Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2003


Chris Allen (2003) 'On the Logic of 'New' Welfare Practice: An Ethnographic Case Study of the 'New Welfare Intermediaries''
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 1, <>

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Received: 23/10/2002      Accepted: 27/2/2003      Published: 28/2/2003


The joined-up working research literature consistently emphasizes inter-professional barriers to co- operation, and presents joined-up work as a worthwhile though largely unproductive activity. This reflects the extent to which it uses the sociology of professions literature, which construes 'social closure' goals and 'boundary maintenance' activities as key elements of welfare professional work, as its epistemological reference point. It also reflects the extent to which this literature has hitherto been based on analyses of joined-up working between welfare professionals with professional territory to defend. This paper presents an ethnographic account of how one 'floating support worker' worked as a 'welfare intermediary' at the interstices between (rather than within) the welfare professions. The paper represents welfare intermediaries as noteworthy for two reasons. First, they are shown to employ working practices that constitute the antithesis of 'boundary maintaining' welfare professional work. Second, understanding the nature of these working practices is important because the government is now promoting the logic of their 'new' welfare practice as a way to tackle the 'joined-up causes of social exclusion'.

Emotions; Facework; Habitus.; Trust; Welfare Intermediaries; Welfare Professionalism


The de-differentiation of the welfare system into a series of multi-agency 'policy networks' (cf. Rhodes, 1997), such as 'crime and disorder partnerships' ( Crawford, 1999) has intensified the level of joined-up working activity between welfare professionals, especially over the last decade. The results of this activity have been captured in an expansive research literature on 'joined- up' working between welfare professionals. This literature has been influenced by work in the sociology of the professions, which construes 'social closure' goals and 'boundary maintenance' activities as key elements of welfare professional work (see Wilding, 1982; Larson, 1977; Johnson, 1972). Inter-professional barriers to joined-up work are therefore emphasized, and joined-up work is presented as a largely unproductive activity (see Wistow, 1982; Hunter and Wistow, 1987; Hudson, 1992; Smith et al, 1993; Simic, 1994; Arblaster et al, 1996; Oldman, 1998).

In recognizing these problems, New Labour in the UK is now seeking to create "specific posts with responsibilities for partnership working .... [and] recruit ... individuals who can work exclusively in partnership arrangements" (Policy Action Team 17, 2000: 83). The Urban Task Force previously referred to these individuals as "independent coordinators who [as one person] can bring together the professional abilities of their team members in what will be a continuous and complex process" (Urban Task Force, 1999: 159). The National Strategy Action Plan for neighbourhood renewal ( Social Exclusion Unit, 2001) subsequently introduced the role of 'neighbourhood manager', whose main responsibility is to operate as a 'welfare intermediary' with the aim of coordinating the delivery of welfare services in deprived areas. Since 'welfare intermediaries' are relatively 'new' practitioners within the social welfare field, then, there has been an absence of sociological research into the nature of their activities[1].

The purpose of this paper is to make a break with studies of joined-up working between welfare professionals and, instead, undertake an exploratory investigation into how these 'new welfare intermediaries' undertake joined-up work. The paper is based on an ethnographic case study of a 'floating support worker' (hereafter referred to as 'the FSW') that worked as a 'welfare intermediary' (cf. Bourdieu, 1984) first, at the interstices between (rather than within) the probation and housing service in order to overcome problems of inter-professional fissure. The purpose of this part of 'floating support work' was to gain access to social housing for probation clients. Second, the FSW worked as an intermediary between the welfare system and probation clients. This was to ensure that, once re- housed, probation clients would maintain contact with the welfare services that could help them to sustain 'independent living'. This also sustained the housing officers fragile confidence in their new joined-up working arrangement with the FSW, which was important when 'things had gone badly wrong' in their preceding experiences of re-housing probation clients, e.g. because probation clients would lose touch with support services and subsequently engage in anti-social behaviour on 'their patches'. The paper highlights three aspects of welfare intermediary practices that have not been well represented in the social science research literature on joined-up working between welfare professionals.

First, welfare professionals such as probation officers were said to make infrequent and faceless (e.g. telephone) contact with a variety of housing officers whom they did not know, when their clients needed to access social housing. Housing officers were reluctant to re-house the clients of probation officers that they did not know because they were unable to make confident assessments of how things would work out, e.g. 'is this probation officer trying to "dump" a problematic client on me?' The FSW used her welfare intermediary role to conduct regular 'facework' (cf. Giddens, 1990, 1991) with housing officers, which involved her acting out 'displays of reassurance' that 'everything would be ok'. This produced a specific confidence in the FSW, on a sub-systemic, inter-personal level, that functioned to counter the housing officers general reluctance to work across boundaries.

