Institutional Ethnography in Social Work Research in Finland

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:10
Oral Presentation
Marjo KURONEN, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland
Ever since the 1990s, Dorothy E. Smith’s institutional ethnography has been widely known in Finland among feminist researchers in social sciences. More recently, it has found its “home” especially in social work research. Some Finnish researchers who have adopted institutional ethnography as their methodological and theoretical approach concentrate more on texts, textual analysis, and the notion of textually mediated social relations. Others have their standpoint and the “point of entry” more in the everyday world of certain groups of women/people and in their experiences, and how it is organized in certain institutional contexts, usually by certain social service systems.

This paper will discuss these different approaches and contributions into institutional ethnography in Finland, and especially in the Finnish social work research. It will also introduce the author’s and her research team’s own ongoing research project titled “Transforming welfare service system from the standpoint of women in vulnerable life situations” (Academy of Finland, no 294407, 2016-20). In this project, we want to find the missing link or bridge the gap between research studying experiences of women in vulnerable life situations and a more structurally oriented research tradition studying policies and practices of the welfare state and welfare services. We want to get beyond women’s experiences, even if those are also important to hear. We suggest that a possible and promising approach to achieve this is institutional ethnography. For us, it means a commitment to begin the inquiry from the standpoint of women – drug abusing women, poor single mothers, and women sentenced to prison – and analysing how experiences and actualities of their everyday world are organised by social relations, structures and institutions, such as the welfare service system, to make this organisation visible, and help women to understand “how it actually works” as Dorothy Smith has put it.