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On Record

On Record: Files and Dossiers in American Life

Copyright Date: 1969
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    On Record
    Book Description:

    On Recordprovides descriptive accounts of record keeping in a variety of important organizations: schools, from elementary to graduate school; consumer credit agencies, general business organizations, and life insurance companies; the military and security agencies; the Census Bureau and the Social Security Administration; public welfare agencies, juvenile courts, and mental hospitals. It also examines the legal status of records. The authors pose questions such as the following: Who determines what records are kept? Who has access to the records?

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-702-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. I. Introduction

    • 1 Problems and Issues in Record-Keeping
      (pp. 3-26)

      A birth certificate documents the arrival of a newborn member of our society and a certificate of death his exit. Prior to his birth a doctor will have recorded his prenatal development, and after his death legal files will record the settlement of his affairs.

      Between birth and death there will be recorded many significant events of his life as well as qualities and performances that give his life its distinctive character and shape. Beginning at least with his arrival in school, records will accumulate regarding his budding career; his abilities will be measured, his personality assessed, his performance in...

  4. II. Educational Institutions

    • 2 Record-Keeping in Elementary and Secondary Schools
      (pp. 29-66)

      Record-keeping, in one form or another, is an integral part of the educational process. At the simplest level, an educational record describes changes taking place in individuals that may be attributed, at least in part, to their participation in the teaching-learning experience. Since change (learning) is presumed to be the primary goal of education, the record of such change provides a measure of the effectiveness of the educational process as a whole as well as the performance of each of the participants, principally teachers and students.

      From the beginnings of human society teachers have no doubt kept track of the...

    • 3 The Dossier in Colleges and Universities
      (pp. 67-94)

      Several major forces converge to render american higher education an attractive place in which to build and maintain files. Preparatory agencies must everywhere certify their trainees; and, as Weber long ago emphasized,¹ approval by informal nod gives way in modem society to the written certificate. To certify some, while barring others, the training organization (the university or college) devises measures of performance that, when summed, produce an objective final judgment.

      The marks of evaluation can be relatively simple, even kept in the backpockets of students, when, as in Europe of the recent past, external examinations carry the burden of selection....

    • 4 Information-Flow Within the Professions: Some Selective Comparisons of Law, Medicine, and Nursing
      (pp. 95-140)

      An increasing amount of the work of modern industrial society is performed by highly trained persons known as professionals. As persons with technically specialized skills, professionals differ in various important ways from other persons who occupy official positions in the formal organizations by which modern society performs most of its crucial tasks. One important difference is that the legitimacy of their tenure in these positions may derive as much from the claims to expert knowledge as judged by their fellow professionals as from the adequacy of their incumbency in an hierarchical position as judged by their organizational superiors.

      This authority...

  5. III. Economic Institutions

    • 5 The Dossier in Consumer Credit
      (pp. 143-176)

      Although credit bureaus maintain records on very many americans, perhaps one hundred million of them, public understanding of these practices appears quite superficial.¹ Most Americans seem aware—often rather uncomfortably so—that they have such a thing as a “credit rating,” but few seem to have more than a sketchy understanding of what credit bureaus are and how they maintain and use records on consumers. And yet, given the extensive dependence of our economy on consumer credit, the activities of credit bureaus affect most Americans at one time or another in their lives.

      Whenever an American consumer applies to make...

    • 6 Record-Keeping and Corporate Employees
      (pp. 177-202)

      Observers of american business firms differ considerably in their evaluations of corporate behavior, but they tend to agree that firms respond, more or less sensitively, to information. Some theorists, in analyzingsomeeconomic problems, see the firm as only a theoretical construct, a “uni-brain,” a “decision-unit,” a “postulate in a web of logical connections” that adjusts to changes in data.¹ Others consider that a firm’s success, or lack of it, is determined by “… the judgments of flesh-and-blood businessmen, guided by knowledge imperfect though it may be….”² Both approaches give considerable analytical weight in managerial decision-making to the role of...

