Care relationships
Care relationships

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Care relationships

1.5.5 The modern day relationship

However, things have been changing since Stein outlined the doctor-nurse game. A more recent study in Sweden reported that:

In our investigation, the nurses who had been working for 15–20 years often emphasised that it was during the past 8–10 years that marked changes had occurred in their interplay with doctors. Relations in former times are described in terms such as: ‘one had to stand on tiptoe’, ‘the doctors were kings’, or ‘no questioning was allowed’. By contrast today’s relationships are portrayed as collegial; discussion together is common ‘they respect our job’, and ‘they listen and take our views into account’.

(Svensson, 1996, p. 383)

But even if the ‘script’ has changed, that does not mean the show has stopped running. It cannot. Nor does this talk of ‘play acting’ imply that what goes on is not serious. Far from it. The central point is that we human beings cannot function together in any other way. We are dependent on ‘making sense of the world’ together. Without shared meanings we cannot act together.

Key points

  • Goffman argues that playing the scenes of life involve teamwork, such that participants accept a ‘shared definition’ of what is going on.

  • Participants also accept that they should speak and act in ways which are consistent with this definition.

  • This means suppressing aspects of themselves which are not consistent with their role in the ‘scene’.

  • It also means not undermining other people’s playing of their roles within the scene.

  • One example of team playing is the enacting of hierarchical doctor–nurse–patient relationships on hospital wards.


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