Nursing in the Anthropocene
At this time of a global pandemic, the currently featured ANS article is especially relevant. In their article titled “We Have Never Been Nurses: Nursing in the Anthropocene, Undoing the Capitalocene,” Jessica Dillard-Wright, MA, MSN, RN, CNM; Jane Hopkins Walsh, MSN, PNP-BC, RN; and Brandon Blaine Brown, MSN, RN-BC, CNL advance a posthuman critique of the discipline and the future shape that is critical for the knowledge in the discipline. You can download and read the article on the ANS website while it is featured. The authors have prepared this short video in which they explain their perspective and why it is so important to understanding the experience of this pandemic, to the future of the earth, and to the development of nursing as a discipline.
This is a very pretentious article, full of strident opinions, asserted as if unquestionable fact. The era the authors describe as “Capitalocene” might better be called, given their methodology, “Sloganocene.” They cite opinion pieces of numerous authors, again hurled at the reader as unquestionable fact. Slogans are all you need to win an argument.
Particularly disappointing were the comments on Florence Nightingale, the major founder of the modern profession of nursing. I am an expert on her work, having published a 16-volume peer-reviewed Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, 2001-12. All the references these authors make to her are negative. They question her “legacy,” Her work has been “heralded,” they complain, but why not? Who else founded the first nurse training school in the world and, wrote leading books and articles on nursing, health care and hospital safety and mentored many of the next two generations of nursing leaders?
What did Mary Seacole do for nursing? Can the authors name one hospital where she ever nursed, one book or article she ever published on nursing or health care, one nurse she ever trained or mentored? See her excellent memoir, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands, 1857 (they don’t cite it) where she describes her adventures and businesses in Panama and the Crimea She was a “herbalist” trained by her mother. But she added lead and mercury to her “herbal” remedies, and acknowledged “lamentable blunders,” a suitable term for the use of substances toxic at any dose. For bowel patients, oral rehydration is the effective treatment, but Seacole’s lead and mercury dehydrate. But I refer to evidence-based health care, which smacks of “positivism” or “empiricism” and they are no good to these authors.
They want us to believe that if it is “Indigenous” it must be good, on faith, but what about those “lamentable blunders”? Would it not be good to know what the effective ingredients are in traditional remedies, so that they can be used in other societies? Why he opposition to empirical research on them?
The authors, rightly, I believe, note the devastation of climate change and environmental deterioration. They blame capitalism, but, sadly, the devastation is terrible in the (old) Soviet Union, thanks to its belief in the domination of Nature. Materialism might be a better term than capitalism for the problem. But to address the crisis requires concerted action, and evaluation of efforts (oops that suggests the evil of positivism). Nightingale, incidentally, wrote on the harm caused by de-forestation in the 1860s, but she cited evidence, which, again, these authors would not like.
One also has to ask how this rant qualifies for acceptance in a journal supposedly about “Advances in Nursing Science.”
Lynn McDonald, PhD, LLD (hon), FRHistS, professor emerita
This is a very unkind and thoughtless set of comments that amount to little more than a rant itself. Given you are not actually a nursing academic, I am not sure what qualifies you to make comments about an article that makes explicit its call for new ways of thinking about nursing. The article is only marginally about Florence, and you center her and yourself in exactly the way the authors indicate is a problem for nursing, and for nursing history. To those of us who do study nurses in history and in the present beyond FN, and who use critical theory in our work, this article is intelligent and well written, and uses ideas that are familiar to many of us who bother to read the work. Maybe you would do well to engage with that critical theory rather than posting nonsense about how materialism is somehow something different to capitalism. Your reputation as a defender of Florence is well known, and it amounts to little more than racism.
Thank you for reading, reflecting on, and responding to our work. I see that my colleagues Jessica Dillard-Wright and Jane Hopkins Walsh have already responded to your comments, and I agree entirely with their remarks above. However, I also wanted to take a moment to respond to you personally.
To begin, we sincerely appreciate your commentary and your perspective. As nurses, who are steeped within the field, we bring with us years of educational and clinical experience as part of our identity. It is from this sense of place that we felt it necessary to critique our received history and our present time through a critical lens in hopes of speculating an equitable way forward for our discipline. We have embarked on this endeavor not out of a place of madness or hatred, but instead from a place of love, not only love for those we care for but love and respect for the discipline that we are a part of and continue to emerge from. Based on our professional and human experiences, we wrote this article from a place of reckoning and accountability, but also from possibility, in which we see great potential.