    • 7 Personal Information in Insurance Files
      (pp. 203-222)

      Insurance is an institution that touches the lives of nearly all American families, as well as virtually all business enterprises. Five out of six families are protected by life insurance.¹ More than 85 per cent of the automobiles on the road are covered by liability insurance, and more than 90 per cent of our homes are protected by fire insurance and related coverages.² Apart from the very poorest strata of society, the involvement of Americans with insurance is virtually total.

      The insurance industry depends upon procedures for the selection of risks and the payment of claims which require the gathering...

  6. IV. Governmental Institutions

    • 8 Government Records: The Census Bureau and the Social Security Administration
      (pp. 225-254)

      There are two basic purposes for which data are obtained by the federal government.¹ The first purpose is to provide general-purpose statistics for use by the government and the public for analyzing economic and social factors affecting the nation. The other purpose is to aid in carrying out administrative missions. In addition to the federal government, states and other governmental entities obtain data with similar purposes. This chapter concerns only federal data collection. The wide variety of data collected from and about individuals is only part of the total data-collection process. In this respect, this chapter restricts attention to data...

    • 9 The Dossier in Military Organization
      (pp. 255-274)

      Dossiers in military organization differ from those in other institutional settings in at least three ways. First, the basis of legitimacy is a supreme societal goal—national defense and security. This overriding consideration justifies more extensive investigations and a more elaborate and costly investigatory apparatus. It allocates final responsibility for the dossier to intelligence agencies, which operate in a context of secrecy and autonomy and which interpret behavior in terms of latent or active vulnerability to relations with the “enemy.” It greatly expands the scope of inquiry and documentation to which the individual may be legally compelled to submit.


    • 10 Security Investigations
      (pp. 275-316)

      A candidate for employment expects to fill out an application form, describe his education and experience, and provide professional and character references. He will probably be interviewed; he may be required to take psychological tests; and he may have to show samples of his accomplishments. If he passes these hurdles, he is eligible for employment. However, if the work requires access to classified information, he has to fill out another set of forms and wait until he receives security clearance before he can do classified work. For employees of industrial establishments, the security investigation can take place only after the...

  7. V. Welfare Institutions

    • 11 Record-Keeping and the Intake Process in a Public Welfare Agency
      (pp. 319-354)

      Welfare institutions exist to provide assistance to those in need—the aged, the young, the ill, the disabled. But before any assistance can be given, especially where public money is involved, the need must be established. A case must be built to justify the decision of the agency, whether it is to provide the applicant with all the aid he requests, some portion of it, or to deny it to him. In short, the applicant must be shown to meet the eligibility requirements of the program in question.

      This chapter examines the way in which one welfare agency is organized...

    • 12 Records in the Juvenile Court
      (pp. 355-388)

      Records in the american juvenile courts reflect their anomalous position in the court system as well as a synthetic combination of goals frequently working at cross-purposes.¹ The juvenile court in action variously seeks to raise and maintain standards of child care, punish children or their parents, facilitate enforcement of law, and act as an agency of conflict resolution within the community. Overshadowing these is the hard fact that juvenile courts are deficient in resources; since their inception most such courts have been substandard, lacking sufficient means to realize their goals, and suffering from “chronic overload.”² One result is a large...

    • 13 Case Records in the Mental Hospital
      (pp. 389-412)

      The files maintained in mental hospitals and other mental health facilities are not just a passive record of the patient’s dealings with the institution. They are an important part of the working machinery of that institution, and they affect, not merely reflect, the lives of the people who pass through it in many decisive ways. Indeed, if a stranger were to notice how many of the hospital’s resources were devoted to the task of recording information about patients, he might very well conclude that the main objective of the institution was to generate information and keep systematic files rather than...

  8. VI. The Law

    • 14 Legal Control of the Dossier
      (pp. 415-444)

      Our society is caught up in a conflict between rationality and privacy. The man who lends money seeks information about the borrower, the employer about the employee, the motor vehicle bureau about the applicant for a license, the doctor about his patient, the Census Bureau and research agencies about all of us. Schools, insurance companies, the armed forces, hospitals and clinics acquire, at an expanding rate, information from clients or patients or applicants—in the belief that men’s affairs should be guided by intelligence, and that a relatively free flow of information is most likely to produce a rational society....

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 445-449)