2021 Conference

Registration is now open for the second Conversation Analysis and Social Work conference on 14th December 2021 (online, starting at 10.00 GMT). Registration is free.



Accomplishing child protection assessments: the interactional production of moral objects in projecting institutional futures

Our presentation describes the sequential and categorical methods which accomplish-in-use the ‘work objects’ of child protection assessments. In doing so, we recover the situated methods of assessment in child protection and, specifically, the accomplishment of ‘moral objects’ in relation to local interactional possibilities and institutional futures. Moral objects describe one set of methods that social workers use to bring about trajectories of “parental transformation” over the course of a case. Moral objects gloss the social workers’ introduction of categorial items, at particular moments in the assessment, to be negotiated by the service user; that is, for them to deny, accept, or display remorse. Significantly, we suggest that these moral objects, whilst locally accomplished and negotiated, are embedded within an extended institutional temporality, glossed as ‘the case’, and thus serve as ‘objectivated’ work items for charting parental transformation. Our research draws on fieldnote data and recordings from a larger ethnographic study of child protection practice that describes a series of practices central to ‘fixing change’ in social work, tied to the project of the objectivation of selves and, significantly, as organised in and through the membership category device ‘family’. The project draws on Lieberman’s (2018) work on objectivation practices, extending it to professional work where accounts of human change and identity are the primary work object. The data set includes observations of social work with six families over the course of a year and demonstrates how ethnomethodologically-informed ethnography can provide for the observation and description of how social workers, in and through situated methods, accomplish accountable change, or lack thereof, over time. We draw on membership categorisation analysis to describe social workers’ use of moral objects to accomplish professional assessments. Our key finding is that social workers have orderly methods for co-producing knowledge in assessment, namely via placing different forms of moral object ‘on the table’, to see what work parents do with them. We show how a failure to ‘pick up’ moral objects from the categorical table, presents an accountable matter for the social worker, indicating how forms of acknowledgement, or lack thereof, of these items as moral objects has interactional and institutional consequences. We also show how moral objects are used to account for in situ assessments and decisions, however small, relating to a clients categorial status, character, capacity for engagement and change, and projected institutionalised futures. In closing, we note how rather than instrumentally utilising taught communication ‘skills’, social workers methods of charting parental change are accomplished through situationally specific situated category practices, with interactional and institutional consequences.

Lucy Sheehan
Robin Smith
Cardiff University

Managing children's attempts at obtaining attention in Social Work encounters

This study investigates the local organization of ‘choreographies of attention’ (Tulbert & Goodwin, 2011) in adult-child interactions taking place in Social Work encounters to which clients have taken their young children for practical reasons which are not related to the issues under discussion. While professional and parent(s) accomodate the presence of a child sitting at the table where the encounter takes place, they rarely address them as a participant in their own right., leaving it to the child to silently observe the conversation between the adults, play with small objects on the table or, in some cases, attempt to get attention from the adults. Resulting in a reconfiguration of the ‘interactional space’ (Mondada, 2013), children’s attempts at getting attention from adults (see Butler & Wilkinson, 2013) may cause the latter to temporarily suspend the main activity, i.e. talking about clients’ cases, in order to address the child’s verbal and/or embodied requests (see Cekaite, 2016; Kidwell, 2005; Wootton, 1981). While the contingent emergence of such sequences may disrupt the progression of the encounter, it may also provide important opportunities for addressing children’s concerns and promote their partipation and inclusion in the encounter in course (see Gan & Danby, 2021; Goodwin, 2006; Hutchby & O’Reilly, 2010) and, moreover, offer social workers an opportunity to observe how clients interact with their children, hence providing important information about the specificities of the family and the interactional dynamics between its members. Proceeding within the framework of Conversation Analysis, the present study is grounded by a corpus of audiovisual recordings of Social Work encounters in four social intervention institutions in Portugal (n=48, 22 hours approx.). A fine-grained sequential and multimodal analysis of participants’ audible and visible conduct (see Mondada, 2016) shows how, within the course of an encounter at hand, a child may attempt to obtain the adults’ attention, through verbal or bodily actions, and how parents and/or social workers manage such attempts by addressing the child’s concerns or minimizing its disruption of the main activity. This study aims to further contribute to a multimodal approach to conversation analytical research on Social Work (see Monteiro, 2019; Rawls et al, 1997) and, more specifically, shed light on the practical challenges and opportunities occasioned by adult-child interactions in Social Work encounters and its affordances for promoting inclusion, participation and socialization of the latter

