Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Lynn Shaw, PhD


This institutional ethnography research explored how women with rheumatoid arthritis, who are mothers, and of employable age, go about their daily lives given their social context. The social context for this research was Austria, which is characterized by social policies based on familialism and an emphasis on employment. This context may open up various resources and possibilities about what women can do and actually do in their daily lives, and thus, directs attention to the situated nature of human occupation.

In institutional ethnography particular attention is given to the social, which suggests that daily life becomes accomplished through coordinated activities of various individuals who are active across places and time. These social relations often remain invisible. Institutional ethnography aims to explicate these social relations by exploring the work, that is, anything that requires time, effort, and has intent, of individuals in their daily lives. An understanding of the work of the seven women in going about their lives was collected by means of interviews and participant observations. Texts were analyzed to understand how the actual, local doings of the women are coordinated to trans-local relations. Texts have a mediating character and coordinate the women’s consciousness into relations ruling organizational processes.

The findings contain a thick description of the women’s actual work in their daily lives; an explication of how their doings are coordinated to the relations ruling arthritis-related health care; and relations organizing processes related to employment and invalidity. What the women do, how they do it, and with whom, depends on how they are situated within social relations. Once they enter arthritis-related health care, their experiences become coordinated to medical concepts ruling these particular relations; once the women enter relations at the labor market, the concept of employability rules the processes there. Within these respective ruling relations, the complexity of the women’s daily lives is not accounted for.

This research illustrates the necessity for attending to the situated nature of how individuals go about their daily lives to comprehensively understand the social organization and work that goes into accomplishing the ordinary activities of everyday life.