Power Games in the Hospital—Doing Gender or Doing Profession?

Kirsten Sander


This paper discusses findings from a study of inter-professional interaction between doctors and nurses in a surgical ward. The aim of the research is to analyze the construction of gender, profession and hierarchy in the context of the everyday interactions between members of the professions of nursing and medicine in the hospital. Participant observation was undertaken in two medical and two surgical wards in three hospitals. The present paper provides a microanalysis of ethnographic data in which Erving GOFFMAN's "frame analysis" (1974) is used as a central analytical resource. Gender and profession are interpreted as ongoing accomplishments. Stereotyping impacts of gender and profession are discussed as different "frames," which change or are linked in the social situation. In this particular case, an outspoken nurse is shown as she disrupts the frame of the doctor's rounds by displaying the assistant doctor as an embodied male person, thus "keying" the professional frame in a gender frame. The senior doctor "clears the frame" by making an ambiguous joke. I argue that doing subordination and doing domination in nursing and medicine are enacted by such gender displays. The interpretation shows the "doctor-nurse game" (STEIN, 1967) as a gendered power game.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs080146


frame analysis; construction of gender; interaction of doctors and nurses; hospital; ethnography