Conserning “users”

A google search with the words “brukere” and “barnevernet” – meaning in Norwegian “users” and “the Child Protection S\ervices” (CPS) – reveals that children who are CPS clients in different ways, are referred to as “users” of the CPS. This includes children who receive some kind of help while still living with their families, as well as children who have been removed to an institution or a foster home. Parents are also referred to as “users”. These children often say themselves that they do not want to leave their parents. One example of the use of the word user is this document from the department responsible for the CPS in Norway, written as a part of the prosess of modifying the law regulating the Norwegian CPS. In point 2.4.1 in the document, one can read about “brukerundersøkelser” (user surveys) done among children with some kind of CPS intervention, including children living in fosterhomes and institutions.

This use of the word “user” in stead of “client” should lead to some reflection. Is it natural to call people “users” when they “use” a service they do not want? This use of the word “user” has been frequent in another part of the Norwegian public sector too – psychiatry. Norway is the European country where the largest number of people are involuntarily hospitalized in psychiatry. In 1999, Fampo’s chairman Dag Hiåsen wrote a report about psychiatry in Norway.

In the reprort, Hiåsen asked where the limits for the use of the concept user goes
The users of psychiatric drugs, which have severe side effects.
The users of Ullersmo and Ila (well known prisons in Norway).
A large number of users of lobotomy died in a pool of blood.
The users of the electrical chair.
The users of Auswitch, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrûck, Natzweiler, Dachau …

This question from Hiåsen was, as I have been told afterwards, not well received from the defenders of Norwegian psychiatry. One might be tempted to conclude that the Norwegian language has been perverted – by the users of Newspeak.

Erik Strand
May 08, 2014