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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Residential rehabilitation as a rite of passage : a case study Northey, Bruce Albert


This study examines the values, goals, methods and context of Camp Trapping, a wilderness-located residential rehabilitation program for teenage males in conflict with the law. The program is located on a small lake approximately thirty-five miles south of Prince George, British Columbia. The study is not an evaluation of the camp's effectiveness or an exploration into the problems or resolutions of juvenile delinquency. Instead it focuses on Camp Trapping's relationship to rites of passage, an anthropological concept used to describe and explain a range of techniques used by a multitude of cultures in their attempts to transform individuals from one state of social-psychological being to another. A series of interviews and a search of Camp Trapping documents provided a clear example of how the Trapping organization presents itself to the community. A five week participant observation study provided insight into the way Camp Trapping is presented to its client group and into it's daily operation. The information obtained from these sources was then compared to a body of anthropological theory concerning ritual and rites of passage. This comparison indicates that Camp Trapping and rites of passage share a number of aspects and that an anthropological exploration of social work practice provides valuable insights into the structures, purposes and value systems of social service programs. The perspective I have used for this study is based primarily on a large body of theory created or expanded on by Victor W. Turner. Turner has focused on ritual, myth and symbol in general while paying particular attention to rites of passage, a specialized ritual format. Perhaps his greatest contribution to anthropological theory is his work on the purposes and format of the mid or liminal stage of the three staged rites of passage. It is during this mid-stage of the rite that an experientially-based learning process attempts to induce the desired transformation. Turner has also provided us with the phrase "rite of affliction", indicating a type of passage designed to take an individual from a culturally-defined state of ill-health to one of health. He provides evidence that indicates that types of individual ill-health can be associated with a marked degree of social tension and stress. Specific rites of affliction attempt to correct both the individuals and the society's ill health. This study indicates that Camp Trapping shares goals, objectives, methods and format with these types of rites. Camp Trapping creates a specific type of social milieu, called a circular -repetitive society, that encourages individual rather than societal change as a response to social tensions and stress. This type of society is particularly conducive to the use of ritual for the redress of this tension and conflict. Within this context, Camp Trapping uses a number of specific techniques to bond it's participants to the desired value system and behavioural pattern. This study indicates that repetition, paradox, the forced homo genaity of participants, the methodical use of means to induce physical and emotional stress and the use of situationally-defined symbols are all in use at Camp Trapping. All these methods are associated with the liminal stage of an rite of passage. In a ritual context, they are used in an attempt to catalize a transformation of world view, the revitalization of a person's perception of his or her own potential, and, as importantly, the positive reappraisal of the society's potential. Ultimately, it is hoped that the rite will create or strengthen a positive bond between the individual and the society. These rites also attempt to provide meaning to and reconfirm the validity of the individual and the society. This study also indicates that Camp Trapping could well be an example of a logical extension of the routinization of Protestantism, i.e. a secular faith. Finally, this study provides a number of implications for social work, particularly in respect to rehabilitation programs. It provides a new perspective from which to examine the problems of institutionaliation, values education and the reintegration of residential treatment residents into the parent community. It seriously questions our society's ability to rehabilitate certain of its members while the society itself continues to disassociate itself from the rehabilitation process and its aftermath. It also offers some tentative suggestions aimed at improving the rehabilitation process and suggests that organizations like Camp Trapping could well be used by social workers in an attempt to revitalize their own commitment to the aims and methods of the social service profession.

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