Centre for Alcohol and Drug Research

Metaphors of change: Descriptions of changes within the practice of social work for socially marginalized people

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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore how a study of a practice can lay the foundation to describe this very practice whilst transformations of it were taken place. Descriptions of changes to the practice of social work which was observed empirically serve as a starting point for experimenting with how social scientists, though often exploring transformative study objects, can remain focused on describing the object, under study. Design/methodology/approach: The study was done through circa one year of fieldwork conducted with participant observation in two Danish municipal units offering services to socially marginalized people and interviews with social workers and employees in drug/alcohol treatment and psychiatric units. Findings: The object of study within social sciences, though changing, is able to be described. Through the theories of “Social Navigation” (Vigh) and “Strategy and Tactics” (de Certeau), the practice of social work can be described as one concrete bounded practice but one which is performed within a transformative/changeable environment that are capable of influencing it. In this case, the experience of a changeable seascape might serve as a metaphor for how study objects change within an environment of change; how they can be viewed as “motion within motion” (Vigh). Originality/value: Even though fields such as anthropology and organizational studies seem to rid themselves from their objects of study (culture and organization, respectively) and dissociate themselves from descriptions thereof these objects might still be of value to us. Even though the objects of study in postmodern anthropology and organizational studies are defined as unbounded, anti-essential, ephemeral, ever-changing non-objects, this might not be the entire picture. Despite their ever-changing shape, we might still be able to study and describe them if we take their changeable form and environment into account.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Organizational Ethnography
Pages (from-to)116-128
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017

    Research areas

  • Anthropology, Change, Organizational studies, Social marginalization, Social work, Welfare state

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