Magt, kontrol og forandring i socialt relationsarbejde - et mikroempirisk projekt om relationer og dynamiker i mødet mellem socialarbejder og klient

Peter Rønsholdt Byrgesen

Studenteropgave: Masterprojekt


Abstract This master’s thesis takes its point of departure in puzzlement over being bombarded with conflicting experiences and understanding of the societal function of social work. On one hand, a number of recognized social researchers stipulate that the exercise of power between professionals and clients covertly produces more clientization, powerlessness and guardianship. On the other hand, we have various socio-political initiatives that stipulate user involvement, participation, skills development, empowerment, freedom of choice – also when it comes to welfare benefits – etc. The thesis examines how the distribution of control and governance – both in terms of contents and form – in a concrete meeting between social workers and clients place the two in relation to each other. Describing this meeting at the micro-level enables a discussion of the function of the meeting as an emancipatory strategy and a structure-determined governmental strategy respectively seen through the relationship between the social worker and the client. In chapter 2 the determinist perspective on social work is elaborated. The presentation is based on two relatively recent anthologies about the structural framework of social work. These anthologies adopt an institutional, interactionist perspective and a power theoretical perspective on social work, respectively. The different positions are first presented and discussed through two themes: visitation and outreach work. Secondly the impact that the theoretical choices of the anthologies have on the determinist perspective is discussed. The chapter describes how the categorizations of social work – illustrated by a visitation interview – create the clients so that they fit into the existing options and at the same time are created by the institutional frames of social work. It also describes that a multitude of socio-political orientations are frequently in play at the same time, and that it is up to the social worker to manoeuvre in between them and give them concrete life. The chapter furthermore describes how a new type of policy develops when the outreach work moves out of the institutions; the aim of realizing the client’s autonomy through liberation of an ideologically founded human “core”. At the same time, this focus on the client’s “self-realization” forces the client to set the frame for his own submission. In chapter 3 the emancipatory perspective is elaborated based on an ongoing support and contactperson project (SCP project). The perspective is described through a compilation of texts from the intentional socio-political level, the theoretical sources of inspiration underlying the project and evaluations of concrete projects. This perspective is interpreted with reference to the concepts of empowerment and case-management, as they are defined and placed in the context of the SCP project. It is summarized that it makes little sense to envisage liberation from the welfare state or society in general terms. Empowerment in the emancipatory perspective must rather concern whether it is possible to “violate” in a way that enables the clients to develop, retain or re-establish their personal integrity? Finally it is argued that the SCP project’s founding principles of user orientation and accessibility rather reflect respect for the client’s form of life and integrity than adaptation of clients to existing options. The principle of accessibility illustrates the orientation towards inverting the pyramid of needs so that the social work can be delivered based on the client’s needs rather than on the work time organization of what is considered normal life. Chapter 4 is an analysis of a concrete meeting between two SCP’s and a client. The analysis departs from three selected situations. The themes of these situations are coffee & liquorice, the need for help and lending conditions, but much more is at stake. The relative strengths of the relation changes and is negotiated in the space that the actors create for each other. The analysis shows how their mutual positioning – both in relation to each other and in relation to the themes – distributes control and governance of the conversation differently and in this way establishes different spaces and opportunities for interaction. The analysis of the first sequence shows how the client controls the social base by positioning herself as the hostess and establishing a Hosting classification. In turn the second sequence shows how the social worker by framing the visitation interview breaks this control and establishes an alternative classification. The last sequence shows that the relation between conversation form and contents contains an important opening for the social workers empowerment strategy, which positions the client much stronger than expected. Overall the analysis of the three sequences shows a very complex process where the interactions of the meeting realize recognisability of various contextual classifications. In other words it seems as if the weak classification itself plays a role in the framing of the relation between the three involved persons. The weak classification enables alternative framings and thereby also new classifications. The analysis also shows that the classification can be extremely important for the realization of other relational symmetries than the symmetry between the professionals and the client. In chapter 5 the empirical observations from chapter 4 and the perspectives from chapters 2 and 3 are discussed and summarized. The summary demonstrates how the empirical explanation of the course of the conversation and the administration of the themes can contain examples of explicit empowerment strategies and potent framing exercise of power. SCP work is social work and therefore an exercise of power irrespective of the arrangement’s other orientations. The SCP arrangement cannot escape the professional-client relationship’s structural asymmetry. The analysis shows that there are distinct examples of manifest exercise of power in the meeting, but it also shows that the empowerment strategy is present and functional in the micro-level interaction. Specifically, the analysis shows that especially the control of the social base of the interaction is important for how the involved persons can position themselves in the meeting and as a result thereof also for the relative strengths between them. In the same manner it is made clear that the social workers communicative input to the situation is decisive for the effectiveness of the empowerment strategy. The communication competencies of the social worker are central to the extent to which relative positions are either supported or softened, and thereby also for the establishing of the social base. This version of SCP work is best described and understood as a combined function of a determistist and an emancipatory perspective. The strength of the analysis is found in the combination of the perspective, because it enables us to escape both the determinist powerful/powerless dichotomy and the emancipatory intention of personal skills development in citizens to become competent autonomous members of society. In closing, the concrete distribution of control and governance in the SCP arrangement in relation to control of the social base and the future’s changed framework is put into perspective. Both the transfer from experimental project to a permanent municipal treatment options and in relation to the central experiences from the existing arrangement’s methods.

UddannelserMaster i Voksenuddannelse (MVO), (Masteruddannelse) Master
Udgivelsesdato1 jun. 2006
VejledereAnnegrethe Ahrenkiel


  • klientgørelse, magt, relation, socialt arbejde