Boys in care : how social workers interpret deviant adolescent behaviour
The purpose of this thesis is to offer an ethnomethodological analysis of institutional life at St. Nicholas', a community home for deviant adolescent boys. I have been particularly concerned to examine the therapeutic mode of reasoning which the staff so often employed in interpreting the boys' behaviour as the surface manifestation of their underlying emotional disturbance. This constitutes the main focus of chapters three and four. The psychological problems from which the boys were typically seen to suffer were routinely attributed to their past, punctuated as it was by a variety of deprivations. I examine the construction of such historical links in chapters five to eight. To procure the material necessary for a detailed empirical exploration of institutional discourse I spent a year and a quarter "in the field" at St. Nicholas'. In addition to my everyday observation of myriad institutional routines and practices I also recorded the vast majority of staff meetings and case conferences, and photocopied dozens of case histories. This form of data collection provided the empirical precision necessary for the methodological purpose in hand. I attempted to bring to the data an anthropological sensitivity. This involved the partial suspension of my normal, practical orientation to the world. By dint of this distancing process one is able to identify and analyze the common sense methods through which institutional realities are accomplished. These are usually concealed by their very proximity. By subjecting the empirical material to such close methodological scrutiny, "children with problems", or "disturbed adolescents" emerge not as the starting point, but the product of the social knowledge and discursive procedures through which staff called their environment to account.