Norm-critical theory disrupts inequities in nursing education

Caitlin Nye.

Caitlin Nye, MSN, RN, NPD-BC, is a UB SON PhD student with research interests in the areas of social justice and LGBTQ+ health inclusive nursing education.

A norm-critical teaching approach may counter oppressive power dynamics.


Caitlin Nye, MSN, a PhD student at UB School of Nursing – along with co-authors Ellinor Tengelin, PhD, and Darryl Somayaji, PhD, UB SON assistant professor – was recently published in Advances in Nursing Science. The team explores norm-critic theory and its application to nursing education.

Norm-critic theory, according to the authors, focuses on analyzing, understanding and challenging societal norms and power structures that contribute to inequity. The authors identify “norms,” “power” and “othering” as concepts at the core of this theory, and say that these concepts are interconnected and “resistant to disruption.” They also reinforce one another and contribute to health and social inequities in nursing education and research.

“Like the gears behind a watch face,” the authors write, “norms, power and othering work behind the scenes of even the most carefully planned, well-intentioned nursing education practices that are meant to teach against oppression, expose and mitigate against inequity, and fulfill nursing’s obligation to promote justice.”

Nye says applying this theory to nursing education and research can help to dismantle forces of inequity – educators may begin to address this by adopting a . This enables them to see and disrupt those “interlocking gears” of inequity – both structural and within themselves.

Published October 14, 2022

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