Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

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

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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



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