In this paper, we introduce the notion of ‘rupture’ from the French philosopher Michel Foucault, whose studies of discourse and governmentality have become prominent within nursing research during the last 25 years. We argue that a rupture perspective can be helpful for identifying and maintaining a critical potential within nursing research. The paper begins by introducing rupture as an inheritance from the French epistemological tradition. It then describes how rupture appears in Foucault's works, as both an overall philosophical approach and as an analytic tool in his historical studies. Two examples of analytical applications of rupture are elaborated. In the first example, rupture has inspired us to make an effort to seek alternatives to mainstream conceptions of the phenomenon under study. In the second example, inspired by Foucault's work on discontinuity, we construct a framework for historical epochs in nursing history. The paper concludes by discussing the potential of the notion of rupture as a response to the methodological concerns regarding the use of Foucault-inspired discourse analysis within nursing research. We agree with the critique of Cheek that the critical potential of discourse analysis is at risk of being undermined by research that tends to convert the approach into a fixed method.