Accepted Paper:

High security hospitals: Kafka beyond Kafka  


Luigigiovanni Quarta (University of Pisa)

Paper short abstract:

Rethinking my fieldwork at the High Security Hospital in Tuscany, in this paper I reflect on the relationship between anthropological discourse and experts involved in managing of this institutions. How wide is the gap between theoretical discourse and political and practical knowledge?

Paper long abstract:

Social scientists are use to consider Kafka's work as a metaphor of hyper-bureaucratized world of State institutions. The experience of his main character K is considered as the universal experience of modern subject. K perceives himself like a social agent whose presence and sense is annihilated by the state-machinery. The institutions of confinement are part of this bureaucratic apparatus.

Starting from my ethnography carrying out in a High Security Hospital (Tuscany), in this paper I try to contradict/confute this narrative about the institutional world showing how bureaucratic cultural codes are open to the possibility of negotiation and meanings' sharing. Fieldwork experience leads to see the existence of liminal spaces, where macro- and micro-practices define, in a shared frame and/or in conflicting way, the value and meanings of institutions of confinement. We cannot think about High Security Hospitals as a product of static structure: they are extremely plastic and malleable. Ethnographic data show that they are a variable cultural building emerging by interactions of many different co-working social actors.

High Security Hospitals don't live only in a Kafkaesque space of rejection and annihilation of any kind of dialogue but also in a space of negotiation. Within this space anthropology's narratives can produce slipping and phases transition if it breaks off suspicious theoretical approach to institutional world and it becomes practical knowledge. By acting as actor of the game, I learned a know-how beyond written rules and I was a producer of new spaces of agency for those in the institution.

Panel P002
Confinement institutions, ethnography, and public relevance [Anthropology of Confinement Network]