that might have an effect on us as we go about our daily lives as social actors. Emile Durkheim in ‘The Rules of Sociological Method’ (1895) wrote about ‘social facts’ as almost having a life of their own:  “treat social facts as things” existing outside of our individual consciousness. The common categories or factors include things like:

 

 

Socio economic status.

Ethnicity.

Gender.

 

We might also want to consider social structures such as:

 

Family.

Leisure, Work and Occupations.

Education.

Politics.

Military–Industrial Complex.

Religion.

Consumer-Industrial Complex.

 

Before we proceed just consider how the above social structures have changed over time.

 

The following will discuss obesity and a heart attack using our sociological imagination. I will then consider the relevance for nursing.

Obesity

 

To illustrate how any of these affect health we could take the issue of Obesity. Why are populations globally all getting fatter over the past couple of decades? A biological explanation founders in that it requires some biological mechanism that has changed for billions of people. Evolution does not work that fast. As there are differences between groups of people and individuals there is something psychological and or sociological happening.

 

It might be linked to one’s socio-economic status, as we know that poverty and economic and social deprivation are correlated to increased weight in populations. McLaren (2007) argues that obesity is a social phenomenon. That is to say it is just not a physical or biological condition to be explained or dealt with only in physical terms (e.g. the injunction to eat less and exercise more). Action on obesity includes targeting both economic and sociocultural factors. McLaren illustrates the varying social patterns involved in level of obesity in this review of studies.

 

Roberts and Edwards (2010) suggest that world-wide, over a billion adults are overweight and 300 million are officially obese. Their book ‘The Energy Glut’ suggests that how energy is both sourced, e.g. oil, and used, e.g. car driving, is directly linked to growing obesity. They suggest ‘fatness’ and climate change, are manifestations of the same fundamental cause. It is down to how oil based fossil fuel energy, after being discovered, started not only the process of catastrophic climate change, but also propelled the average human weight distribution upwards.

 

In addition they suggest that the food industry uses sophisticated marketing techniques to sell us mountains of energy-dense food whilst at the same time we are ‘functionally paralysed’. We just don’t move about as we used to, partly because the opportunities to do so diminish. This could be seen especially in the UK with increased car use, road building, living miles from work and the growth of retail outlets built out of town to exploit car use, poor public transport and poor cycling infrastructure. The accumulation of body fat is therefore a political, not a personal, problem.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Information Centre has published Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet: England 2012. The topics covered in the report include, overweight and obesity prevalence among adults and children, physical activity levels among adults and children, trends in purchases and consumption of food and drink and energy intake and health outcomes of being overweight or obese.

 

http://www.ic.nhs.uk/pubs/opad12

 

Key facts

         In 2010, just over a quarter of adults (26 per cent of both men and women aged 16 or over) in England were classified as obese (BMI 30kg/m2 or over). For the same period, around three in ten boys and girls (aged 2 to 15) were classed as either overweight or obese (31 per cent and 29 per cent respectively).

         In 2010, 41 per cent of respondents (aged 2+) said they made walks of 20 minutes or more at least 3 times a week and an additional 23 per cent said they did so at least once or twice a week in Great Britain (GB). However, 20 per cent of respondents reported that they took walks of at least 20 minutes “less than once a year or never” in GB.

         In 2010, 25 per cent of men and 27 per cent of women consumed the recommended five or more portions of fruit and vegetables daily.

         The number of Finished Admission Episodes (FAEs) in NHS hospitals with a primary diagnosis of obesity among people of all ages was 11,574 in 2010/11. This is over ten times as high as the number in 2000/01 (1,054).

 

 

In 2010, there were 1.1 million prescription items for the treatment of obesity, a 24 per cent decrease on the previous year when 1.4 million items were dispensed. This is the first recorded decrease in seven years.

 

 

 

Heart Attacks

 

Wright Mills (1959) wrote:

 

 ‘…men (sic) do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change…’ (p3).

 

A middle aged man has a heart attack but he does not consider that his illness may be linked to living in the 21st century, or that the roots of his illness may lie in current society.

 

He is:

 

 ‘…seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course of world history.’ (p4).

 

Lying in a hospital bed, with ECG electrodes stuck to his chest, the man may curse his luck or put his condition to being overweight, his smoking habit and lack of exercise.

 

He does not:

 

‘…possess the quality of mind essential to grasp the interplay of man and society, of biography and history…’  (p4). 

 

In addition he:

 

‘..cannot cope with their personal troubles (his heart attack) in such ways as to control the structural transformations that lie behind them.’  (p4).

 

(my italics).

 

What ‘structural transformations’ (social factors) might lie behind the heart attack, or an eating disorder or binge drinking? What is a ‘structural transformation?’

 

If we think of society has having ‘structures’, which vary from society to society and which varies within the same society over time (history), we may begin to understand that society ‘works’ when individuals, groups, communities and populations decide to act out their relationships one with another and in doing so create (and are created by) social ‘structures’.  I have listed some structures on page 1.

