Boundary Work and Power in the Controversy Over Therapeutic Touch in Finnish Nursing Science

Minerva 53 (4):359-380 (2015)
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Abstract

The boundary work approach has been established as one of the main ways to study controversies in science. However, it has been proposed that it does not meet the power dynamics of the scientific field sufficiently. This article concentrates on the intertwining of boundary work and power. It combines the boundary work approach developed by Thomas Gieryn and the analysis of power in the work of Pierre Bourdieu. Based on a literature review and an analysis of a controversy over therapeutic touch, it finds four forms of boundary work: intradisciplinary, interdisciplinary, between science and society, and between science and other knowledge systems. The article shows how the different forms of boundary work reveal multiple power struggles, hierarchisations and tensions. The controversy appeared in Finnish nursing science when the Finnish Association of Sceptics gave its annual Humbug Award to a book on therapeutic touch. The book was based on a master’s thesis at the University of Tampere department of nursing science. The nursing scholars in the department reacted abruptly and banned certain books, which astonished the students, and a lively public debate followed. In the debate, nursing science was both defended and challenged. The framework of the study shows that the boundary work approach can be used to study different aspects of power. The article proposes that the framework could be used in other controversies as well to study the layers of power in boundary work.

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