Second, since 'boundary maintenance' practices impacted on probation clients (e.g. they were unable to gain access to housing as a result), they tended to describe welfare professionals in negative terms. Since they placed little value on their relationships with welfare professionals, then, they would use the FSW to gain access to social housing and then fail to maintain contact with her. The resulting lack of welfare support was said to lead to their 'anti-social behaviour' problems on housing estates. The FSW did not only seek to meet their material needs for re-housing, then. She also undertook 'emotion work' (cf. Hochschild, 1983), in order to establish inter-personal relationships with her clients. Since clients valued these relationships, they maintained contact with her as a matter of 'friendship obligation'. This was said to reduce their anti-social behaviour problems, and thus functioned to sustain the housing officers newly found confidence in the FSW as a person.

Third, to maintain strong inter-personal relationships with her clients, whose cases she was said to 'take to heart' and 'whose lives she saw as they did', the FSW sought to meet their range of needs and not just their need for re-housing and welfare support with daily tasks. She was well placed to achieve this because her career experiences of working across professional boundaries, as a welfare intermediary, had produced a differentiated 'welfare habitus' (i.e. a set of 'work dispositions' that emerge out of experience and cannot easily be learned or 'put on' by others, cf. Bourdieu, 1977) that worked for her in two ways:

1. Her career-long experiences of working across (as opposed to on one or other side of) welfare organizational boundaries meant that:
  • Her ways of working - especially communicating - were effortlessly familiar to her welfare professional others, who consequently regarded her as 'one of them'. This contrasts with the 'facework' element of her practice, which required her to 'put on' an energetic performance.
  • She had become a 'welfare expert about welfare experts' (cf. Giddens, 1990) and therefore knew about, and was able to co-ordinate, a variety of welfare services to 'fit' her clients' needs. This buttressed the value that the probation clients placed on their relationship with the FSW.
2. Her career-long experiences of working within the ambiguous space between (rather than being anchored within) welfare bureaucracies resulted in her developing a creative approach to her work. This was manifest in a 'learning orientation' that involved finding out about what was available - in the 'alternative' as well as 'official' welfare market - to meet her clients' needs. Thus, she rejected the 'boundary maintenance' practices that sociologists commonly identify as the defining characteristic of modern welfare professionalism (see Wilding, 1982).

Research Method

The fieldwork took place in a small town in the North West of England between March and July 2000 when I was a Lecturer at the University of Salford. I was the sole investigator on the research project, which was commissioned by the National Probation Service, Greater Manchester Area. Stage 1 of the fieldwork was devoted to gaining an in- depth understanding to the background context to the establishment of the 'floating support worker' post. To this end, interviews were undertaken with the management personnel involved in establishing the post.

Stage 2 of the fieldwork was devoted to gaining an in-depth understanding of how the FSW worked across housing and probation service boundaries, and with what effect. At this stage, interviews took place with all (12) of the floating support worker's clients, and with 6 probation officers, two housing associations and the local authority. Two formal interviews were also undertaken with the FSW at this stage. One of these took place at the beginning of stage 2, and one interview took place at the end of stage 2 when the client interviews had almost been completed.

During stage 2 of the fieldwork, I was also spending one (sometimes two) day(s) per week 'hanging out' with the FSW. With the permission of the FSW, I used this time to conduct participant observations of the most mundane aspects of her everyday work. I also used the time spent 'hanging out' with the FSW to 'get to know her' and thus regularly engaged her in open-ended and informal discussions about her personal experiences and how these impacted on her work as a FSW; her previous jobs and how these impacted on her work as a FSW; and other issues that arose out of the participant observations and client interviews. With the permission of the FSW, notes of these discussions were made, either at the time or immediately after the conversations.

The process of analysis began during the fieldwork, when the themes that were emerging out of the interviews were pursued in greater depth in later interviews. At the end of the project, every interview was fully transcribed and analyzed using the 'constant comparative method' (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). This involved coding each interview and then establishing the relationship between these codes and the concepts that had already been generated during the fieldwork (and, if necessary, amending the concept), or using the codes to generate new concepts. The codes from each interview transcript were then transferred into a 'coding frame'. This enabled the empirical consistency of the codes - and the concepts that emerged from them - to be judged across interviews. It also provided the foundations for this paper, which has been structured to reflect the strength of the conceptual themes that emerged out of the data.