As part of speculating our way forward, we understand that debate, challenging that status quo, and embracing a constructive dialogue are necessary elements for us to envision a shared future together. It seems as though we agree that climate change and environmental degradation are threats to the health and wellbeing of all creatures. Although we may have different perspectives on its origins, who is and will be most affected, and how to address it actively, it is from this common ground and fruitful discussion that we have the potential to shape the future. It is in this vein that we welcome future discourse to raise awareness of these issues. Thank you for your work and contributions to nursing history.
The obsession with discrediting Mary Seacole as a nurse in a effort to justify Nightingale’s “legacy” speaks to the rootedness of white supremacy in the cult of Nightingale. Nightingale was an important historical figure, but that doesn’t mean we should only be wearing rose-colored glasses when looking at her work. It’s a disservice to nursing and proper historical research. Nightingale was a staunch supporter of British colonial rule, even at a time when anti-colonial struggles around the world were threatening it. There is ample evidence to her racism and support of colonial violence. It is highly problematic that nursing is so blindly devoted to her cult and in so doing, avoids essential discussions on racism and sexism.
Your comment arrived just as I was reading about that very colonizing history.
This is a nursing journal from New Zealand
copy and paste link
and SCROLL TO PAGE 34.
I am posting this link above here for anyone following this chain.
And to save the link for our future reference.
A nursing historian and colleague just shared this article from New Zealand which beautifully highlights the need for alternative framing, challenging the primacy of Florence Nightingale in nursing, detailing the dehumanizing attitudes,racism and colonialism in so many of her writings.
Many present-day nurses do not see her as their “hero”, and feel no need for celebration in this year 2020.
All nurses deserve the right to challenge the one-sided version of history as presented through the lens of Eurocentric white exceptionalism and white supremacy. And we need to educate nurses about the implicit racial biases within past history and present day nursing.
Let’s keep up this important work!
Hi again, Lynn.
The video blog here begins with love – that our critiques of our discipline are rooted in love, because, as scholars, educators, and clinicians, we love nursing. Frankly, it would not be worth the heartache of critique if we did not and we recognize that the ideas we offer are destabilizing. We see so much potential for nursing, but we have work to do to get there, including actively interrogating the histories, ideas, and ideologies we embrace. We ask in our paper that people consider other points of origin, other lines of flight that open up our history in ways that can aid us in crafting new present/futures for nursing that are more just and equitable. Nursing does not and has not always taken place in hospitals – that does not define what a nurse is. Ultimately, we see a reparatory history for nursing as a vital redress for the discipline’s complicity in upholding white supremacy. You may not agree and that is okay – this paper was a call to our discipline for accountability and for reckoning. You see, we are junior scholars but experienced clinicians and educators and we see a bright future for our discipline, if we choose it.
Thank you for engaging so passionately with our work. I agree completely with my colleague’s reply above, @Jessica Dillard-Wright .
As scholars we invite critique and see dissensus as a path forward. As nurses we take our work and writing to be essentially interconnected and grounded in principles of antiracism and human justice. We plan to challenge the traditional systems of hegemony and power around what is justified as “evidence” and this includes critiques of positivism and post-postitivism.
Our article underwent rigorous peer review. In fact, the article was chosen by nurses and editors as the 2020 exemplar of reflecting the mission and vision of the esteemed journal Advances in Nursing Science. We had the honor of having the article featured in the 2020 edition of INANE International Journal of Nursing Editors annual virtual edition.
Again, we welcome critique and understand it only helps us to clarify some of our future arguments.Thank you for your work in nursing history. We also believe firmly in understanding history, and that as nurses we must look back to fully understand today’s challenges, and to move forward.
We actively advocate for nursing history to be an essential part of that journey and for nursing history to have a proper place in nursing education.
Addition: I also agree completely with my colleague’s reply above @Brandon Brown.
This specific blog is mentioned in an article written by Jessica Dillard-Wright. The article blew me away. Thought provoking on many levels.
A radical imagination for nursing: Generative insurrection, creative resistance
Is Part Of
Nursing philosophy, 2021-10-10, p.e12371-e12371
Wiley Online Library Database Model 2021