Monday, March 23, 2009

Goffman's Sentences (3)

We have looked at examples of how Goffman writes about theory and method in Asylums. Here's an example of his empirical style:

In mental hospitals and similar institutions the basic kind of personal territory is, perhaps, the private sleeping room, officially available to around five or ten per cent of the ward population. In Central Hospital such a room was sometimes given in exchange for hard work. Once obtained, a private room could be stocked with objects that could lend comfort, pleasure, and control to the patient's life. Pin-up pictures, a radio, a box of paperback detective stories, a bag of fruit, coffee-making equipment, matches, shaving equipment — these were some of the objects, many of them illicit, that were introduced by patients. (217)

Notice that this passage brings together general notions (like comfort, pleasure, and control) with very specific ones (like the list of objects that may be found in priavte rooms). Also, having told us that private sleeping rooms are rare (i.e., that most patients don't have them), he tells us how those that do have them came by them. That is, he implicitly raises a question and then explicitly answers it.

By beginning with a "personal territory" that is very clearly demarcated from the rest of the hospital, he gives concreteness to an idea that is actually quite abstract. He will go on to show how territories can be set up without any need for walls and doors. Here "personal effects" are used not to "stock" the personal space but to "mark off the area as his place" (218).

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