Critical Social Justice: The Moral Imperative for Critical Perspectives in Nursing


  • Elizabeth McGibbon St. Francis Xavier University
  • Sionnach Lukeman St. Francis Xavier University



Critical social justice, Critical perspectives in nursing, Moral bystanding, Nursing activism


There is increasing urgency to enact critical perspectives in the profession of nursing, with a resurgence of the political, a deliberative focus on social change, and a growing uneasiness with remaining neutral in the face of such pressing need. This analysis starts with a brief overview of critical perspectives, underscoring nursing’s complex positioning at the interface of witnessing peoples’ suffering, and the structural change necessary to address its root causes. Although witnessing may imply watching, or even bystanding, here it refers to historical and cultural meanings of witnessing as standing alongside in solidarity and action throughout the struggle for justice—bearing witness as a moral and a political obligation. Moral bystanding is described as a foundational barrier to achieving the moral imperative of critical perspectives. We conclude with pathways for cultivating and enacting a critical gaze, and a call for moral courage to systematically integrate critical perspectives in nursing. Throughout the discussion, we draw upon the work of nurse ethicists to provide important links about enacting critical perspectives as part of the moral foundation of nursing. Our intention is not to provide an analysis of the moral contexts of nursing, but rather to situate critical perspectives within the moral territory of social change, synthesizing key ideas that have direct salience for critical social justice in nursing.

Keywords: critical perspectives in nursing, critical social justice in nursing, moral bystanding, social change




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Author Biographies

Elizabeth McGibbon, St. Francis Xavier University

Dr. Elizabeth McGibbon is a nationally recognized critical health scholar and nursing professor st STFX. Her teaching and research focus on embodied oppression, access to health care, health equity and public policy, and the political economy of health. She leads a national research project, Mapping Health Equity in Canadian Public Policy (SSHRC), and is co-researcher in a study aiming to diversify our dialogue and understanding of heart health of Manitoban First Nations People (CIHR, Lead: Annette Schultz). She is a founding member of the International Association for Qualitative Research and was one of three leads in the establishment of the National Collaborating Center, Determinants of Health (NCCDH).  She published the first Canadian books to address anti-racism specifically in health care practice (McGibbon & Etowa, 2009) and oppression as a social determinant of health (Edited Volume, 2012). She is an invited author in five multiple edition Canadian books about critical social science applications, particularly in the health fields; and the first book to address complexity science applications in the criminal justice system (Pycroft & Bartollas, Eds., United Kingdom, 2014). Along with social justice colleagues, her awards include recognition from The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (anti-racism community action), and the Canadian Armed Forces (refugee humanitarian work).

Sionnach Lukeman, St. Francis Xavier University

Sionnach Lukeman, MScN, RN, is a PhD student in Nursing at the University of Victoria. She is also an Assistant Professor at St. Francis Xavier University’s Rankin School of Nursing. Her practice background before academia was public health leadership and content expertise in healthy development. Her research program involves:  Public health services and systems, political economy of health, and the integration of social justice in nursing education curriculum.  


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How to Cite

McGibbon, E., & Lukeman, S. (2019). Critical Social Justice: The Moral Imperative for Critical Perspectives in Nursing. Witness: The Canadian Journal of Critical Nursing Discourse, 1(1), 3–12.