There is a fantastic post on the Ballast Existenz blog entitled ‘What makes institutions bad?’. Go and read it.

And thank you to Lucy Series for recommending this blog to me.



7 thoughts on “

  1. I’m so glad somebody else enjoys this blog, I think it’s amazing. I hadn’t read this post, although I use another of Amanda Baggs’ posts (‘Outposts in our heads’) a lot to explore issues around control. It calls to mind Foucault’s points about the way the ‘humane’ asylums worked on guilt, rather than physical restraint, and modelled the authoritarian hierarchy on the family.

    I’m attempting to do a discourse analysis of ‘deprivation of liberty’ judgments, and one of the interesting features of judicial reasoning about DoL is how it uses themes of ‘homeliness’, family life and ‘personalisation’ to distract from the underlying issues of control. There’s a paper by a Swedish sociologist called Wreder which talks about how care staff draw from discourses of ‘home’ and ‘family’ in accounts of ‘good care’, but these fluffy discourses both mask and reinforce social surveillance and control of residents. He notes that the discourses of ‘home’ drawn from by care staff reinforce a particular kind of ‘homeliness’ (usually involving baking), rather than other experiences of home (having a beer when we get in from work; walking around naked; inviting friends over spontaneously; rowing with your family). Discursively, ‘personalisation’ is coming to be used in a similar way. It’s not that I think ‘personalisation’ is bad (any more than ‘home’ is bad), it’s just that I don’t think it can help circumvent the issues around surveillance and control that Amanda Baggs raises. Restrictions and activities may be more ‘personalised’, but ultimately all the outcomes are under the control of the institution, who can reject any that are unacceptable to them. Overall the focus is still a striving to contain the chaos and entropy of ‘other people’ and their lives and choices.

    On a different note, Amanda Baggs also makes brilliant videos, this one went viral a few years ago which is how I first heard about her:

  2. I read it thinking of Foucault too. In Abnormal Foucault expands the point he makes in History of Madness and argues that in the nineteenth century many other social institutions come to adopt a hierarchical family as their model including places of juvenile detention and army barracks. Looking at the comments on this piece though made me think about how circular this ideology is. ‘Failed’ families are supplanted by institutions which function as ‘ideal’ families in which ‘parents’ are able to consistently perform as benevolent and loving role models. But this ignores the fact that parents who at least love their children are pretty rubbish at this (I may be speaking for myself here!) and it seems unlikely that others will perform the task better.

    I love the idea of homeliness usually involving baking! It isn’t just social care though is it – everyone seems to be buying into the idea that if you just whisk enough eggs and grind enough almonds everything will be OK.

  3. I’ve been meaning to read Abnormal since Ralph’s talk at the SLSA last year, will definitely look it up now!

    I wonder if there’s any sociological writing on the meaning of Nigella Lawson in modern life? Surely there must be…

  4. Really interesting blog, thanks Lucy/Nell. What you are saying about homeliness, Lucy, I think could also be said as ‘wholesomeness’. It’s something I’ve often thought about with the MCA and best interests – that as soon as you are deemed to lack capacity, you are no longer allowed to make mistakes, or to do things which are considered socially distasteful. You suddenly have to become a perfect human being, with an immaculate diet plan, social habits, etc etc.

    A friend of mine is working as a support worker in a group home, and she was telling me how disappointed she’s been in the ‘illusion’ of freedom. She feels like she’s just contributing to a system – the residents only have access to their medication, but they have to take it in the presence of a support worker, etc etc etc. Then I start to think again about this idea of ‘necessary restrictions’, which keeps popping up in case law – this idea that it’s not a deprivation because the restrictions are needed. Surely just because they are needed (though that too must be up for debate), doesn’t mean there’s no deprivation? From a specific social perspective, prison is ‘needed’ to keep dangerous people off the streets, but we wouldn’t say that they are not deprived of their liberty. This language fiddling is starting to get more and more insidious with every case I see…

  5. 16 April 2012
    I made a Freedom of Information Request to the Office of the Public Guardian

    I believe that people are being actively prevented from having their specific wishes adhered to. Instead someone else assumes their thinking for them. They are no longer free to act and think for themselves. Instead of “mental health” it has become “mental hygiene”.

    I am in a long-running campaign to get the Mental Capacity Act 2005 removed from the Statute Book entirely.

    For it is a muddle, and people who are deemed to be the least able to make a sentient choice are then prevented from ever making a silly mistake ever again for they are watched over like hawks, prevented from living with their friends and families because “they” are the cause of the person’s misfortunes – not society, not the political masters but the people who love and cherish them – they become the scapegoats for all society’s ills and tribulations.
    Talk about scapegoating – you ain’t seen nothing yet when you consider that there are potentially
    6 MILLION people who might at some point be deemed to be incapacitous and if just one mistake or silly action happens, then the carer or friend could be jailed!

    It is unspeakable.

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