D'Cruz (2000) 'Social Work Research as
Knowledge/Power in Practice'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 1, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/5/1/d'cruz.html>
To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary
Received: 31/1/2000 Accepted: 11/5/2000 Published: 31/5/2000
Research-minded practitioners critically reflecting on the practice of social welfare, may well be less powerful, both in themselves and in their emancipatory ideas in organizations and in contexts which are fundamentally sexist, heterosexist and racist. (Everitt et al, 1992, p. 87).
[I] was viewing that world [of the public service] through a pair of lenses: one of which was my fractured constructionism, and the other, the clear, unitary lens of the 'bureau-professional' (Dingwall, Eekelaar and Murray, 1983). This made the daily view of my work somewhat uncomfortable, but I adapted to its disorienting effects. (D'Cruz, forthcoming).
Files and transcripts were read several times, with each reading requiring reflexive critique of my taken for granted assumptions in how I read what I read, and how I interpreted it. From the initial reading which produced major panic because 'there was nothing there', (which I attributed to my occupational identity and inculcation), to each subsequent reading in which reflexivity paradoxically produced a version of objectification/objectivity, I 'saw more things'. This also coincided with my increasing distance from the discursive context and my subsequent identity change from organisational researcher to social work academic (D'Cruz, in progress).
2This category refers to an individual as 'direct cause' of harm to a child. Also known as 'perpetrator'.
3The 'child' in the thesis is problematised as a constructed identity within a particular case, and is relational to how 'parent' (and 'adult') is also constructed.
4The thesis takes a 'dualist' (Heap, 1995) ethical position, in which children's experiences of oppressive practices, often manifested in their physical bodies, are taken as 'real'. However, the practical constructions given to these experiences by different participants may differ, offering 'relative' meanings.
5Whilst I could claim 'independence' from organisational agendas in conceptualising and conducting the research, this was mediated by my connection within the organisation. I describe this problem below, as looking at the world through two different lenses, or trying to engage with different languages about a problem called 'child maltreatment'.
6Broad (1994, p. 177) comments that legislation in Britain such as the 1989 Children Act would offer ways of subverting managers or service providers who resist including service users in research. Unfortunately, there is no such legislation in Australia. One alternative was for me to contact clients directly, but which would breach confidentiality and privacy, and could also create other problems of access, for example, to workers as informants.
7The activity that I have called 'participant observation', compared with recommendations that this should be conducted for 'lengthy periods', (Van Maanen, 1988, p. 2; Bogdewic, 1992; Burgess, 1984; Pithouse, 1987) is analysed in this paper as a consequence of the power/knowledge relation, rather than a technical failure.
8This 'defensiveness' is quite normal given that the site had experienced a coronial inquiry. Added to this is the perception of my identity as 'head office person' and possibly 'spy', into essentially 'private' aspects of their site and practices (Bogdewic, 1992, p. 50). However, within the research process, such a stance as an expression of 'powerlessness' also operated as a strategy of power and resistance in what knowledge about the site could be accessed and by whom.
9Both the Director and I explained in detail very practical ways in which anonymity of the site and informants would be achieved, for example, that pseudonyms would be used and identifying information excluded. This was acceptable to the gatekeepers.
10By this stage in the process, the stress of trying to be accepted and show that I was a 'reasonable person' combined with my isolation as lone researcher, perhaps gave a 'biased' view of what was 'really happening'. Suffice to say that a detailed list of unrelated practices, including the subtleties and nuances of interaction, that I perceived as oppressive might be seen (by myself, included) as 'misperceiving' or 'overreacting', and feeling 'slightly crazy' (Young, 1990, p. 134).
11At one case conference, I was disturbed to see that I had been given a copy of the case conference notes, whilst the client was not, on the grounds of 'confidentiality' (because people other than the client and his daughter were also mentioned). I wanted to object to my unnecessarily privileged position in relation to this man, but I did not know what effect this might have on the overall management of the case. Instead, I put my copy aside and just listened and took notes.
12'Provisional acceptance' is understood as conditional legitimacy, still being tested by the inside group.
13'Categorical acceptance' is understood as legitimacy associated with particular identities, rather than unconditional acceptance.
14'Personal acceptance' is understood as being unrelated to any particular identity, instead being an unconditional acceptance given by insiders. This however assumes unitary subjectivity, glossing which identities have been legitimated by insiders and which have not.
15'Imminent immigrant' is understood as being on the brink of joining the social group, unconditional acceptance.