Joined-Up Working and Inter-Welfare Professionalism

The sociological literature has characterized the work of welfare professionals as a self-serving 'project' ( Larson, 1977) rather than an altruistic endeavour ( Goode, 1957). This 'welfare professional project' involves the creation and subsequent protection of a 'stock of expert knowledge' (cf. Berger and Luckmann, 1967) in order to control a specific area of work ( Wilding, 1982) and therefore achieve the 'social closure' ( Gerth and Wright-Mills, 1991) that is necessary to secure a power base in society ( Johnson, 1972). This sociological emphasis on 'boundary maintenance' practices (to buttress the unique status of expert knowledge and thus control over an area of work) has provided the epistemological frame through which social scientists have studied 'joined- up' working between the welfare professions. The main findings of those studying joined-up working between the welfare professions have almost always, therefore, emphasized the 'boundaries' to collaboration arising from the strategic need of welfare professionals to control their area of work (for examples, see Wistow, 1982; Hunter and Wistow, 1987; Hudson, 1992; Smith et al, 1993; Simic, 1994; Arblaster et al, 1996; Oldman, 1998).

Professional control of the area of work is a major factor in the coordination problems which afflict the organization of [welfare] services .... Because professionals control, and seek to control, their own work territory, no one can ensure that an integrated, coordinated package of services is delivered. Wilding, 1982: 27

The issue of (lack of) 'professional control' was clearly evident in housing officers' accounts of working with probation officers (prior to the establishment of the FSW post), when they talked about their previous experiences of having probation clients 'dumped' on them.

What you would find would happen was the supported housing schemes [for ex-offenders] dumped on general needs [housing officers]. They [supported housing schemes] would say "we've got this person whose really desperate for a flat, and they're gonna be a really good tenant" and [housing officers] would re-house them and they would be a nightmare tenant. Housing Officer, Housing Association #1

The issue of professional control was also ubiquitous in probation officers' accounts of working with housing officers, when they talked how housing officers 'blocked' their attempts to gain access to social housing for their clients:

Sometimes you're conscious that, because you're a probation member of staff, straight away you will get some [housing] organizations who are very wary .... It's apparent straight away that you've got this negativity and it's quite obvious that you aren't getting anywhere. Probation Officer #2

Intermediaries and Welfare Professionals: 'Doing Facework'

Allen (2003a) has argued that 'boundary maintenance' practices arising from the strategic need to control 'professional territory' is not the sole, or even primary, source of inter-welfare professional fissure. Following Giddens (1990), he argues that inter-welfare professional fissure also occurs because the notion of 'working across boundaries' introduces a lack of 'predictive confidence' (cf. Giddens, 1990), and thus uncertainty and discontinuity into everyday practice that is existentially troubling. Thus, the housing officers described above were refusing to re-house ex-offenders because they were unable to make confident assessments of how thing would work out if they did re-house them, e.g. 'if I re-house this ex-offender, will they cause trouble on my estate and will I be able to cope with this situation'?

When welfare professionals are unable to make confident predictions about the practical consequences of working with other welfare professionals, Allen (2003a) suggests that joined-up working will only proceed if they can, instead, trust[2] in the professional and personal qualities and judgement of their welfare professional other. This was recognized by the probation service, which created the FSW post to act as an intermediary between the probation and housing service for the purposes of building trust between them on a sub-systemic, inter-personal level:

We would be doing it [housing referrals] once in a blue moon .... Your [floating] support worker is a specialist who goes through it daily, ... builds up contacts, takes time building trust .... What we're hoping with the [floating support worker] is that that personal contact bit is valuable .... [They] know staff in the housing department, meet with them regularly, and therefore have a trust, which we could never hope to have with our limited contacts. It's that personal contact. It's that trust bit .... [Housing officers will re-house] him (sic) on their [support worker's] word because they know them better .... There's better access [to housing]. There's quicker access [to housing]. And there's far more success. Probation Service Manager #1

'Facework commitments' to welfare professional others were therefore important to the FSW, who created opportunities for regular inter- personal contact with housing officers;

Housing Officer, Housing Association #2: ... [The TSW] keeps in regular contact .... We meet regularly, every other month to discuss all the clients that she has, and any prospective new clients, and we discuss the best place to re-house them. And I mean, we speak regularly about issues, as regards the tenancy.

C.A: Whose idea was it to meet regularly?

