Mötet mellan klient och system - om forskning i socialt arbete

  • Margaretha Järvinen


Margaretha Järvinen: The meeting between clients and the system: on research in social work This article is based on the inaugural lecture by the first professor of social work in Denmark. Although coming later than in many other countries, the professorship symbolizes the fact that the field of social work is about to develop into a scientific field of research. The article focuses on social work as a meeting between clients and social welfare institutions. Although it has become popular to describe citizens who come into contact with social welfare institutions as “comsumers” or “users”, this article argues for retention of the idea of client, since these are people with limited freedom of action. Social workers are described as representatives of the welfare state, not as representatives of, or advocates for clients, as they sometimes describe themselves. The article discusses three aspects of the meeting between the client and the system, and is inspired by the work of Pierre Bourdieu. The first is how the system creates the client. Social work is constructed as a field in which clients and their problems are constructed in accordance with the system and its doxa, rather than the other way around. The second aspect is the janus face of help. The article questions the idea that social workers “help” their clients. The traditional helping relation between social workers and their clients is described as a relationship of symbolic power that tends to underline rather than relieve the client’s ‘otherness’. Finally, the article discusses Bourdieu’s concept of practical reason. The field of social work represents rituals, routines and rationalities that may be difficult to put into a neat scientific formula. It argues though, that this concept should not be used (as some social workers have done) as a bulwark against scientific inquiries into the doxa and symbolic power mechanisms of the field.