chapter  13
14 Pages

Subjectivity and Embodiment: Acknowledging Abjection in Nursing

ByJanet McCabe

On a regular basis nurses encounter situations during which the body or bodily functions shape the nursing care that is provided. From the public health nurse working with the homeless and drug addicted to the medical surgical nurse dressing wounds on an in-patient unit – embodiment becomes a mediating factor in how care is structured. However, despite the centrality of the body and embodiment to nursing work, nursing theorists have tended to either approach the body from a strict biomedical perspective or have simply avoided discussing the role of embodiment in nursing. For example, nurses regularly interact with bodies that do not fit within established norms; bodies that leak, bodies that are disfigured and deformed, bodies that have committed heinous acts, bodies that reveal disabilities. Sometimes bodies and/or the actions of nurses threaten an individual’s assumptions about what both the patient and nursing practice should be. For example, historically individuals with developmental disabilities have been considered either asexual or sexually deviant, as such, nurses working with this population may have these assumptions challenged when their work involves providing sexual health care. Others may see the sexual activity and sexuality of this population as something transgressive, something that challenges the defined boundaries of a specific embodiment and subjectivity. This contradiction presents a threat to the perceived self and thus may trigger abjection, as it has been described by Julia Kristeva (1982). Clearly then, the concepts of both embodiment and abjection are essential to nursing practice, and are vital mediators in nursing work, as such they should be represented within theoretical nursing literature.