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The clean and proper self: the relevance of Kristeva’s concept of abjection for nursing

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abjection, nursing practice

Abstract (summary)

Nurses regularly encounter feelings of disgust in practice, from bodily fluids and wounds to the criminal histories of patients. Though these experiences are widespread in nursing practice, there exists a culture in which they are regularly and intentionally ignored by nurses, and have received little attention in the literature. French-Bulgarian philosopher Julie Kristeva described these feelings of disgust within her psychoanalytic concepts of abjection and the clean and proper self. When nurses experience abjection, they work to protect and maintain the boundaries of the clean and proper self. This paper will employ a conceptual analysis to explore the implications of abjection and the maintenance of the clean and proper in nursing practice, with a specific focus on forensic nursing. A literature review of scientific articles and monographs addressing issues of disgust and abjection was conducted. The work of Kristeva provides the theoretical framework for this analysis. The analysis illustrates that nurses erect boundaries between themselves and patients, with significant consequences for patient care. An enactment of rituals to avoid the uncomfortable feelings of abjection and an effort to maintain the clean and proper self is widespread in nursing practice. Acknowledging the presence of abjection in nursing practice, recommendations are given on how to both embrace and overcome this experience.

Publication Information

Johansson, J. A., & Holmes, D. (2022). The clean and proper self: The relevance of Kristeva’s concept of abjection for nursing. Research and Theory for Nursing Practice, 36(3), 315-328.


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