Rethinking the social role of nursing through the work of Donzelot and Foucault  


  • Evy Nazon Université du Québec en Outaouais
  • Amelie Peron University of Ottawa School of Nursing
  • Thomas Foth



nursing history – charity – philanthropy – gouvernemntality – invention of the social.


The history of nursing is often perceived as the history of a profession with charitable and philanthropic objectives of helping others live a healthy life. Many historians have celebrated the major role played by charitable women in nursing. Moving beyond this charitable and dedicated image of nurses, we argue that nursing, through “the social,” became a pivotal component of the governance of the everyday lives of populations. As such, nursing became part of the evolving idea that all areas of life must be managed through a process of normalization that seeks to maximize the life of both the individual and the population. Populations thus became the focus of governmental projects. Jacques Donzelot’s notion of invention of the social and Michel Foucault’s concept of govenmentality make possible a reassessment of the conventional image of nurses, and in particular, that of charitable nurses.


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Author Biographies

Evy Nazon, Université du Québec en Outaouais

Evy Nazon, RN, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nursing at the University of Quebec in Outaouais. Her doctoral project, by bringing a critical perspective to the historical discussions surrounding the development of the nursing profession and discipline, examined the construction of nursing knowledge in Quebec and highlighted the social and political role of nurses since the beginnings of the profession. As a nurse, she has worked mostly in acute care specially in medical and surgical units. She teaches several courses at the undergraduate level that deal with nursing in an acute context and at the graduate level, she teaches the epistemological process of the nursing discipline, the construction of knowledge and the role of nurses. In terms of research, she is generally interested in the nursing history, critical approach, nursing workforce, education, role, skills and knowledge of nurses in healthcare settings.

Amelie Peron, University of Ottawa School of Nursing

Amélie Perron, RN, PhD, is an Associate professor at the School of Nursing at the University of Ottawa and Co-President of the Nursing Observatory. Her clinical practice is grounded in community psychiatry and crisis intervention. As a researcher, she has worked on many research projects in psychiatric nursing and forensic psychiatry in Canada, France and Australia. Her work is grounded in Critical Theory. Her research interests include nursing care to captive and marginalised populations; power relationships between health care professionals, patients and care settings; issues of discourse, risk, gender and ethics; and nursing epistemology. Through her work with the Nursing Observatory, she is more specifically interested in the sociopolitical aspects of care and nurses' political consciousness and action. She is co-author of "On the politics of ignorance in nursing and health care: Knowing ignorance" (2015, Routledge) and co-edited "Power and the Psychiatric Apparatus: Assistance, Repression and Transformation" (2014, Ashgate) and "(Re)Thinking Violence in Health Care Settings: A Critical Approach" (2012, Ashgate). She has published 80 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, and has presented at numerous international peer-reviewed conferences in a range of disciplines. She is also Editor of Aporia - The Nursing Journal.

Thomas Foth

Thomas Foth, RN, PhD is an assistant professor at the School of Nursing in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Ottawa. As a nurse, he has worked in different areas of the profession. His doctoral research project explores the participation of nurses in the killing of more than 200,000 sick persons during the Nazi regime. He has worked on many research projects in the fields of interdisciplinary cooperation between nurses and physicians, nursing professionalization processes in Germany as well as psychiatry in that country. Foth’s fields of interest include history of nursing, critical theory of nursing action, nursing theories, philosophy of science, ethics, care provided to marginalized populations, technologies and nursing, power relationships between health care professionals and patients as well as gender. Most of his work is based on the discourse analytical approach, oriented on the works of Michel Foucault, queer theorists and postcolonial studies. He also uses approaches from actor-network theories and the “newer” critical theory in Germany.


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How to Cite

Nazon, E., Peron, A., & Foth, T. (2019). Rethinking the social role of nursing through the work of Donzelot and Foucault  . Witness: The Canadian Journal of Critical Nursing Discourse, 1(1), 49–58.