Accepted Paper:

has pdf download The conceptual framework of social workers  


Sabrina Tosi Cambini (Università di Verona)

Paper short abstract:

Based on long term ethnography among homeless people and social workers in Florence and in Bologna, my study tries to develop an anthropological critique of the conceptual framework of the social workers in Italy: which are the conceptual categories a social worker uses to provide care?

Paper long abstract:

The topic of this paper is what in France is called terrains sensibles: spaces (ghettos, streets, camps, etc.) and social conditions (homeless, squatters, etc.) which the Institutions (Services, Law-Courts etc.) define as deviant, illegal, etc. I talk about how institutions care (or govern?) these people. In particular, I analyse the conceptual framework of social workers in Italy.

First, my focus is on the notions of social exclusion and marginality always present in the narrative of social workers about people with whom they work: social workers use these words almost interchangeably and in doing so they risk masking the wide-spread situation (e.g. working poor, new-poverties, social and economic vulnerability etc.) in our society. So, social exclusion and marginality have become empty notions, characterising a wide range of different life-situations containers.

Second, I analyse how social workers abuse and exploit the word "culture": they use it to describe a case that the Service doesn't understand and doesn't know how to manage. In this way, the responsibility is all in the hands of the person (the 'user') and the Service avoids self reflection.

Third, I consider the dominant medicalizing discourse. Medical-psychiatric categories are often used to interpret social situations: this is not only accepted but also a priori considered as legitimate. Finally, the dominant languages and practices at both levels of polices and social work produce an hegemonic process which reinforce a pathological interpretation (individualized disorder) and fail to connect the individual condition to the systemic inequities and structural violence.

Panel W077
Care, welfare and mutuality: anthropological perspectives on shifting concepts, boundaries and practices