NUMBER 153 15 NOVEMBER 2002 ATTENTION GIVING AND RECEIVING
INDEX OF QUOTESReferences
The need of the residents for care is implicitly recognized by the staff, who translate their own complementary role into behavioral terms as attention-giving. The log serves to remind staff members to spend time daily with each resident, dispensing attention in individual and in group sessions.
Each girls day in school is also carefully arranged to assure opportunities for proper allocation of attention. In the small school located on campus and offering a special education program, the girls attend classes in groups of up to eight students, permitting individualized instructional techniques to be employed. An intricate communication network is set up to acknowledge both positive and negative behavior in school. The teacher who serves as a liaison between the two subsystems, school and cottage, briefs her colleagues every morning on meaningful events in the girls lives. "Betty had a haircut, be sure to notice it!"; "Yesterday was Sues shopping day; remember to compliment her on her new outfit."
Unaware of the fact that they are the ones responsible for organizing the day around attention-giving, the staff relate to girls attention-seeking behaviors as if they were diagnostic indicators. Instead of addressing the real problems that brought the clients to the institution, they end up using girls style of socialization to the resident role as a basis for their individual treatment plans. This application of the sick-role model converts the setting into a total institution and reflects the distinction made by Seidl (1974) between mediatory and total institutions according to the goal of treatment. In the first type, the institution serves as a vehicle for enhancing the clients community readjustment, whereas in the second, the adjustment to the institutional setting becomes the main objective.
"Classical rebel" is the label staff attach to those residents who refuse to assume the ready-made cultural identity provided by the sick role smoothly and insist on playing the game according to their own rules instead, at least at the beginning. Behaviors characteristic of this category include attempts to run away while making sure one is caught, "bitching" when a youth counselor is within hearing distance, dressing inappropriately for various occasions such as wearing a long skirt for school, or donning insufficient clothing in cold weather "cause only softies put on a dozen tops." Many of these behavioral patterns revolve around clothing and makeup as the most obvious vehicles for presentation of self (Goffman, 1959).
"Honeymooners," on the other hand, are those girls who willingly assume the sick-role: they readily "share feelings in group," ask for "group time and staff support" to cope with their problems, and "do their charges." Why the staff dislike the "rebels" is obvious, but it seems that the "honeymooners" constitute a suspect group, too. The assumption that the "honeymooners" merely "front" compliance is inherent in the label. The following remarks are indicative: "She can probably hold it together for a few more days," or "I wonder when she will show us her teeth." All the girls are placed along the "honeymooner""classical rebel" continuum. Rather than working on their individual problems at their own pace, they learn to adjust to these unwritten rules or expectations.
Staff members frequent use of theater jargon suggests their awareness of the girls role behavior, e.g., "Susan acted out of character." They also classify and interpret residents behavior according to where in the cottage it took place. They call the downstairs area, where the girls may want to impress the staff, "the forestage." The upstairs, where the girls can "sometimes just be without any mask," as one youth counselor put it, is called, accordingly, "backstage."
The inconsistencies in the youth counselors attitudes are evident. At the same time that they expect behavior changes, they also reproach the girls for "creaking performances" or dismiss their positive behavior as "mere play-acting." They appear to be either unaware of their own role as directors of the overall production or incapable of doing much about it.
Eisikovits, R. (1997) The anthropology of child and youth care work, Child & Youth Services, Vol.18 No.1 pp.49-51
Goffman, E. (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday, Anchor
Seidl, F. (1974) Community-oriented residential care: The state of the art. Child Care Quarterly, 3(1), 150-163