Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 597–617 | Cite as

Learning Constraint. Exploring Nurses’ Narratives of Psychiatric Work in the Early Years of French Community Psychiatry

  • Nicolas HenckesEmail author
Original Paper


This article uses narrative analysis to understand how mental health professionals working in a pilot experiment in community psychiatry in France between 1960 and 1980 made sense of their work experiences. Based on a collection of essays written by these professionals as part of their training as well as on other archival materials, the article explores writing practices in post-war French psychiatry as ways of constructing and negotiating moral commitments to work. The first three sections of the article give some background on mental health nursing in France in the immediate post-war period. The subsequent three sections examine how the professionals elaborated on their experiences in their writings, focusing on three different levels: first, the narrative voice used in the essays; second, the learning processes described by trainees; and finally, the ways in which they negotiated discursively the requirement to do emotionally well at work.


Nursing Medical writing Everyday ethics Psychiatric reform Narrative analysis France 



This paper was presented at a panel organized by Paul Brodwin and Livia Velpry at the 111th Annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association. I thank both of them for inviting me to both the panel and to this publication. I also thank Anne Lovell, Lorna Rhodes, Isabelle Baszanger as well as two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this article. Jon Cook provided assistance with the English. Unless specified, all translations from French are mine.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chargé de recherche CNRS, Centre de recherche Médecine, Sciences, Santé, Santé Mentale et Société – CERMES3Villejuif CedexFrance

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