Contingent Control and Wild Moments: Conducting Psychiatric Evaluations in the Home

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Contingent Control and Wild Moments: Conducting Psychiatric Evaluations in the Home


  • Robert M. Emerson Department of Sociology, University of California – Los Angeles, USA
  • Melvin Pollner Department of Sociology, University of California – Los Angeles, USA


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Abstract:  When social control and social service workers go into the field, into the “native habitat” of some problem, a variety of tacit structures and controls that mark office work with its standardized documents and formal meetings are weakened or absent entirely. As a result, compared to office settings, social control work in field settings tends to become open, contingent, unpredictable, and on occasion even wild. This article provides a strategic case study of the distinctive features of social control decision-making in the field, drawing on observations of field work by psychiatric emergency teams (PET) from the 1970s. PET typically went to the homes of psychiatrically-troubled persons in order to conduct evaluations for involuntary mental hospitalization. This article will analyze the varied, situationally-sensitive practices these workers adopted to evaluate such patients in their own homes.

Keywords:  clientization; field psychiatry; frontline decision-making; social control; home visits

Published:   28 February 2019


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v7i1.1788


© Robert M. Emerson, Melvin Pollner. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.