16The physical body is a marker of identity and a site of articulating discourses about identity (Young, 1990). How we read what is 'visible' influences how we categorise others and engage with them. So I categorised the woman in this interaction as 'white' as a reading of her skin colour. She had clearly done the same with me, based on my visible difference as our interaction shows. In my identification of her as 'visibly white', I also positioned myself as 'not visibly white', as 'black' and as different from her. I also did not know how she may have positioned herself, because her visible identity as 'white' could have conflicted with the potential identification of herself as 'black' as a political and cultural identity (Tizard and Phoenix, 1993; Tyler, 1993).
17This is defined as 'areas of most interest to the interviewee' (Measor, 1985, p. 67, in Bryman, 1988, p. 46).
18'All interviews are reality-constructing, meaning making occasions [...] the process of meaning production [is] as important for social research as the meaning that is produced.' (Holstein and Gubrium, 1995, p.4)
I would like to thank the Director General, Managers and staff of 'the Department' for granting me access to sites, documents and workers and to the workers for their participation.
ATKINSON, P. S. (1990) The Ethnographic Imagination: Textual Constructions of Reality, London: Routledge.
BALLENDEN, N., LASTER, K. AND LAWRENCE, J. (1993) 'Pathologist as Gatekeeper: Discretionary Decision-making in Cases of Sudden Infant Death', Australian Journal of Social Issues, vol 28, no 2, pp 124-141.
BARRETT, M. (1987) 'The Concept of Difference', Feminist Review, vol 26, pp 29-41.
BELL, J. (1993) Doing your research project, Buckingham: Open University Press (2nd edition).
BISMAN, C. D. and HARDCASTLE, D. (1999) Integrating Research into Practice, Belmont, California: Wadsworth.
BLAIKIE, N. (1993) Approaches to Social Inquiry, Cambridge: Polity Press.
BOGDEWIC, S. (1992) 'Participant Observation', in F. Crabtree and F. Miller (editors) Doing Qualitative Research: Multiple Strategies, California: Sage Publications, pp 45- 69.
BOURDIEU, P. (1990) The Logic of Practice, Cambridge: Polity Press (translated from French by Richard Nice).
BOURDIEU, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge: Polity Press (translated from French by Gino Raymond and Matthew Adamson).
BROAD, B. (1994) 'Anti-Discriminatory Practitioner Social Work Research: Some Basic Problems and Possible Remedies', in B. Humphries and C. Truman (editors) Re-Thinking Social Research, Aldershot: Avebury, pp 164-184.
BRYMAN, A. (1988) Quantity and Quality in Social Research, London: Routledge.
BURGESS, R. (1982) Exploring Society, London: British Sociological Association.
BURGESS, R. (1984) In the Field: An Introduction to Field Research, London: Routledge.
CHANDLER, J. (1990) 'Researching and the Relevance of Gender', in R. Burgess (editor), Studies in Qualitative Methodology: Reflections on Field Experience, Greenwich, Connecticut, USA: JAI Press, pp 119-140.
CICOUREL, A. (1974) 'Police Practices and Official Records', in R. Turner (editor) Ethnomethodology, Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp 85-95.
COUSINS, M. AND HUSSAIN, A. (1984) Michel Foucault, London: Macmillan.
D'CRUZ, H. (forthcoming) 'The Fractured Lens: Methodology in Perspective' in H. Byrne Armstrong, D. Horsfall and J. Higgs (editors) Critical Moments in Qualitative Research, New South Wales, Australia: University of New South Wales Press.
D'CRUZ, H. (in progress) Constructing Meanings and Identities in Practice: Child Protection in Western Australia, PhD thesis: Department of Applied Social Science, Lancaster University: Lancaster, UK.
DINGWALL, R., EEKELAAR, J., and MURRAY, T. (1983) The Protection of Children: State Intervention in Family Life, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
EVERITT, A., HARDIKER, P., LITTLEWOOD, J. and MULLENDER, A. (1992) Applied Research for Better Practice, London: Macmillan/BASW.
FOOK, J. (1996) (editor) The Reflective Researcher, St Leonards, New South Wales, Australia: Allen and Unwin.
FOUCAULT, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge, London: Tavistock (translated from French by Alan Sheridan).
FOUCAULT, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Penguin (translated from French by Alan Sheridan).
FOUCAULT, M. (1978a) The History of Sexuality: vol 1: an Introduction, Penguin (translated from French by Robert Hurley).
FOUCAULT, M. (1978b) 'Politics and the Study of Discourse', Ideology and Consciousness, no 3, pp 7-26.
FOUCAULT, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge, Brighton, England: The Harvester Press (edited by Colin Gordon).
FRANKENBERG, R. (1993) White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness, Minnesota, USA: Routledge/University of Minnesota Press.
FULLER, R. and PETCH, A. (1995) Practitioner Research: The Reflexive Social Worker, Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.
