Performing social work : an ethnographic study of talk and text in a metropolitan social services department
The central theme of this ethnographic study is captured in the word play in the title. It is, essentially, an analysis of the social work in social work. With a primary focus on the collegial discourse taking place between 'child care' social workers and managers in a social services department in the North West of England, I have undertaken an analysis of naturally occurring talk, interview data, formal policy and procedure, and written records of action taken (case files and minutes) and action to be taken (e.g. court reports, strategic planning documents). My analytic focus has been upon on the routines and linguistic practices through which `caseness' is accomplished. I argue that, although professional accounts are artfully produced against certain (situated) background expectancies, the 'materials' invoked in such accounts are not entirely local phenomena. That is to say, competent accounts are both locally accomplished and contingent upon available vocabularies. In a search for analytic adequacy, I have drawn particularly upon the temporal and rhetorical 'turns' in the human sciences. Using an unashamedly eclectic approach, I argue that 'imported' materials, such as bureaucratic time, remain malleable and, thus, may be invoked strategically and artfully by social workers in their (narrative) constructions of events and 'cases' and, indeed, themselves - allowing them to reference risk, deviance or normality, for example. However, the possibilities are far from infinite, and the liturgical nature of many encounters ensures that what is most remarkable about organizational life is not its instability, but its predictability.