Saturday, February 6, 2016

Queer Phenomenology, Sexual Orientation, and Health Care Spaces: Learning From the Narratives of Queer Women and Nurses in Primary Health Care

Queer phenomenology as an interpretive framework can advance health research by illuminating why primary health care providers (HCPs) must move beyond definitions of sexuality as a set of reified identity formations indexed to normative gender, gender of partner, and sexual and reproductive practices. Our interviews with queer women participants and primary care nurses offer an implicit critique of heteronormative health care space, temporality, and power relations, as they form the lived experiences of our participants. We conclude by pointing to the limits of our methodology in exposing the larger relations of power that dictate experiences of heteronormative health care.

In emphasizing interview conversations as research findings, we risk capitulating to the naïve conclusion that if only health care providers were better intentioned, or were informed of better beliefs to hold, or changed their attitudes, all could be made well. These small examples of power relations illustrate that both patients and providers frequently find themselves struggling in networks of possibility and constraint that are not within the control of any one individual. Historically, phenomenology started from the lived experience of the subject, bracketing genealogical enquiry into their conditions of possibility. Yet to the extent this is a criticism of mainstream phenomenological traditions, it need not apply to feminist phenomenology, which has always insisted on both the philosophical value of the perspective of the perceiving subject and the cultural, historical, and political specificity of lived experience:

Feminist phenomenology can show how we have the bodily experiences that we do given the social and historical structures of which we partake—and how our bodies are not mere constructs, epiphenomena of ideological systems, but the encumbered and thick nexus of meaning (often implicit) through which sociality, historicity, materiality and subjectivity intertwine. Bodies (speaking, thinking, feeling, objectified subjects) are, then, more than mere objects. Bodily experience can be the ground of our awareness of social structures of oppression and the site where complicity, subversion or resistance are enacted. (Al-Saji, 2010, pp. 32–33)

For us, a phenomenological methodology is a politically astute, feminist project only if it performs this double gesture: close reading of the experiential narratives of queer women and health-care providers within heteronormative health care spaces and an analysis of how those narratives express forms of experience laden with history, gender, and power.

Full article at:

By:  Cressida Heyes  PhDa*Megan Dean  MAb & Lisa Goldberg  RN PhDc
  • a Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • b Department of Philosophy, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA
  • c Faculty of Health Professions, School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada 

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