Negotiating transsituational demands : a study of socialization for social work
This is a longitudinal participant observation study of one cohort of postgraduate social work students, concentrating on their subjective experience and what 'becoming a social worker' meant for the individual in the context of his/her life. Social work training involved transsituational demands on the individual in 3 main areas: upon the social worker as citizen, the citizen as social worker and the student as social worker. What characterized such demands was the assumption that the individual would act in situations where he/she was not functioning as a social worker in a manner which nevertheless was seen as befitting someone laying claim to this role. Negotiation of transsituational demands was evidenced by, and accomplished through, students' 'frame-work' activities. Whilst students voiced their difficulties through make-believe keying, and thereby enacted role-distance strategies, this activity also afforded them practice in serious 'cross-framing' - an activity in which all students engaged. Students also perceived 'professional' training requirements as transsituational: in particular, the requirement of relating theory to practice proved problematic for their self-image as 'helpers' and 'healers'. The 'learning perspective' they developed, with its 'accounts' of-theory-practice integration, provided a partial solution, but has some serious implications for social work practice - as have the pessimistic perspectives developed by students in response to difficulties involved in developing professional reference group identification. Attempting to reconcile their personal aspirations and beliefs with training requirements, students throughout experienced a conflict between the search for an 'impulsive anchorage' and the search for an 'institutional anchorage', present at most changing-points in the life-cycle but here brought into sharper focus. This conflict, still unresolved at the end of training, goes some way towards explaining that paradox of devotion and despondency which characterizes social workers' perceptions of their job.