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Properties of Situation Specific Theories


This blog is contributed by Eun-Ok Im, PhD, MPH, RN, CNS, FAAN. Dr. Im is author of the current ANS featured article titled Properties of Situation-Specific Theories and Neo-pragmatism (download at no cost while the article is featured). Here Dr. Im describes her journey in the evolution and development of situation-specific theory.

Eun-Ok Im

This article was initiated from a PhD theory class that I taught about 4 years ago.  The class was discussing the philosophical bases of situation specific theories that I wrote more than 20 years ago.  When I wrote the first paper on situation specific theories in the late 1990s, the main focus on philosophical bases of nursing was given to social critical theories, feminism, and hermeneutics, especially on the west coast of the U.S.  Most of my colleagues admired these three specific philosophical bases for the future direction of philosophical bases for nursing discipline, and we were deeply impressed by the qualitative research paradigms at that time.  Most of us were critical on positivism and its great influences on biomedical science in general, and we thought nursing approaches should be different from the mainstream biomedical approaches. Due to this great influence of the time, my first paper on situation specific theories focused on these philosophical bases as the philosophical bases of situation specific theories. However, honestly speaking, even at that time, I was thinking something was missing in the list of philosophical bases for situation specific theories.

 Going back to the class that I taught about 4 years ago, the students in the class asked me how these specific philosophical bases were chosen as the philosophical bases of situation specific theories, and I mentioned about the background of the time when the paper was written.  Then, I suddenly thought I’d better revisit the philosophical bases of situation specific theories because I myself had also been wondering if I missed something in the original paper. Then, in a subsequent literature review, neo-pragmatism was identified as an additional philosophical basis for situation specific theories.  Indeed, looking back on it, the raison d’être of situation specific theories was highly practical.  Nursing needs a theoretical basis that could be easily adopted in nursing practice and research with high specificity. Yet, I was not sure if neo-pragmatism actually fits with the properties of situation specific theories in the literature. Thus, a systematic integrated literature review was firstly conducted to identify the properties of situation specific theories in the literature and examined the properties from a neo-pragmatic perspective.

The literature review and subsequent examination of the properties of situation specific theories using a neo-pragmatic perspective revealed that the properties of situation specific theories that I found in the literature review were congruent with the philosophical stance of neo-pragmatism. For instance, neo-pragmatism’s declination of the universal truth and representationalism and its definition of truth were consistent with situation specific theories’ support for diversities and multiplicities of truths. Also, neo-pragmatism’s support for multiple truths and objection on the representationalism supports the necessity of different conceptualization and theorization based on contextual understanding, which was another property of situation specific theories that I found from the recent literature review.  Despite this paper on the updated philosophical bases of situation specific theories, I still feel like that something is missing in the paper.  Maybe, about 10 years later, I would look back on this paper, reflect on what was missing, and decide to do another review on the philosophical bases of situation specific theories. Continuous reflection and repeated revisits on our own thoughts may be essential for further development of our theoretical bases.

Considering drastically changing nursing environments with high complexities, I think the necessity of situation specific theories in nursing would keep increasing. The beauty of situation specific theories would be with their philosophical plurality, through which diversities and complexities in nursing could be addressed with high specificity and contextual understanding. Indeed, I am getting more and more inquiries on situation specific theories from nursing scholars across the globe, and nursing is definitely recognizing the importance of considerations on diversities in nursing phenomenon. Neo-pragmatism could provide an essential philosophical basis for our theoretical bases, especially situation specific theories that aim to address diversities and complexities in nursing phenomenon and to be easily applied to nursing research and practice.

The below pictures show the evolution of flowers blooming at my backyard, which would reflect my feelings about situation specific theories. During the past decades, situation specific theories have grown as a new type of nursing theories by the level of abstraction with an increasing number of situation specific theories that nursing scholars have developed.  Situation specific theories started from one theory that I developed under the mentorship of my life-time mentor, Dr. Afaf Meleis.  Then, a few situation specific theories began to emerge in the literature.  Then, now, we are witnessing an increasing number of situation specific theories that nursing scholars are developing. However, at the same time, many aspects of situation specific theories are not fully unfolded, and the refinement of situation specific theories as a theoretical basis of nursing needs to be continuously done. At this moment of blooming, I think this paper would be a good addition to our thoughts on situation specific theories. Again, I think we need to remember the practical reason we started situation specific theories; we need a theoretical basis that could be directly linked to nursing practice and research. What works for nursing is what nursing needs.  Before finishing this blog, I want to give my special thanks to Dr. Chinn for her continuous strong support for situation specific theories, and also want to say how much I appreciate this thoughtful opportunity to reflect on why I started this article and to have a dialogue with my respected colleagues. Have a great start of beautiful fall~

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