 

In the above heart attack case what structures are there and what are those structures that lie beneath his personal trouble?

 

To help answer that question Wright Mills argued that:

 

‘what they need…is a quality of mind that will help them to use information and to develop reason in order to achieve lucid summations of what is going on in the world and of what may be happening within themselves…this quality…(is) the sociological imagination.’ (p5).

 

So we need to use information and reason to start making the links between society and illness. A heart attack results from a variety of sources. Some may be genetic, but others are patterns of living which are subject to social structure. The middle aged man just happened to have been born in the 1950’s into a working class background in Liverpool. His father worked as a docker and he in turn followed in his father’s footsteps.

 

Social class is a form of social structure. Living in working class Liverpool during the 1950’s to the 1970’s means engaging in certain eating habits, wearing certain clothes, taking holidays in certain places (in the UK) and following certain football teams. And, of course, smoking. Smoking is as natural an activity as breathing, even Division One footballers smoke. The ‘metrosexual’ man does not exist yet, there are no ‘Men’s Health’ magazines, cigarettes are cheap, there are no laws banning smoking in public places. The idea of working out in a gym does not feature except in the working class boxing clubs. Olive oil and the Mediterranean diet exist only in the Mediterranean. Eating (saturated fat) red meat is masculine. ‘Jogging’ has not entered into the English language yet, exercise is for athletes or only takes place when playing Sunday football for the local pub team. Car use is becoming more common and cycling is in decline. Margaret Thatcher was soon to say that a 30 year old man on a bus is a failure so public transport is only for those who have to.

 

The social structure of this man’s early years involve lifestyles that increase his chance of a heart attack but he was not aware of all the connections. He thinks all his choices are his own, but he is unaware that choice is limited and results from those chances handed out to him. His choices are also based on imperfect information and also upon the wishes of others who want him to make certain choices (e.g. the cigarette manufacturers). If the society in which he lives offers him the choice of A, B and C and he chooses A, he may think he has made a real choice. But what if there is choice F, G and H that he is not aware of through circumstance or that history has not yet provided?

 

in 1950, one could choose to smoke anywhere and the lack of a strong public health campaign and research evidence did not point to the deadly nature of the practice. The personal trouble of smoking has to be seen in the context of that history.

 

Fast forward to 2010 and a new historical period. The public issue of millions dying of lung cancer has affected change in society and now impacts differently upon the individual. Social structures have been transformed since the 1950’s. For example, we now think of smoking not as glamorous but as a ‘filthy habit’. Men no longer congregate in pubs where everyone smokes inside.

 

‘The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life….’ (p5).

 

Thus, the middle aged heart attack victim who has this ‘quality of mind’ would understand his present trouble as linked to the context of 1950’s Britain where working class life took smoking for granted. He knows that all his friends smoke and that the likelihood of him smoking is high, given the social context and the time in which he lives.

 

 

Nursing relevance

 

This depends on where the nurse works. In an intensive care unit or in many acute settings, it is irrelevant to the everyday clinical practice of giving physical care. In primary care however, understanding how social factors impact on people’s lives may suggest strategies for mitigating them and for engaging in health promotion and health education. The obvious is knowledge for healthy eating habits or exploring personal physical activity levels.

 

However, certain issues will require action at the community or political level. This calls into question the social and political role both for the individual nurses and for nursing as a profession. Public health is a core part of nurse education and thus understanding social causes for ill health is part of the public health role for nursing. Wright Mills argues that it is the job of the social scientist or the liberal educator to foster the sociological imagination so that people become aware of how social factors (in our case) affect health and illness. We could argue that this applies to nurses in that once we know what causes disease we might have a duty to do something about it at the social level if it is caused by social factors (i.e. the ‘Social Determinants of Health’).

 

At the very least we should be very wary of victim blaming or accepting wholesale simplistic arguments over personal responsibility, see for example Wind Cowle (2012), while at the same time we do very little to curb fast food outlets, regulate the food industry, curb car use through urban planning or encouraging active travel alternatives such as cycling. 

 

Nursing has various elements to it: giving direct patient care, working in a team, managing oneself and personal development. To that we could add the need for networking and political awareness to exercise nursing leadership. Therefore I suggest that developing an understanding of the social factors involved in health and illness can assist a nurse in developing in these various elements to various degrees regardless of where one works.

 

 

Benny Goodman 2012

 

 

 

 

References.

 

McLaren, S. (2007) Socioeconomic status and obesity. Epidemiological Reviews 29 (1): 29-48.http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/29/1/29.abstract

 

Roberts, I. and Edwards P (2010) The Energy glut. The Politics of fatness in an overheating world. Zed Books

 

Wind Cowle, M (2012) The NHS needs people to be more responsible http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/sep/25/nhs-needs-people-be-more-responsible

 

World Health Organisation (2008) Closing the Gap in a generation. The Social Determinants of Health. http://www.who.int/social_determinants/en/

 

Wright Mills, C. (1959) The Sociological Imagination. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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