Housing Officer: Well, Kathryn's, because we were just, like, sort of chatting, and issues came up, I'd ring up and say 'oh such and such a body, you know, I've had a complaint about visitors going to the flat', you know, so Kathryn thought we better, like .... Meet regularly and go through issues rather than just phone.

For Giddens (1990), however, facework involves more than an undertaking to establish regular 'face-to-face' contact. It also requires an energetic performance involving surface "displays of manifest trustworthiness and integrity, coupled with an attitude of 'business-as-usual', or unflappability" ( Giddens, 1990: 85). These energetic performances then function to counter welfare professionals' general lack of confidence in the practical consequences of working with others by establishing confidence between partners on a sub-systemic, inter-personal level. The FSW was thus regularly observed acting out 'reassuring displays' to housing officers, so that they would be confident that this particular worker was not going to 'dump' a problematic client onto them:

She doesn't give up on them without a fight, I know that, you know what I mean. I do know that .... She's actually like shown me some of her files .... And it's like, well, you know, 'I don't just give up on them lightly'. Housing Officer, Housing Association #2

The FSW's 'facework' was widely thought to be the critical factor that improved the link between the probation service and social housing provision. Thus, the FSW's claim that her facework with housing officers "increase[d] accessibility to housing for my client group" was supported by housing officers, probation officers and probation clients, who talked about the importance of the FSW, first, as an intermediary position and, second, as a specific person with whom a working relationship, based on confidence and mutual accountability, could be built;

If Kathryn weren't there and you had to ring the probation office, I don't know the person I'm speaking to, do you know what I mean. I think the face-to- face contact with her is so much better .... I can ring the PO and I haven't got a clue who I'm speaking to. You know, we [Kathryn and I] know each other. Housing Officer, Housing Association #1
I think the main value of Kathryn from my angle is that she has gained the trust and the knowledge of [housing associations] .... I think perhaps they will listen to her and therefore be more inclined to offer tenancies to people that come through her. That's a very important angle. Probation Officer #5
I left SUPPORTED HOUSING SCHEME about January or something, the 7th or something like that. .... By February 15th she got me here. So all the months I'd been trying, filling in application forms, and Kathryn does it just like that. Brilliant! You know what I mean .... I wanted a place of me own in a place where I know, like Wigan area, and that was it. Norris

Intermediaries and Welfare Clients: 'Doing Emotional Labour'

Prior to obtaining re-housing through the FSW, probation clients' experiences of the welfare professions had been generally negative, which undermined their confidence in the welfare professions. For example, probation officers described how their inability to access social housing often resulted in a breakdown in their relationship with their clients.

They don't keep appointments .... [because] if you can't get them a roof over their head, you've let them down .... They think that you should be able to find them accommodation. So it often leads to a breakdown in trust and often, of course, the more upset they are the more likely they are to re-offend for financial gain or drugs or whatever in which case you lose them because they go back into prison .... [I]f you want to get anywhere with a client, especially young people, then you have to build up some sort of relationship and trust is part of that .... So I think if they come to probation with a problem and it's not resolved then they don't give a damn about the future of their probation. Probation Officer #5

The general nature of this 'breakdown in trust' meant that, when they had gained access to social housing, probation clients also failed to maintain contact with the FSW.

... [offenders] would meet Kathryn in probation or in prison or where ever and she would say 'this is my service I can get you this flat and I can provide you with support' .... But, ... when she moved them into the flat that would break down very quickly because they had, they were getting what they wanted. .... So if people still have an element of chaos in the their lives, be it with alcohol or whatever ... where did Kathryn come in? Well she was the accommodation and when it was there it very quickly could break down, they wouldn't be there for appointments. FSW Line Manager

This was problematic for the FSW because her probation clients would go 'off the rails' and cause problems on social housing estates which, in turn, threatened to undermine housing officers confidence in the authenticity of her 'reassuring displays' and thus her ability to 'sort things out'.

I would take clients onto the scheme ... but [they] would never be there for their visits because they didn't see me as important. To get them to see me as more important I need to develop a relationship with them so then they are more likely to turn to me in a crisis or if they have difficulties. FSW

The FSW overcame this problem by creating opportunities for facework with her clients, before they were re-housed, for example, several months before they left prison rather than - as was usual - at the point of release. However, whereas the FSW enacted 'reassuring displays' of 'surface facework' to housing officers, to alleviate their concerns that they would be 'dumped on', she undertook 'depth facework' to build relationships with her clients, so that they would value their relationship - and thus maintain contact - with her.

