How Professions Narrow Their Horizons: The Impact of the Professional Definition of Social Problems.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:33
Location: Hörsaal 4C G (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Lars ALBERTH, Leibniz University Hannover, Germany
Contrasting deliberative and standardized decision-making implies that professionalism is principally characterized by a general responsiveness for complexity and contingency, threatened by constrains of standardization, especially when applied by external agents, e.g., by superiors, political interventions, or external funding bodies. However, rigidity in approaching social problems might also be a constitutive part of a profession’s mandate, that is, the profession’s own definition of its task and the original stocks of knowledge incorporated by said profession. As socially recognized claims of responsibility, mandates are the basis for the case work of professional practitioners and cannot be easily overruled or abandoned.

Germany’s child protection social work will serve as an example to discuss the impact of the professional mandate of social work. Although explicit case deliberations for reviewing allegations of child abuse and neglect have been established, case narrations (given by frontline workers in child protection) show that the professional routines are rather rigid.

Firstly, they routinely focus on the mother as the central client, who is portrayed as overwhelmed with her day-to-day management. Secondly, violence is seldom problematized and only attributed to the fathers or male partners who in return are never addressed as a client. Thirdly, children remain the blind spot, as they are only marginally considered in case investigations and as addressees of interventions. We conclude that the professional mandate of social work applies a rather narrow mode of repairing the private life, leaving further aspects of the problem aside.