Caught between Choice and Control: Institutional Talk and Power in Swedish Statutory Drug Treatment Services.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Johan LINDWALL, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Swedish drug policy insists that a consistent rejection of illicit drugs is needed from a preventive perspective. Hence, all use of narcotics without a medical prescription is illegal. Within municipal social services, this implies a requirement for social workers to actively promote change for drug using clients. Simultaneously, they are bound by law to respect their clients’ integrity and will. Departing from social workers contradictory obligations, the focus of this paper is on meaning making processes between drug using clients and social workers in authoritative institutional settings. This ongoing ethnomethodologically infused PhD-study is conducted at three social service agencies in Sweden. The data of the study in qualitative: field notes and transcribed audio recordings from observations carried out in professional team meetings and encounters between clients and social workers.

Using different DA- and CA-tools, in dialogue with Foucauldian concepts of power, this study explores how institutional tasks related to Swedish drug policy are carried out, how tensions are handled, and how power is exercised through language use in institutional interaction at the micro-level. Special attention is given to how different social worker positions are accounted for, how agency and responsibility is distributed, and how clients’ and social workers’ identities are constructed and negotiated through everyday institutional talk at the studied agencies. Furthermore, I discuss how language and power is intertwined and constitutes a foundation for institutional action and counter-action. Early findings suggest that a number of positions, for social workers and clients, are being talked into being and negotiated in the institutional interaction. Each position is linked to a specific way of exercising power or counter conduct. The social worker positions gain legitimacy by drawing on institutionally available discourses and “truths” including specific constructions of the clients with implicit judgements regarding issues related to moral, risk and change potential.