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Missing bodies: a qualitative approach to understanding support care work in acute care setting Tanche, Janice Adèle


This project works toward understanding the setting of an acute care hospital from the perspective of individuals who work there but who are not specifically trained to work in biomedical settings. Eight volunteers working as janitors in a large metropolitan hospital discuss what is, for them, significant about their work. We learn from their discussions, that for some respondents, the most significant aspects of their work are often not centred around janitorial tasks. Rather, these respondents are acutely attentive to the needs of the people around them for comfort, companionship, and assistance. Often, both what is most rewarding and what is most difficult about the working environment the respondents experience revolves around this orientation. The thesis recognises that this aspect of the work these janitors are doing is different from much of the work done in the hospital in that it is removed from the realms of science and technology, and attends more to the “comfort needs” of people who are confined by illness and injury. Attending to these needs is not formally recognised as an aspect of their work duties and this is problematic for the janitors. We will see also that, while not all the respondents are oriented to their surroundings in the same way, none is able to ignore being surrounded by many people, including visitors, patients, and other staff members from many disparate departments. In other words, none of the respondents is able simply to perform his or her janitorial tasks oblivious to the fact that this work is in a hospital. The respondents express an awareness of the low status of their work in the hospital. A few experience their status as oppressive. Linked to this, some respondents talk about the experience of being made “invisible” by their uniform — which is to say, by the nature of their work. These experiences are used to consider the idea that, while high status in the hospital is associated with proximity to science and its application, perhaps low status is not simply the reverse of this. Low status, it is argued, occurs as a result of proximity to the more invidious aspects of disease and injury, without the recognition attached to a formal healing role. Anticipating that the readers’ experience of acute care hospitals will usually be limited, this thesis works to achieve a rich reconstruction of the environment and presents the respondents as characters the reader meets in the setting. This approach, although not unique in sociology, is unusual. The aim of it is to provide detail and information sufficient to invite the reader into an informed and confident dialogue with the respondents and with the analysis.

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