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WRITING UP/WRITING DOWN A TEXTUAL ETHNOGRAPHY:
DOCUMENTATION PRACTICES IN A MENTAL HEALTH BOARDING HOME
B.A., Simon Fraser University
THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF
THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
in the Faculty
@ Kathryn J. Alexander 1993
SIMON FRASER UNIVERSITY
~ u g u s t 1993
@J All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by photocopy
or other means, without permission of the author.
Title of Thesis:
Kathryn Jean Alexander
Master of Arts
"Writing Upwriting Down" a Textual Ethnography: Documentation Practices in a Mental Health Boarding Home
Chair: Mike Manley-Casimir
Suzanne decastell Senior Supervisor
Celia Haig-Brown Associate Professor
Janet Giltrow Senior Lecturer English Department Simon Fraser University External Examiner
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Title of Thesis/Project/Extended Essay
"Writing UpIWriting Down" A Textual Ethnography: Documentation
Practices in a Mental Health Boarding Home
Kathryn Jean Alexander (name)
6, / 9 r3 (date)
The purpose of this thesis is to examine documentary
practices in a specific institution and to critically explore the
consequences of documentary literacy upon the writers and readers
of such texts. This thesis seeks to provide analytical frameworks
to reconceptualize the implications of documentary practices in
institutions and to make visible the linkages of texts to the
conceptual relations of ruling.
The interest here is in a document, the "daily logn, which
was constructed in a community mental health boarding home.
Through the textual labour of mental health workers who wrote up
accounts of their daily work shifts, the log linked the boarding
home to a matrix of larger social relations. This study seeks to
trace through the residue of an everyday text, the means by which
individuals become transformed into Vextually mediated
identities"; how workers become implicated in Hrelat ions of
rulingn through their own literate practices; and finally, how
particular forms of reading and writing may also open up
possibilities of resistance, creativity and connection within
In this thesis I have re-visited the mental health boarding
home both as a participant observer and as a former reader and
writer of the log. Reconceptualized as a "textual fieldw the log
is elucidated through a method of reading which consists of an
oscillation between the '@fieldw and critical frameworks. Feminist
deconstruction of psychiatry, the discourse analysis and
institutional ethnography of Dorothy Smith, and literary
critiques of ethnography and textuality are deployed to
investigate constructions of the text as %elfn and "fieldn.
The log, as a documentary text incorporates institutional,
ethnographic, and narrative features. HWriting up" describes its
institutional function as an instrument of control; wWriting
downn@ examines the textual construction of everyday life. And
finally, as a nliving utterance", the log is re-visioned as an
open narrative text which refuses closure and offers a
multiplicity of voices and readings.
This thesis argues for a more informed discourse about our
documentary literate practices within institutions and insists
upon a measure of critical uncertainty towards documentary texts
as a means of destabilizing the "conceptual relations of ruling1@.
This thesis is dedicated to the women of the boarding
home; both workers and residents whose voices and lives are
documented within the log. And to Jean, who always resides at the
heart of my journey.
I wish to thank Suzanne de Castell for providing the
intellectual space so that this thesis could grow, and who was
willing to tolerate uncertainty for such a long time. Many
thanks to Celia Haig Brown for confirming that the fieldwork is
never finished so it's just best to get on with the Job. I would
like to thank my peers, for good advice and patient ears. In
particular, I am grateful to Barbara Etches and Donna Johnson,
for being the good midwives that they are. And finally, very
special thanks to Michael, for always believing and caring, to
Gordon for letting me tell my own stories, and to Roxana and
Sylvia for being there too.
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1: (Log Entry) p. 10
Figure 2: (Content Analysis Aug. 4, 1985) 43
Figure 3: (Log Entry: Sept. 15, 1987) 55
Figure 4: (Transcription of Sept. 15, 1987) 90
Figures 5, 6 (Cartoons-Life in the Comunity) 100, 101
Figure 7: (Progress notes: Hable) 107
Figure 8: (Intertextuality in the Log) 122
Figure 9 (Talking Back and Forth) 169
v i i i
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Appr ova 1 Abst rac t Dedica t ion Acknowledgements L i s t of F igures : Table of Contents P r e f a c e "YOU and 1" In t roduc t ion : Wri t ing Up/Writing Down
A Textua l Ethnography
Chapter One: Wri t ing Down/A Methodology Feminis t Reading of t h e F i e l d as Text
A First T e l l i n g
Chapter Two: Wri t ing up/ Conceptual R e l a t i o n s of Rul ing
and Feminis t Theory A Second T e l l i n g
c h a p t e r Three: Wri t ing Up/ And The Rhe to r i c of Management
Chap te r Four: Wri t ing Down/ G i l l i a n l s story/^ ~ h i r d el ling
Chapter Five: Wri t ing Down/The P o e t i c s of Care A Four th T e l l i n g
Bib l iography
ii i i i v i v
v i i v i i i
x i X 1
whoever has no house now, v i l l never have one. Whoever is a lone w i l l s t a y a lone, v i l l s it , read, wr i t e long letters through the evening, and wander on the boulevards, up and down, r e s t l e s s l y , whi le the dry l eaves a r e blowing.
(R i lke , Autumn Day)
I am a r e s i d e n t . You r e s i d e . I am admi t ted . You move i n . I am a g g r e s s i v e . You a r e a s s e r t i v e . I have behaviour problems. You are rude. I am noncompliant . You d o n ' t l i k e being t o l d what t o do. When I a s k you o u t f o r d inner , it is a n ou t ing . When you ask
someone ou t , i t is a d a t e . I d o n ' t know how many people have r e a d t h e p rog res s no te
people w r i t e about m e . I d o n ' t even know what is i n t h e r e . You d i d n ' t speak t o you b e s t f r i e n d f o r a month a f t e r t h e y
read your j ou rna l . I made mis takes wi th mu check-wri t ing program. Someday I
might g e t a bank account . You f o r g o t t o r eco rd some withdrawals from your account. t h e
bank c a l l e d t o remind you. I wanted t o t a l k wi th t h e n i c e looking person behind us a t
t h e g roce ry s t o r e . I was t o l d t h a t it was inapprop r i a t e t o t a l k t o s t r a n g e r s .
You met your spouse i n t h e produce depar tment . They c o u l d n ' t f i n d the bean s p r o u t s .
I c e l e b r a t e d my b i r t h d a y y e s t e r d a y wi th 5 o t h e r r e s i d e n t s and 2 s t a f f members. I hope my f ami ly s ends a c a r d .
Your f a m i l y th rew you a s u r p r i s e p a r t y . Your b ro the r c o u l d n ' t make it from ou t of s t a t e . I t sounded wonderful .
My c a s e manager sends a r e p o r t ca rd e v e r y month t o my guardian. H e s ays eve ry th ing I d i d wrong and some t h i n g s I d i d r i g h t .
You are still mad a t your s i s t e r f o r c a l l i n g your mom a f t e r you g o t t h a t speed ing t i c k e t .
I am on a s p e c i a l d i e t because I a m f i v e pounds over my i d e a l weight. Your doc to r gave up t e l l i n g you.
I am l e a r n i n g household s k i l l s . You h a t e housework. I am l e a r n i n g l e i s u r e s k i l l s . You s h i r t s a y s you are a H ~ o ~