Responsibility and Accountability of Parents and Professionals in Judicial Contexts: A Research Study with the Institutional Ethnography Approach

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 09:10
Oral Presentation
Morena TARTARI, University of Padova, Italy
In the last twenty years, in Italy, as in many other Western countries, personal responsibility and accountability have been increasingly represented as features essential for people and organizations. Also the actions of parents and mental health professionals who work with family issues are assessed in terms of responsibility and accountability. This kind of assessment increases particularly in situations of crisis among the members of the ‘traditional’ family when they approach the justice system and have to be evaluated by third parties (e.g., judges, court experts).

Through the sociological approach of institutional ethnography (Smith 1999; 2006), this paper presents the findings of the first stage of a research study on the everyday social practices that regulate and coordinate the work of court experts and parents within the judicial context of child custody evaluation. Beginning from a visual auto-ethnography by the author, who has worked for many years as a mental health court expert, the study utilizes participant observation, document analysis, and focus groups with professionals.

The paper examines the ways in which the everyday practices of parents and mental health professionals in a local court are textually mediated and shaped by the discourses on responsibility and accountability (and on the ways to assess their improvement) and by the need to perform these responsibility and accountability. With a focus on ruling relations, the paper explores the linkages among local settings of everyday life, organizations and translocal processes of administration and governance – that is, the linkages among parents’ and professionals’ everyday practices, judicial practices and procedures, professionals’ guidelines, national and international policies, family law reforms. The analysis highlights how the everyday practices of performing responsibility and accountability (and assessing them) constitute themselves institutional regimes that affect the lives of professionals and families’ members.