The yellow line: a critical study of the symbolic value of artefacts in health care teams

Authors: Berlin, Johan1; Carlström, Eric2

Source: Cognition, Technology & Work, Volume 12, Number 4, November 2010 , pp. 251-261(11)

Publisher: Springer

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Artefacts reveal an organisation’s “inner life” and they contribute to its image and reputation. They also play a decisive role for an organisation’s development. In this article, similar artefacts from two different health care teams—a trauma team and a psychiatric team—in the same hospital, are compared. The team members were interviewed and their work observed over the course of several years. It was demonstrated that identical pieces of equipment in a trauma team and a psychiatric team signalled opposite values. The psychiatric team was backward-looking, conservative and contradictory. Modern technology and pieces of equipment were associated with an abandoned and previously criticised activity. The corresponding equipment in the trauma team, on the other hand, signalled a forward looking, developing and unified culture. The trauma team was a relatively new and powerfully idealised phenomenon, which attracted attention. The analysis points out how the symbolic values signal that one activity is attractive and pleasing while another has a low external legitimacy.

Keywords: Artefact; Culture; Health care system; Organisation; Psychiatry; Sweden; Trauma health care

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Sahlgrenska Academy, Institute of Health and Care Sciences, University of Gothenburg, Vårdalinstitutet, P.O. Box 457, 405 30, Gothenburg, Sweden, Email: 2: Department of Nursing, Health and Culture, University West, 461 86, Trollhättan, Sweden, Email:

Publication date: November 1, 2010

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