... the relationship that you have with the person that you're working with [is critical]. And the ability to have the time and space to build that relationship and I could see right from the very start that that was missing with this service .... So what would happen was that Kathryn would come along, meet Joe Bloggs who's due to come out of custody or due to come out next week or whatever, who's actually homeless and then there would be no space, or no period of time ... no possibility of building that relationship ..., and Kathryn would have to put people into flats without having a relationship built up. So at the end of the day what they were getting was, they wanted the property more than they wanted the support - yea - and the missing link was the relationship. FSW Line Manager

This 'depth' type of 'facework' is often referred to as 'emotional labour' because it introduces elements of the private self into the work we do and the product that we produce (Lash and Urry, 1994) and "require[s] the worker to produce an emotional state in another person" (Hochschild, 1983: 147). Thus, her clients described how she was 'personally committed' to them and 'took them to her heart'.

You can see she puts a lot of time in on the individual cases. She seems to take them to heart and she seems to be trying really hard, trying not just to dish me off with the first place that shows. She has an interest in my life .... and she's making every effort to find some place that's right .... She seems to be like trying to get to know you as a personal long-term commitment to getting you the right place to be .... She's not sitting there [saying] 'well, here you are, get that done and fill that out', and she's found two properties that have already come up ... and she discusses in depth each one, that one might not be right for me and [another] one was better. She explained why, you know .... I thought other [welfare professional] people were trying to, having their list, trying to get me off it. That was their prime motivation. I was another number there and then, you know, they'd get me off it any way they could .... She's got a totally different approach. Kevin

This perforce necessitated 'getting to know' her clients, such as Kevin, on an intimate level so that they could be placed in housing (e.g. type, location etc) that suited their individual situation;

I think it's everything, because if you try to stick somebody, put them in a place where they're going to be happy, you're trying to sort their life, their life experience and what they are as a person, then it [the right housing] is the single most important thing. Middle class people talk about it as the single most important thing they will ever buy is a house .... That's the big choice that they make, is where they're gonna live. It's just as big for us, where we're gonna be as far as, you know, what our daily life is gonna be like, how we're gonna react, what our mental health is gonna be like. Trying to match that up with the limited resources they have in a caring way, and trying to know the people you're trying to fit in, as opposed to just sitting with numbers on a list and trying to get rid of them. It's a totally different way of looking at it. Kevin

The FSW, driven by this intimate orientation towards her clients, would therefore 'go out of her way' for them;

She actually took me to Bay Street in her own car and she helped me with the television in her own car and fetched me here with it you know. That's the sort of person she is. And nothing seems to be too much for her. Les

This was one of the clearest themes to emerge from the client interviews, and was indicated by the extent to which clients referred to the FSW through a friendship discourse;

She is me support worker and she's really helpful but she's like a friend as well. You know what I mean. Deirdre

In contrast to the clients that had previously failed to keep appointments with the FSW, then, the clients that she was now working with, prior to re-housing, had developed strong inter-personal relationships with her and looked forward to her visits;

I enjoy her coming over, but she's been part of me life over 12 months and, don't take me wrong, but she's like a friend as well as a support worker, you know what I mean. She's become a friend as well as on a professional level. Norris

The effectiveness of the FSW, then, was not simply a product of the way in which she coordinated the provision of welfare services so that they met her clients expressed needs. The extent to which the clients saw the FSW as a 'friend' was also important because they were aware of the normative obligations involved - and invested - in friendship (see Pahl, 2001) and therefore determined 'not to let her down'. For Leanne, whose heroin addiction had previously resulted in her "messing up" her other housing chances, it meant trying even harder and not letting the tenancy support worker down because;

... Kathryn's like a guarantor [for my new home with the council] so I'm not going to mess up and I'm not going to be on drugs Leanne

Similarly, for Curly, this meant keeping his appointments with the FSW;

We just have a good chat, a friendly chat. She'll come in here and she'll say 'get that kettle on'. I'll put the kettle on and knock it off but she has to make her own half the time. Oh, we have a bloody good time when she does. Brilliant .... I mean if you take the piss out of them, you know, you're losing good friends. So, you're always there [for appointments]. You don't let them down. Curly

Beyond Facework and Emotional Labour: The 'Intermediary Habitus'

In the sociology of social welfare literature, joined-up working is valued because it facilitates the conduct of 'holistic work', so that welfare clients' problems can be viewed 'in the round' (Allen, 2003b). In our example, then, an offender's housing situation would not be addressed in isolation because its sustainability is likely to be contingent on whether they possess 'independent living skills' (such as cooking, budgeting etc) and on whether they have an adequate source of income (for example, through work or benefits).

