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Give incivility a chance
  1. Ryan Essex1,
  2. Lydia Mainey2
  1. 1 Institue for Lifecourse Development, University of Greenwich, London, UK
  2. 2 School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Sciences, Central Queensland University, Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ryan Essex, University of Greenwich, London SE9 1RD, UK; r.w.essex{at}

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Civility is a nice idea. While we find common ground with the aspirations of a civility-based professional culture in healthcare and acknowledge the potential impacts of incivility on staff and patients, we should be careful in dismissing it entirely, as McCullough et al 1 do. As we will argue below, appeals to civility, when understood alongside power, could serve to stifle and mask legitimate dissent, limiting genuine criticism and progress. Crucially, we contend that incivility itself may serve instrumental and communicative purposes that draw attention to injustice or inequity. Our aim is not to defend every act of incivility but to caution calls for its prevention. By focusing on intentional acts of incivility and by emphasising the political, we hope to show that ‘being polite is not the same as being a good citizen’2 and the absence of tension is not the same as the presence of justice (King, 1963).3 We go on to discuss the implications of this approach to addressing ‘uncivil’ behaviour, arguing that incivility is a by-product of institutions that dismiss genuine grievances and maintain inequitable conditions.

When we …

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  • Twitter @RyEssex

  • Contributors RE conceived this article. RE and LM contributed equally to its development.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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