GANGULY-SCRASE, R. (1998) 'The self as research instrument'. In M. Crick and B. Geddes (editors) Research Methods in the Field, Geelong, Victoria, Australia: Deakin University Press.
GANS, H. (1967) The Levittowners, London: Allen Lane.
GUBA, E. and LINCOLN, Y. (1982) 'Epistemological and Methodological Bases of Naturalistic Inquiry', Educational Communication and Technology, vol 30, no 4, pp 233- 252.
HALL, D. and HALL, I. (1996) Practical Social Research: Project Work in the Community, London: Macmillan.
HEAP, J. L. (1995) 'Constructionism in the Rhetoric and Practice of Fourth Generation Evaluation', Evaluation and Program Planning, vol 18, no 1, pp 51-61.
HODDER, I. (1994) 'The Interpretation of Documents and Material Culture', in N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (editors) Handbook of Qualitative Research, Newbury Park, California: Sage, pp 463-477.
HOLSTEIN, J. and GUBRIUM, J. (1994) 'Phenomenology, Ethnomethodology, and Interpretive Practice', in N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (editors) Handbook of Qualitative Research, Newbury Park, California: Sage, pp 262-272.
HOLSTEIN, J. and GUBRIUM, J. (1995) The Active Interview, Qualitative Research Methods Series vol. 37, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
HONIGMAN, J. (1982) 'Sampling in Ethnographic Fieldwork', in R. Burgess (editor) Field Research: A Sourcebook and Field Manual, London: George Allen and Unwin, pp 79-90.
HOOKS, B. (1981) Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, London: Pluto Press.
HUMPHRIES, B. (1994) 'Empowerment and Social Research: Elements for an Analytic Framework', in B. Humphries and C. Truman (editors) Re-Thinking Social Research, Aldershot: Avebury, pp 185-204.
KINCHELOE, J. and MCLAREN, P. (1994) 'Rethinking Critical Theory and Qualitative Research', in N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (editors) Handbook of Qualitative Research, Newbury Park, California: Sage, pp 138-157.
KNORR-CETINA, K. (1981) 'Introduction: The micro-sociological challenge of macro-sociology: towards a reconstruction of social theory and methodology', in K. Knorr-Cetina and A. Cicourel (editors) Advances in Social Theory and Methodology: Toward an integration of Micro-and Macro-sociologies, Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, pp 1-47.
KUMAR, R. (1996) Research methodology, Melbourne, Australia: Longman.
MANNING, P. and CULLUM-SWAN, B. (1994) 'Narrative, Content, and Semiotic Analysis', in N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (editors) Handbook of Qualitative Research, Newbury Park, California: Sage, pp 463-477.
OLESEN, V. (1994) 'Feminisms and models of qualitative research', in N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (editors) Handbook of Qualitative Research, Newbury Park, California: Sage, pp 158-174.
PITHOUSE, A. (1987) Social Work: The Social Organisation of an Invisible Trade, Aldershot, England: Avebury.
POTTER, J. (1996) Representing Reality, London: Sage.
PUNCH, K. (1998) Introduction to Social Research, London: Sage.
RIESSMAN, C. K. (editor) (1994) Qualitative Studies in Social Work Research, Thousand Oaks, California: Sage.
ROSENAU, P. (1992) Post-modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads and Intrusions, Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
SCHON, D. (1988) 'From Technical Rationality to Reflection-in-Action', in J. Dowie and A. Elstein (editors), Professional Judgement: A Reader in Clinical Decision Making, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp 60-77.
SCOTT, D. (1989) 'Meaning Construction and Social Work Practice', Social Service Review, vol 63, no 1, pp 39-51.
SMITH, D. (1974) 'The Social Construction of Documentary Reality', Sociological Inquiry, vol 44, pp 257-268.
STANLEY, L. and WISE, S. (1993) Breaking out again: Feminist Ontology and Epistemology, Routledge: London, 2nd edition.
THORPE, D. (1994) Evaluating Child Protection, Open University Press: Buckingham, UK.
TIZARD, B. and PHOENIX, A. (1993) Black, White or Mixed Race, Routledge: London.
TRUMAN, C. and HUMPHRIES, B. (1994) 'Re-Thinking Social Research in an unequal world', in B. Humphries and C. Truman (editors) Re-Thinking Social Research, Aldershot, England: Avebury, pp 1-20.
TYLER, W. (1993) 'Postmodernity and the Aboriginal Condition: the Cultural Dilemmas of Contemporary Policy', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology, vol 29, no 3, pp 322- 342.
VAN MAANEN, J. (1988) Tales of the Field, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
YOUNG, I. (1990) Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
ZIMMERMAN, D. (1974) 'Fact as a Practical Accomplishment', in R. Turner (editor) Ethnomethodology, Harmondsworth: Penguin, pp 128-143.