A key feature of the FSW was that she operated within the ambiguous space at the interstices between welfare organizations, such as social housing organizations and the probation service. The FSW did not simply concentrate on offender's housing situations, by securing their access to social housing, and then develop their practical competencies to budget, cook etc. She also addressed 'housing-related' issues (such as benefit take up) and 'non-housing' issues, for example, by encouraging her clients to undertake education and training courses and by assisting them to secure employment.

The way I look at it, she could be coming and trying to slot me into a house and that would be her job. She's done it. You'd be in some place. You may not like it. But she's not done that .... The whole thing seems to be a package. It seems to be a whole .... She's helped me with the benefits, she's found me a place to live, she's gotten me into contact with my kid, she's helping me get a job, you know. In their own way, they are all equally vital. Each reinforces the other because if I get a flat ... the thing about her [tenancy support worker] she seems to have (pause), instead of compartmentalizing, she seems to address your problems holistically. You get the feeling that she views your life as you do. Kevin

To this end, the FSW 'worked on' developing an expertise about the welfare services that her clients routinely required, which was important to clients such as Deirdre because;

I don't understand [the benefits system]. There's that many forms, I just go haywire with them. And then with being on disability, I'm on that DLA [Disability Living Allowance] and Kathryn, quick thinking Kathryn like, said 'social security owes you more money'. I said 'why?' She said 'cos you're on the middle rate. So she got onto them and that, and she was right and they owe me an extra £39 a week. And she got all that through and everything. And I wouldn't have known nothing about it .... By the time I'd paid me bills and me food there was a tenner left for a fortnight for meself. But with going on DLA it's gone up a bit so I manage a lot better. It's an extra £39 a week. So that I'm now having £45 a week over, but before that I only had £5 a week over. Deirdre

However, being 'expert about other welfare experts' (cf. Giddens, 1991) did not, in itself, secure the FSW's access to other welfare services for her clients. First, we have already seen that the FSW undertook 'facework' with other welfare professionals in order to access their services on behalf of her clients. However, this alone did not secure access to other welfare services, especially in situations where the welfare professional other was not personally very well known to the FSW. Second, then, the extent to which the FSW could work successfully with her welfare professional others was contingent on whether her 'welfare habitus' (i.e. 'work dispositions' such as ways of communicating) was shared with these professional others, so that they saw her as 'one of them' rather than as an outsider, intruder etc (cf. Bourdieu, 1977, 1980). In other words, the success of the FSW was contingent on whether her welfare intermediary 'logic of practice' had been acquired through familiarity with the welfare professional others she was seeking to work with (e.g. the result of a career spent working across welfare organizational boundaries) or whether she had methodically learned how to understand the cultures of welfare professional others.

[There are] two modes of acquisition of [welfare] culture. Total, early, imperceptible learning, ... from the earliest days of [the career] and extended by a scholastic learning which presupposes and completes it, differs from belated, methodical learning .... It [the habitus] confers the self-certainty which accompanies the certainty of possessing cultural legitimacy, and the ease which is the touchstone of excellence .... The competence of the 'connoisseur', an unconscious mastery of the instruments of appropriation which derives from slow familiarization and is the basis of familiarity with [welfare services], is an 'art', a practical mastery which, like an art of thinking or an art of living, cannot be transmitted solely by precept or prescription .... [S]urrendering himself to the work, [the welfare intermediary] can internalize its principles of construction, without these ever being brought to his consciousness and formulated or formulable as such; and this is what makes all the difference between the theory [of practice] and the experience of the connoisseur Bourdieu, 1984: 66

The FSW had acquired her intermediary logic of practice as a result of her career-long experience of working across welfare professional boundaries, rather than within a specific welfare profession or welfare organization, such as housing, social work, probation etc. In other words, her intermediary welfare practice was an effortless product of her complex and differentiated 'welfare habitus' that had been constructed out of her career-long experiences, rather than simply an energetic performance of 'facework' that had to be 'put on' for welfare professional others: "I can't explain it really. You just know what to say and how to say it. It's not something you think about very much 'cause it just comes naturally to the way you work" (FSW). Thus, clients such as Jez described how the FSW was able to succeed in getting his tax bill reviewed and repairs completed in his flat because she 'knew how to speak the language' of the other welfare organizations;

