Behind the Screens

Nursing, Somology and the Problem of the Body

Jocalyn Lawler

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Format: paperback
Edition: First published in 1991 by Churchill Livingstone, Medical Division of Longman Group UK Limited
256 pages
ISBN: 9781920898250

Publication: 22 Mar 2006

Publisher: Sydney University Press

Behind the Screens sheds light on the fundamental aspects of basic nursing that have previously been hidden, or taken for granted. The essence of these practices has not been regarded as formal knowledge, partly because there has been no formal language to describe them. Experienced and beginning practitioners will identify with many aspects of this discussion.

Professor Jocalyn Lawler argues that the body is a problem in our society, and she examines the intellectual background to the problem. She describes the pattern of relationships between the theoretical concepts of the body, body care, privacy, dirty work, women's work and sexuality. The invisibility of nursing is linked with these concepts and with the lack of an academic discourse on the body as a whole.

Drawing on the words of nurses themselves, Lawler describes how they deal with the problem of the body. From the interviews, she articulates the complexity and sophistication at the heart of the way nurses manage the bodies of others. And she coins a term, somology, that provides nursing with a language to describe the crucial social components of skilled nursing care.

Readable and important, Behind the Screens adds to knowledge about knowledge and to knowledge about nursing. The work was first published in 1991. It has since been translated into Norwegian as Bak skjermbrettene: sykepleie, og kroppslige problemer, and French as La Face Cachée des Soins: Soins au corps, intimité et pratique.

Jocalyn Lawler is professor emerita of nursing at the University of Sydney.

Key to transcripts


Part 1: the problem of the body
1. The body and nursing
2. Conceptualising the body
3. Social life and the body
4. The body and sexuality

Part 2: somological practice
5. Body care and learning to do for others
6. Embarrassment, social rules and the context of body care
7. The body, illness experience and nursing
8. The body in recovery, dying and death
9. Sexuality, the body and nursing
10. Nurses’ work, the body and society


‘This is ... an important first work, innovative and eminently readable. Dr Lawler ... has produced a book of immense importance to nursing and sociology ... Behind the Screens provides an unquestionably intelligent and intellectually rigorous discourse. It demands a wide readership.'
Christine Spratt   Confederation of Australian Critical Care Nurses Journal

Format: paperback
Size: 210 × 148 × 14 mm
256 pages
Copyright: © 2006
ISBN: 9781920898250
Publication: 22 Mar 2006