Doing criticism in 'symbiotic niceness': a study of palliative care nurses' talk

Li, Sarah (2005) Doing criticism in 'symbiotic niceness': a study of palliative care nurses' talk. Social Science & Medicine, 60(9), pp. 1949-1959. ISSN (print) 0277-9536


This paper examines how palliative care nurses do criticism of other professionals in talk within settings for care of the dying (two hospices and one general hospital). Strategies for the production of moral identities include the use of direct criticism, indirect criticism and quoted speech, hence 'inverted comma criticism'. Criticism is done through the construction and reconstruction of 'atrocity stories'. Atrocity stories are used as a medium by nurses to express their opinions and feelings about doctors who might have behaved insensitively. At the same time, it allows doctors to redeem themselves. The analysis of talk reveals that the voices of absent patients are reactivated and co-opted into the nurses' talk. The stories serve to produce an image of nurses as caring, morally responsible patient advocates and loyal characters to their medical colleagues. Through the analysis of talk, the communication skills and strategies for the maintenance of interactional order are made visible and displayed. Skills for the production of the palliative care team work are also made visible. Emotional labour is analysed as a project for the production of particular kinds of niceness which in turn require particular types of emotional labour. This paper argues that educators should aim to identify and make conscious use of nurses' own available interactional skills, and focus on valuable cultural (rules of decorum) and material resources (the disease process) which are readily available and accessible for nurses, as a starting point in communication training. The theory of an account of co-production of niceness which benefits each other, hence, symbiotic niceness, reveals that being nice to each other can be rewarding and therapeutic in that it helps to smooth, distance and ameliorate problems occurring in the reality of palliative care nurses' and their patients' life-worlds.

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