Of Interest(?): Institutional Ethnography Proposal


Working with “complex needs” individuals in a variety of residential group-homes over the last eight years, I believe that I have an understanding of the realities faced by the individuals that populate this semi private/public setting, and especially in how this work is textually mediated. I can see that divide that exists between the institutions that run these programs (the government agencies, the boards of directors, the care agencies, and the “management”), the frontline workers and the individuals who are serviced by this maze of people and texts.

As Gerald Montigny (1995) states: “to do social work is to engage in socially organized practices of power… the possibility of professional authority depends to a large degree on the ability of practitioners to employ textual realities to mediate the details of their daily practice” (p. 209). This rings correct to me: when I begin my shift, I am confronted with a variety of texts: I start with a “shift change” checklist, a sign in sheet, a time sheet, and a communication book where I read short communiqués from my coworkers (most of whom I have never even met) asking for someone (else) to rake the leaves in the back yard, or to question where “the little key with the blue key ring” wandered off too, as well as the “client progress notes” where the “official” record of the day to day activities of the individuals living within the group-homes. All of this has to be filled out (to get paid, and account for being at work), read and responded to (“last time I saw the little key on the blue key ring, it was downstairs, but I checked and it is not there any longer, sorry”), and then analyzed for clues as to how my shift might go (reading the “official” logs to see how this client behaved in the last couple of shifts will often give me clues for whether or not I am in for an easy shift or a difficult one).

Mind you, these texts are often encountered and enacted before I interact with my “clients” at all.

It is this specific form, the official daily log of a clients, that is the problematic that I am examining for my proposed mini-institutional ethnography. I know that often what is entered as the “official account” is far from the lived experience of what happens on a shift. For example, I may enter into the official log “X ate supper and then watched television before going to bed” – which is a basic flow of what happened, but it omits the actual lived experience, whereby the client and I may have been joking around while I was making supper, and then I accidentally knocked a glass on the floor, which then we cleaned it up, but I still managed to get a glass sliver on my hand, drawing blood, which caused the client to pretend to be a vampire and want to suck the blood from the wound, and even though I kept telling him to stop trying to lick my hand, he kept persisting, and thus I had to “excuse” myself to the washroom so that I could clean the wound without my hand being grabbed at… and on and on like this. 

For this study, I will be interviewing two frontline caregivers in one group-home that opened in September in North-East Calgary, thus all the workers, though at various levels of experience, are all experiencing this specific setting as new at the same time. The first frontline worker that I will be interviewing is young and new to the field, and the second worker I will be interviewing is the home’s veteran worker who has been in this field for more than fifteen years. Through interviewing these two workers, I will be looking to see the ways in which the institutional language is internalized and used when entering the daily log notes, and I will be exploring what is accounted for and what is left out when enacting this form.


One thought on “Of Interest(?): Institutional Ethnography Proposal

  1. Pingback: Practice of Madness

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