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Date of Award

9-2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Nursing

Supervisor

Dr. Regina Browne

Abstract

Experiencing hardship, suffering and loss and finding a way to learn from one's experiences rather than being overtaken, diminished and embittered by them, constitutes an inevitable human challenge. Yet surprisingly, little has been written about the structure of the experience of adversity. Equally astounding is the fact that although there is considerable knowledge about the personality traits and behavioral patterns of people who are resilient in adversity, little is known bout how people actually construct meaning in such a situation. Part of the reason for this missing knowledge may be the prevailing dominance of quantitative methods in health research. Although these methods are useful for revealing factors associated with positive patterns of adaptation they are less adequate in revealing both the structure of human experience as wen as the practices that humans engage in to make sense of their world.

By describing and analyzing the shared lived experiences of twenty ~five people who have lived through a situation of adversity, as wen as the practices they engaged in to recover meaning, and the meanings they gave to their experience, this hermeneutical phenomenological study uncovers new knowledge related to the structure of adversity. In doing so knowledge is gained about how personal coherence can be preserved under extreme conditions. In particular, the study unfolds the structure of adversity in terms of three key themes - turning, dwelling and caning. In addition, the practices that people engage in as ways of dwelling amidst adversity are discussed. Ways of dwelling are thus compared and contrasted to reveal those that call forth, or alternatively conceal, authentic possibilities in life. In order to clarify the existential and ontological challenges at stake in situations of adversity, the philosophical frameworks ofKierkegaard, Heidegger, Marcel and Gadamer are brought into a converging dialogue with the stories and conversations gathered for this study. Inferences for health professionals in general, and nurses in particular are drawn. These inferences are offered in consideration of the professional commitment to care for people during times when meaning breaks down and when the presence or absence of human solicitude and caring has far reaching implications.

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