I get letters off the tax saying that I owed them four grand, which I didn't .... When Kathryn would come she would do all the phone calling up .... And she could, sort of like, speak in a better way than me, you know, explain what had gone on .... Probably the best thing she did, any repairs that I needed to get done, they just got done like that. Without Kathryn ... they wouldn't be done to this day. Jez, emphasis added

Similarly, the local authority and housing associations also used her as an intermediary because they felt she could communicate an aspect of welfare policy (that her clients would not like) to her clients 'on their level';

Towards the end of the last financial year ... we were only doing emergency and urgent repairs so at least you can tell [the FSW] 'we're only doing emergency repairs' and that others will have to wait until the new financial year .... Things like that could really affect someone's tenancy. [They] can really get fed up about something like [that and say] 'I'm going to give the tenancy up' .... But, it will get done and [the FSW] can communicate that back to their client and that works quite well. Housing Officer, Housing Association #2

However, it would be wrong to regard the FSW's ability to use her differentiated welfare habitus to mobilize her 'welfare expertise about welfare experts' (cf. Giddens, 1990) as the defining feature of her 'unique' practice. Such a view would be conservative because it would merely emphasize the manner in which she was joining-up 'official' welfare services so that her clients problems could be tackled in a 'holistic', rather than compartmentalized, manner. The way in which the ' used the ambiguous position that she occupied at the interstices between welfare organizations also conformed to Bourdieu's (1984: 370-371) description of the 'new cultural intermediaries' who "... invent an art of [working] .... systematically apply[ing] the cultivated disposition to not-yet-legitimate [welfare services]" and whose:

... awareness of the range of [solutions] open to them, the frequent lack of anchoring in terms of a specific locale or community [of welfare professions], coupled with the self-consciousness of the autodidact, who always wishes to become more than he/she is, leads to a refusal to be classified, with the injunction to resist fixed codes as [welfare] is conceived as essentially open-ended .... [She] makes available to [her clients] the ... inner riches previously reserved for intellectuals' Featherstone, 1990: 44

Bourdieu (1984) refers to these intermediaries as 'the new intellectuals' and notes that their 'art of working' is pursued through a learning-mode to practice that is designed to 'break new boundaries'. Certainly, the manner in which the FSW applied a learning orientation to her practice constituted a rejection of the practical adequacy of being a 'welfare expert about welfare experts'. Thus, several clients mentioned that the FSW had helped them to counter stress through her knowledge of alternatives to medical referrals, such as deep breathing exercises;

She's taught me some breathing exercises, you know, when I get anxiety .... She's shown me some breathing exercises and she's gonna bring a tape down with nice soft music and just chill out on the settee, you know, to relax 'cause I get really uptight sometimes.

If the FSW did not already know about a service that could be used to address her clients' presenting problems, she would use it as an opportunity to learn about - and build up her knowledge of - other 'official' and 'unofficial' alternative welfare services.

She always says to me 'is there anything that you want to discuss?' And if she didn't know [the solution] herself she'd go out of her way to find out for me. But she does. She goes out of her way.

The FSW frequently sought to learn about what existed beyond the boundaries of 'official' welfare provision, for example, in order to attach Kevin to the internet so that he could re- establish contact with his children who lived in the United States of America;

I'm thinking 'how can I possibly keep him in touch with his children? Email! Right. I don't know anything about email, but I know you can do it and I know it's cheap'. So I said to Kevin 'leave it with me. I'll go away and find out'. I'm phoning around directory enquiries and Internet cafés and managed to track one down in Leeds, there weren't any in Leigh. Eventually, I found that you can do it free in the library. Kevin adores libraries. His be all and end all is libraries, so what could be better? I've asked Michelle, 'could you help me out and set up the email address, so Kevin and I can go out and learn to use the internet?' FSW

Instead of consulting one of her colleagues for advice, then, the FSW even took Kevin's problem home with her, where she requested assistance from one of her 'cultivated' friends.

... a friend of hers can sort me out with a free email address .... She'll take me down to use the library herself, show me how to log on to the internet, and there's a good chance I'll be able to establish some email contact at least with my elder son who's 14 and lives on the internet .... That came out of me just talking to her, explaining my situation, what's bothering me, really bothering, and she thought this out and didn't leave it all with me.

