Gender, sexuality and the participatory dimensions of a comparative life history policy study

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MACDONNELL JA. Nursing Inquiry 2011; 18: 313–324 Gender, sexuality and the participatory dimensions of a comparative life history policy studyIn this paper, I explore how a critical feminist lens was a crucial element in creating a participatory policy study which used a qualitative design and comparative life history methodology. This study focused on Canadian nurses' political practice related to advocacy for lesbian health. Findings show that the combination of the gender lens and life history approach offers potential to create knowledge in ways aligned with health-promoting and emancipatory outcomes. However, the nature of participation and interaction by researcher and participants is contexualized and contested given complex dynamics of power that shape all aspects of this doctoral study process. The critical feminist lens with its focus on reflexivity informed the content and process of knowledge production in this study and shaped key turning points: the ways in which this policy study was conceptualized, the choice of comparative life history methodology, ethical considerations, data collection and analysis and representation of findings. Life history is unlikely to be the methodology that first comes to mind when undertaking a policy study. Its historical roots are associated with biographical, oral history and narrative approaches, which typically aim to elicit understanding of lived experience. Yet, it was this very aspect, this focus on lived experience, which rendered life history methodology fitting as I contemplated how to examine the relationship between nurses and policy. I was interested in understanding nurses' political practice, how policy influenced nurses' capacity to advocate in their everyday lives, as well as nurses' impacts on policy processes and their larger social worlds.

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