Competing constructions of children's participation in social care : analysing text and talk
This thesis is about how the concept of participation constructs children as subjects within social welfare formations. It is the result of a qualitative and interpretive research project using narrative and discourse analysis as key methodologies. The research is theoretically framed within the social constructionist, post-structuralist, feminist and psychoanalytic perspectives. By using these the thesis explores the competing constructions of children’s participation within social/legal policy texts and the discourses of social care. The focus is on children within contemporary UK welfare contexts who are either identified as being ‘at risk’ of significant harm or who are Looked After by the local authority. I examine the way that children’s participation is framed by the Children Act, 1989 (England and Wales), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Quality Protects. I analyse the policy and interview texts to show how the discourses of protectionism, developmentalism, rights and managerialism compete unevenly across them. I argue that there is a new configuration of welfare developing around children’s services where managerialism is dominant and children’s rights are collapsed into the customer discourse. Children’s voices are either absent or mediated by adult/professionals in most of the formal policy texts. This thesis explores the affective and emotional aspects of performing participation with children. My data shows how individual professionals as well as the institutions of welfare experience anxiety and strain about how to enable and manage the participation of children. I show how professionals and welfare institutions develop various coping strategies, whose effects include the avoidance of the difficulties of listening to children.