Vital and Enchanted: Jane Bennett and New Materialism for Nursing Philosophy and Practice

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Nursing Philosophy

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Nursing theories are typically anthropocentric and emphasize caring for a person as a unitary whole. They maintain the dualisms of human–nonhuman, natural–social and material–ideal. Recent developments in nonhuman ontology question the utility of that approach. One important philosopher in this new materialism is political theorist Jane Bennett. In this paper, I explore Bennett's vital materialism and enchantment as two concepts arising from the nonhuman turn that should inform nursing philosophy. Vital materialism considers the lively power of matter to affect the world and be affected in relations. Enchantment refers to a sense of wonder and captivation with matter. While summarizing her important contributions, I also describe common criticisms and responses. I consider the human as an assemblage of matter as well as the agency or “thing power” of matter external to humans. This has implications for nursing thought and practice, and it can inform a more capacious research methodology. I also discuss how compassion fatigue or burnout and other professional issues may be seen as a form of disenchantment with the material world. I argue that embracing these and other elements of Bennett's new materialist philosophy can help nurses and other health professionals enrich their theories and practice to advance their disciplines and improve care for persons and populations.


© 2019 John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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