David Monteiro

Being personal: Affordances and risks in online suicide helpline counselling

Computer mediated communication has the potential to make social work practice more cost-effective and accessible to clients. However, researchers and policy-makers have raised concerns about online communication in social work, for example, whether it is possible to establish a working alliance between social workers and clients in online communication. Conversation analytic studies have shown that computer mediated interactions require practitioners to use new strategies, for example in accomplishing active listening and in closing a chat conversation. The current presentation adds to this research by using CA in a study of online suicide helpline interactions in Sweden. By analyzing instances when the practitioners disclose personal information, the paper demonstrates how such disclosures can work to display experiential expertise and personal investment in clients’ situation. However, because online interaction does not allow participants to closely attend to each other’s turns-in-progress, self-disclosure also runs the risk of moving the interaction from the clients’ experiential domain to the practitioners’. Besides contributing to the growing conversation analytic research on online communication, the presentation adds to social work research and practice by detailing how practitioners can work to build connection with their clients in suicide prevention

Clara Iversen
Centre for Social Work, Department of Sociology, Uppsala University

Persuasion in practice: managing diverging stances in assessment meetings with older couples living with dementia

This presentation demonstrates how social workers in needs assessment meetings balance divergent stances in older couples living with dementia who are applying for services from elder care. The Swedish Social Services Act stipulates an individual perspective with self-determination, and in Sweden, relatives or a proxy lacks formal rights to intrude on the persons with dementia’s right to self-determination in decisions about care services. However, at the same time social services shall offer support to family members who care for a close relative. In the study we benefit from conversation analysis when analysing 18 needs assessment meetings with couples from four municipalities in Sweden. The findings suggest that the social workers use different approaches to handle resistance and accomplish persuasion in the needs assessment process. The different approaches were to ‘forming an alliance in favour of the proposal’, ‘providing more information about the proposal’, ‘mitigating the proposal’, ‘positive framing of the proposal’ and ‘laying down conditions for the proposal’. The findings add to the critical debate on how social workers use discretion when constrained by institutional logics. Relational competence is needed to balance and coordinate supported decision making when assessing the needs of older couples living with dementia.

Elin Nilsson
Department of sociology, CESAR-Centre for Social Work, Uppsala University, Sweden

“Do you want to just give me an update?” Opening sequences in social work supervision meetings

Much of the work that social workers undertake day-to-day is accomplished through talking. These conversations happen with clients, with other professionals, and between social workers themselves. One important forum where social workers talk amongst themselves is in formal supervision meetings. This study explored supervision interactionally, by asking how social workers and supervisors use their talk to ‘do’ supervision. The study used Conversation Analysis (CA) to analyse a sample of ten audio recordings from a previous study (Wilkins et al. 2020). The analytic focus narrowed from supervisory meetings as a whole to exploring how participants negotiate the beginning of supervision. The study found that supervision meetings in this sample: began with an update, usually requested by the supervisor and provided by the social worker; that this ‘update sequence’ was treated as normative by participants; and that the way supervisors packaged their update requests influenced what social workers produced in response. These findings suggest that a key function of the update sequence might be interactional: participants developed alignment through talk by using the update sequence to ‘get on the same page’ at the beginning of the meeting. These findings have implications for training supervisors and how we conceptualise supervision practice more broadly

Rebecca Jones
Cardiff University


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