The benefits and constraints of philosophical frameworks using the work of Michel Foucault and critical social theorists, such as Fay, Giroux and McLaren, are examined in the light of their traditions. The reasons nurse researchers adopt these frameworks are explored, as are the tensions between the respective theories. A complementary 'toolbox' approach to the research process addresses some of the theoretical and methodological challenges presented by each framework. Such an approach provides distinctive insights into nursing practice that the other has ignored or missed. It is argued that by converging the two frameworks into a toolbox approach, it is possible to examine or deconstruct existing practices, whilst also providing an avenue for nurses to reconstruct or change such practices.