Accepted Paper:

The significance of role, status, and authority in decision making processes among social workers   


Charlotte Siiger

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the nature of decision making processes among social workers, and the way they serve the purpose of exercising, challenging and re-confirming distribution of roles, status and authority. Thereby, relationships are maintained and altered and, in extension, the identity of the organization is reproduced and changed

Paper long abstract:

Social workers are involved in numerous and recurring decision making processes concerning their clients. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at three Danish hostels for the homeless, this paper analyses the nature of these processes. According to social workers themselves, decision making processes are about identifying the problems of clients, how best to solve them and assist clients in moving on to, preferably, a better and more self-dependent life. However, this paper argues, there are others and less recognized issues at stake: decision making processes are not only about 'business'; they are also about exercising, challenging and re-confirming distributions of roles, status and authority among staff. In that sense, decision making processes serve the purpose of governing the way relationships among actors are maintained and altered, which, in extension, may explain how the identity of an organization is reproduced and changed.

The analysis form part of a PhD project which examines how work at hostels for the homeless is organized in relation to the intentions of the law saying that residents should only stay on a temporary basis. An essential component is to explore the transformation processes between policy as general guidelines and policy as practice. This involves the understanding of policy as defined by Cris Shore and Susan Wright as well as concepts of technology in line with Michel Foucault.

Panel W003
Towards an anthropology of decision making