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An ethnography of humor, ritual and defiance in a cancer care setting

Loyd S. Pettegrew (Department of Communication, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 9 October 2017

Abstract

Purpose

Health care organizational research should pay greater attention to the specific settings where health is practiced. An ethnographic account of humor, ritual and defiance is presented from 29 months spent in a private, concierge-type radiation oncology center. A thick description of the setting and interaction among center staff and patients is offered in an attempt to establish why qualitative research of health care settings is so important. Findings are compared to Ellingson’s work on health care setting. Humor, ritual and defiance have therapeutic value and deserve greater attention in cancer treatment centers and health care organizations more broadly. The paper aims to discuss these issues.

Design/methodology/approach

An ethnographic account of humor, ritual and defiance is presented from 29 months spent in a private, concierge-type radiation oncology center through thick description.

Findings

This study reinforces the literature on the value of institutionalizing humor and ritual to improve patients’ experience in cancer care given the dominance of large public institutions, most easily accessed by academic researchers. Suncoast Coast Radiation Center’s “institutionalized humor” is an important finding that should be examine further. Scholarship can also illuminate the use of ritual in settings where health care is practiced.

Research limitations/implications

This study is limited to a particular research setting which is a private, concierge care radiation oncology treatment center in the Southeastern USA.

Practical implications

Cancer care centers should consider carefully institutionalizing humor and ritual into their daily practices. Further, patient defiance should be reinterpreted not as a patient deficiency but as a therapeutic coping mechanism by patients.

Social implications

While nearly half of cancer care in the USA is offered in private, for-profit institutions, the vast majority of the understanding of cancer care comes only from non-profit and government-run institutions. Shining a light of these neglected cancer care settings will add to the understanding and the ability to improve the care offered to patients.

Originality/value

This is the first health ethnography in a concierge care, cancer care treatment setting. It tests the proposition that humor, ritual and defiance play an important role in a private concierge cancer care organization.

Keywords

Citation

Pettegrew, L.S. (2017), "An ethnography of humor, ritual and defiance in a cancer care setting", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 6 No. 3, pp. 159-176. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOE-04-2017-0021

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited