Sally Thorne Biography

Sally Thorne2
Sally Thorne is Professor and former Director at the University of British Columbia   School of Nursing in Vancouver, Canada. An academic nursing leader, Dr. Thorne teaches graduate courses in the philosophy of science, and has a longstanding interest in the refinement of qualitative research methods so that knowledge pertaining to human subjective experience can be effectively applied within the context of an evidence-based health care practice culture. Her research and writing have focussed attention on chronic illness and cancer experience, with a particular emphasis on the impact that dominant scientific orientations and population health ideologies have had on the human experience of seeking and obtaining appropriate care. She is also actively engaged in various community-based and strategic initiatives related to cancer care, chronic illness advocacy, and global health issues, forging linkages between the theoretical enterprise and social action within the health and social sciences. She is Editor-in-Chief of the scholarly journal Nursing Inquiry, and Associate Editor of Qualitative Health Research. Her publications on qualitative methodology include a comprehensive text on applied research (Interpretive Description, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2008).

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Rethinking Carper’s “Personal Knowing” for the 21st Century Context

In 1978, Barbara Carper named personal knowing as a fundamental way of knowing in our discipline. By that, she meant the discovery of self-and-other, arrived at through reflection, synthesis of perceptions, and connecting with what is known. Along with empirics, esthetics and ethics, personal knowing was understood as an essential attribute of nursing knowledge evolution, setting the context for the nurse to become receptively attentive to and engaged within the interpersonal processes of practice. Although much has been done over the 40 years since Carper described nursing’s ways of knowing, we have seen enormous advances in empirics and ethics, and I would argue in esthetics – understanding the subtle craft of nursing in action. However, personal knowing has not attracted the same level of critical unpacking. While much has been done in with respect to reflective practice, which is arguably a key aspect of this knowing, the continued legitimacy of an entity such as personal knowing has sustained the impression among many nurses that their experience and ideas are a necessary and valid source of professional wisdom. Benner’s pattern recognition serves to further this uncritically held assumption, in that we understand the evolution of novice to expert practice as an iterative cycle of building on experience and ideas to develop increasingly sophisticated understandings. In recent years, we see increasing evidence of a distortion on how personal knowledge, including beliefs and attitudes, are being taken up within segments of the profession. Personal knowing is used to justify differences of opinion within the profession, and to legitimize idiosyncratic positionings. Further, and perhaps most worrisome, is the possibility that it is being used to challenge the idea that there are and ought to be fundamental truths within nursing that stand as central to disciplinary knowledge. In this paper, I reflect on the confusion that continuing deference to personal knowing may be creating, and the evolving interests it seems to serve, especially as we have increasing access to comprehensive notions that may more effectively address the processes that the idea of personal knowing was meant to capture. Perhaps it is time to remove it once and for all from the sacrosanct lexicon of nursing’s ways of knowing.

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