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Title: Theories and practices in social work : practitioners' representations of contract work
Author: Fargion, Silvia
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2001
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This dissertation analyses the relationship between theory and practice in social work, focusing on practitioners' accounts of a particular methodology, contract work. It revisits scholarly debates in the social work discipline (ch. 1) and elaborates an alternative approach, based on Wittgenstein's notion of "language game" and its re-elaboration by the Edinburgh "strong programme" in the sociology of knowledge. This perspective (ch. 2) posits that the meaning of categories and concepts corresponds to the use that concrete actors make of them as a result of on-going negotiating processes in specific contexts. Therefore, meanings may vary dramatically across social groups moved by different interests and holding different cultures. Accordingly, we may reformulate the issue of theory and practice in terms of the connections between different language games. The main research question becomes, how does theoretical language relate to practitioners' broader frames, and how does it shape their making sense of their own experience. This broad analytical strategy is applied to a specific empirical case, representations of the concept of contract. Focusing on contract is appropriate as this concept has become common currency in practitioners' language, while at the same time establishing itself as a crucial concept in scholarly literature in the field (ch. 3). As such, it allows the analyst to identify different uses of the same term among social work practitioners as well as to contrast practitioners' representations to academic ones. The empirical material comes from accounts by twenty-two social workers based on services for family and children in Milan and Turin (ch. 4). Two in-depth interviews were conducted with each practitioner. One explored their images of contract as a concept. The other analysed "critical incidents", i.e., specific instances of applications of contract work. Data presentation follows the same logic. Two main general interpretations of the word "contract" are identified, which both refer to the same formal definition, yet stress very different elements of it. One sees contract as an instrument providing the work process with a clear structure, the other relates contract to the process through which an agreement is reached between practitioners and their clients (ch. 5). This distinction is found to correspond to two different concrete uses of the label. One focuses on contract as a tool to secure client's commitment to a clearly defined work plan (ch. 6), the other on contract as an on-going negotiation (ch. 7). Finally, the systematic analysis of differences in concepts and applications leads to the identification of two broader cultural landscapes. Rather than by available dichotomies in social work literature, their trails are best captured by Mannheim's classic distinction between "Romantic" and "Enlightenment" styles of thought (ch. 8).
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available