Data Type: Journal Article

The enactment and appraisal of authenticity in a Skid Row therapeutic community

Weinberg, D. (1996). The enactment and appraisal of authenticity in a Skid Row therapeutic community. Symbolic Interaction, 19(2), 137-162.

This article examines how the mostly homeless clients of a particular skid row therapy community interact with treatments intended to “fix” their substance abuse issues. The study was mainly interested in seeing how the community enacted and gauged the authenticity of treatment. It was presumed a large number of clients faked their commitment to the program in order to receive the program’s benefits (e.g. food and shelter). Weinberg begins the article by first, explaining the effects of required compliance with the program on homeless clients (namely, that it would cause some of them to fake commitment, and authentic members to have to consistently prove their commitment). Next, he lists some of the ways that the workers at the program would attempt to judge such authenticity (for example, through commitment and enactment of program ideologies).

The author conducted an ethnographic field study of a program called “Beginnings,” a detox community that caters almost exclusively to homeless men from a skid row community near Los Angeles. The author’s findings are based in grounded theory and rely upon his experiences and interactions with the participants in the “Beginnings” program. He observed a myriad of interactions among “Beginnings” clients, including group therapy sessions, and he conducted informal one-on-one interviews with participants of the program. While Weinberg does note that his study addresses a very specific demographic—he suggests that his findings about authenticity may be useful specifically in situations in which emotional outbursts do not reflect one’s authentic self (e.g. among populations with drug addictions or mental afflictions). Weinberg ultimately uses his analysis to offer a critique of Hochschild’s constructionist interpretation of the relationship between emotions and authenticity. He suggests that Hochschild’s model is incomplete in that she focuses too much on personal emotional management, and not enough on the interactive influence of other’s on one’s emotional management (something that was frequently seen among the skid row clients). He also suggests that Hochschild wrongly believes that spontaneous emotion can be seen as a form of authenticity—something that did not hold true among the addicts (who occasional emotional paroxysms) in the sample studied. He instead suggests that the management of emotion (contra the experience of emotional outbursts, for example) can, in certain situations, help one identify her authentic self.

This study contributes to knowledge about psychotherapy from an interactionist standpoint. It suggests that commonly used constructionist frameworks, like that of Hochschild, may be incomplete, because they do not fully account for the role of other people in influencing the release or management of one’s emotions. Moreover, it suggests that in some cases, one ought not to (as constructionists are prone to do) conflate the release of emotion as a release of authentic emotion—Weinberg finds that in certain situations, such paroxysms are merely epiphenomena of addiction (or other “illnesses”) rather than a manifestation of one’s authentic identity. This is important to keep in mind for researchers examining authenticity in populations with mental afflictions.

Categories: Qualitative Methods, Social Construction, Sociology of Mental Health and Illness, Symbolic Interaction
Publication Date: 1996