Following and losing the phenomenon: an ethnographic study of self-directed support in children’s social work

Whitaker, Emilie Morwenna (2015). Following and losing the phenomenon: an ethnographic study of self-directed support in children’s social work. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.


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This doctoral thesis explores how personalisation gets done in one children’s social work team. It is concerned with the everyday work of social work. Arising from an interest in the stories told about personalisation, its slipperiness and its stickiness, the study explores how amorphous and multiple claims for user choice and control play out on the professional frontline. It does this through the prism of an agent-focused institutional ethnography of social work practice. The study is inspired by a concern with naturally-occurring talk, interaction and discourse, exploring the sense-making and disciplining activities of social workers as they are tasked with making personalisation real. I explore how performances of personalisation are made visible and justifiable within the context of social work with children and families.
Through the immersive nature of the case the study encounters paradigmatic themes of contemporary social work with children and families - needs talk, the realities of market-based choice and the moral warrant of child-centred talk. These paradigmatic features impede upon and emerge within the local production of personalisation, uncovering incongruities as workers are caught between burgeoning facilitative cultures for practice and the entrapment of instrumental forms of system rationality at a time of risk anxiety.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Social Sciences
School or Department: Health Services Management Centre
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare


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