Shelter Blues (ethnographic review)

There is an ethnography called “Shelter Blues”. It studies the lives of people who live in an American psychiatric hospital. In the ethnography the very structure of the building (half unbuilt and Escher like) symbolises the futility of the lives of the inhabitants.

The hospital was devised in the 60s in a time of social expansion, spending and welfare provision. The stagflation of the 70s leads to funding cuts and the building is never completed to plan. It’s left with half built staircases and dead end corridors that symbolise the lost nature of these patients lives. The medical regime also changes from one of optimism and therapeutic possibilities to one of expectation management.

I was really touched when I read this ethnography. I felt like the people in the hospital were stuck in a labyrinth.

a few weeks ago I went to a local psychiatric hospital. All the wards were closed after the financial crisis of 2008 only a few years after it was completed as a private finance initiative. Psychiatrists still have offices there. Down stairs there is a large garden, walled off from the public. It’s quite a nice space and could be made really nice but only really serves as a place for staff to smoke.

I was thinking about how institutional futures end. Beneficial projects run out of funding and just stultify.



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