The FSWs welfare intermediary logic of practice thus rejected the 'boundary maintenance' practices that sociologists have so often identified as the defining characteristic of modern welfare professionalism (Wilding, 1982). Conversely, she expanded the boundaries of legitimate welfare knowledge and practice by using her position as a 'welfare intermediary' to join-up 'official' and alternative welfare resources (as well as resources beyond the boundaries of official and alternative welfare practice, such as information technology) in creative and innovative ways. She was not simply a 'welfare expert about welfare experts' then, but also a 'welfare intellectual' (cf. Bourdieu, 1984) that clients such as Deirdre and Kevin referred to as 'quick thinking', 'intelligent' and 'different to other welfare professionals' they had encountered.

Kathryn seems more intelligent to me, than the people in SUPPORTED HOUSING SCHEME #2 .... [the people in SUPPORTED HOUSING SCHEME #2 are] really nice people and all, but Kathryn just seems to be a whole lot more intelligent, more intuitive, more creative than they are.


This paper is intended as a rejoinder to the social science research literature on joined-up working, which has been limited by two tendencies. First, the epistemological point of reference for work in this field has been the sociology of professions literature. Second, work in the field is exclusively based on analyses of joined-up work between welfare professionals who, by definition, have professional and organizational territory to defend. These two tendencies have resulted in an analytical emphasis on 'boundary maintenance' behaviours as 'barriers' to joined-up work. This paper therefore presented an exploratory case study examination of the 'welfare intermediary' practices of one FSW, who operated at the interstices between welfare professions. It has shown that two elements of the welfare intermediary's logic of practice were significant, at least insofar as they are not well represented in the social science research literature on joined-up working.

First, the FSW saw a key part of her role as undertaking 'surface facework' with her welfare professional others and 'depth facework' with her clients. The importance of these forms of practice have already been represented in 'late modern' accounts of the social fabric, which emphasize the growing importance of inter-personal trust in social relations (especially Giddens, 1990, 1991; Seligman, 1997; Sztompka, 1999; Möllering, 2001), and in the context of welfare professional - client relationships by medical sociologists such as Ruanne (1996), Meerabeau and Page (1998) and Olesen and Bone (1998).

However, the paper has also shown that scholarly accounts that overemphasize the importance of 'depth facework' vis-à-vis welfare professional identities can give a misleading insight into the logic of welfare practice. For example, Allen (2003a) regards 'depth facework' as the mechanism that 'brackets' the distance between welfare professionals by enabling them to undertake joined-up work on the basis of inter-personal trust, since this enables them to play down their welfare professional identity. Yet, in doing so, the analytical importance of welfare professional identities to joined-up work is effectively written out.

The second unique aspect of the FSWs shows that such a take on the analytical importance of 'depth facework' vis-à-vis welfare professional identities, which are seen to be in retreat vis-à-vis inter-personal trust, is probably spurious in so far as it can be said to be constituted universally. The FSW's differentiated 'welfare habitus' enabled her welfare professional others to identify with her as 'one of them'. This was because, for example, she instinctively knew the 'right way' to communicate with her welfare professional others and did so with the minimum of effort, i.e. without having to resort to the type of energetic performance that would have enabled welfare professional others to identify her as an outsider, intruder etc. Furthermore, the FSW's learning orientation to her work resulted in her exploration and use of 'not-yet- legitimate' services and products, such as 'alternative therapies'. In contrast to welfare professionals who construct and 'boundary maintain' a specialist stock of welfare knowledge, then, the welfare intermediary consistently broke new boundaries in her search for new practice ideas. This resulted in her accumulating a generic (rather than specialist) stock of (partly alternative) welfare knowledge that was highly individualized (i.e. unique and specific to her as an individual practitioner) rather than the collective product of her profession.


1There is a social welfare research literature on the role of welfare intermediaries in 'linking jobless people with employers' through welfare-to-work programmes such as the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) in the USA. These programmes were the subject of a conference on intermediaries that took place in London on 17th September 1999 and which concluded that the UK has not yet "comprehended their full potential contribution, let alone exploited it"

2The nature of 'trust' is contested in the sociological literature. I don't want to engage in the debate about the nature of trust in this paper because it would distract from the main argument of the paper. For the purposes of this paper, then, I simply employ Giddens (1990: 85) understanding of "trustworthiness [as] associated with friendship and intimacy", and which social actors draw upon to 'go on' when they lack the 'predictive confidence' to assess the practical consequences of doing so.


I am grateful to the three anonymous peer-reviewers from Sociological Research Online, and to Simon Marvin, for their helpful comments that have enabled me to improve the paper.


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