Social work as narrative : an investigation of the social and literary nature of social work accounting
This thesis investigates what can be gained by approaching social work reports and conversations as narratives. A conventional approach to social work accounting practices is to treat such documents as (more or less) accurate descriptions of social workers' clients, their problems and proposed remedies. Such a realist approach was found to be flawed, since it assumes straightforward access from accounts to external reality, not considering the constructedness of such documents. Drawing on theoretical themes from the sociology of scientific knowledge, literary theory, conversation analysis, ethnomethodology and sociolinguistics, this thesis explores the construction and reception of social work accounts as rhetorical, narrative and interactional processes. The documents analysed represent some of the occasions on which social workers describe and recommend social work intervention with children and their families - research interviews, court reports, internal memos, case file entries and journal reports. On these occasions, social work is performed and displayed in descriptions of people and their attributes, justifications for social work intervention and excuses for lack of success. The main theme of the thesis is that social work accounts can profitably be analysed as stories. To explain their work and their clients' world to a variety of audiences, social workers are heard to tell competent, professionally persuasive stories. A variety of storytelling features are explored, looking in particular at plot, character, the construction of the reader and the authority of the writer. Stories are heard to vary with reading occasions and critical audiences, and it is the study of reading relations which is a main focus of the analysis - to whom are these accounts addressed and how are they available to be read? Rhetorical features are investigated in order to understand how social work accounts are made available to be read as morally and factually persuasive. A critical reading is also offered, which questions the adequacy of the accounts, and makes available the possibility of reading unheard stories. Reflexive interludes comment on the claims of the thesis writer in terms of the efforts of the social work writer. The implications of this study are that treating social work accounts as textual accomplishments undermines social workers' claims for reporting objectively about their clients and their problems. Social work can be seen as constituted in and through the performance and reception of stories: doing competent social work is achieved through telling competent social work stories.