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Life History as Text and Context. A Psycho-Societal Approach to Human Service. Thematic Symposium Linda Lundgaard Andersen, lla@ruc.dk Dept of Educational Research Roskilde University Esrea, Life History and Biography Network: 2006 Conference Volos, March 2006. Opening statement .

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life history as text and context a psycho societal approach to human service

Life History as Text and Context. A Psycho-Societal Approach to Human Service

Thematic Symposium

Linda Lundgaard Andersen, lla@ruc.dk

Dept of Educational Research

Roskilde University

Esrea, Life History and Biography Network: 2006 Conference

Volos, March 2006

opening statement
Opening statement
  • life history as a method starting by defining a subject has radical consequences – pursue excellence
  • through the lens of the subject we can follow social, cultural, economic, professional transformations and changes in human service as well as society
  • this represents a much needed critical counter-knowledge to an individualizing and stigmatizing construction of the users and the professionals 
  • as a counterplay to a dominant paradigme of ’evidensbased practice’ producing monolitic reports based on the average and singularity of individuals
research background
Research background
  • two research programmes at Department of Educational Studies, Roskilde University
  • the Life History Project

- a multiannual research programme investigating the implications of a life history approach in formal and informal education and learning

  • Learning and Education in Human Service and Health Care

- investigating the learning processes and work life learning in human service and health care from the perspectives of professionals and recipients

a case study social workers
A case study: social workers
  • Three social workers in a sickness benefit office: Karen is 36, social worker in 1997, employed for five years. Inger is 58, employed for 37 years;Lone is 50, qualified social worker 978 and employed for two years
  • Investigating how the social workers experienced their work life and how they evaluated their educational background
  • They pointed to a demanding schism between their great work interest and engagement versus their feeling of abandonement due to conflict on quality in case work and their professional goals

(Andersen, 2005).

case study the managers
Case study – the managers
  • Interviews with Søren, 54 years, construction engineer and human service manager, Erika, 38 years, social worker and a middle manager
  • how did they view the social work organisational and professional structure and the importance of education
  • they pointed to, 1/ that social services organisation give opportunities for influence - if one can find ways to use it. 2/social work today is dominated by control and it is a managerial task to establish procedures to ensure political and administrative case objectives
case study social workers
Case study – social workers

” The opportunities for influence are many. At the same time, the political decisions lead you to say no to people, … maybe I feel, that this sick person (client) should be rehabilitated, but I know very well that my manager does not think as we do. That’s where you’re forced to throw your own professio-nalism away. Then I have to remind myself, that this is what I am trained for – that the work I am doing will not necessarily harmonise with my my own profes-sionalism. I was employed to follow rules.

(Karen, social worker)

”That’s how it is for me too. We basically don’t have a jot of influence and is not allowed to act professional”.

(Lone, social worker)

case study the managers7
Case study – the managers

We have been reorganising our workplace quite a bit. All the time, we have unexpected breakdowns and people developing psychological problems: depression and burnout. This constantly destroys the atmosphere and is always there smouldering. Of course, it is not just the workplace that is responsible. We have not been efficient in adapting the work structure so this is not amplified. A divorce, for example, can start a lot but then work adds to that—and then things overflow. There is little one can do then. We must be better at structuring work so that staff want to do it. They must be involved and have much more influence since they have to live with the clients and deal with the interaction.

(Søren, head of office)

case study analytic fragments
Case study – analytic fragments
  • social work education leads to a professional grounding, expectations of quality, images of “good case management”
  • produce an ambivalent tension between the professional and individual standpoint and the rationales and objectives of management - the employee might be caught in conflicting pressures
  • social work is embedded in organizational, political and economic rationales and procedures that fall upon the individual social worker to exert. Fundamental difficulties in solving societal problems appear as individuals’ life historic problems and is being voiced and acted out in shape of the individual social workers emotional, professional or ethical problems.
cases analytic fragments
Cases – analytic fragments
  • the management sees the life history of the social workers as a stigmatizing potential:
    • they are fragile professionals:
    • workrelated problems as stress and a heavy workload,
    • not being able to meet the politic decided objectives of social work,
    • the reluctance to take on the delegated influence in case administration
    • all these issues are understood as the inadequacy of the individual social worker
cases analytic fragments10
Cases – analytic fragments
  • complex societal and historic problems and the limited options to solve these fall heavily on the individual social worker in the shape of subjectified reactions like ambivalence, relinquishment or resignation
  • the individual case worker is de-politicised and dis-empowered by processes of displacement whereby the social worker’s experience is reduced to a privatised conflict.
life history as a subjectifying research method
Life history as a subjectifying research-method
  • qualifies the perspectives of the different actors in human service: professionals, recipients, managers, politicians and how they experience and give meaning to their actions and experiences
  • investigates the constructions of positions and possibilities for human service recipients and professionals
  • provides differentiated understandings of how social policy and societal conditions produce marginalized human lives from a bottom-up perspective
life history as a critical hermeneutic theory and method
Life history as a critical hermeneutic theory and method

1. life history as a psycho-societal theory –

human beings live, think and act influenced by consciouss as well as unconsciouss processes and these are closely formed by and form themselves the societal structures and power-relations

2. the dialectic of the subject and the societal -

individual action and understanding is influenced by a plurality of conditions that are interdependent: societally formed childhood, different forms of consciousness and societal and cultural conditions

slide13
3. the defended, ambivalent, identifying subject

in everyday interaction human beings are involved in a multitude of conscious and unconscious processing on cognitive, emotional and bodily matters

4. the potentials of a theoretical perspective

theory should be able to retell and transform the empirical object - and its generalised ideas of itself, and hereby dissolve the tension between reality and the potentials

(Leithaüser & Volmerg, 1976 & 1998; Adorno, 1972 )

life history as texts in context
Life history as texts in context
  • In-deepth hermeneutic is based on text interpretations contextualized
  • when life history interviews with social worker and managers are transformed into text we gain:
    • an interactively text-production is tranformed into the shape of a fixed text that can be intepreted
    • includes the researchers subjectivity and their influence on datagathering, interpretation and textproduction
    • gives access to a critical inquiry and interpretation that can seek validation in different settings and ways
summing up
Summing up
  • In life history resarch we bring evidens based on a scientific and valid ground that advocate the subjective and individual perspective
  • displaying the complicated interplay between the lives of human beings and the societal conditions
  • insisting on giving voices to the plurality (rather than the monolitic report) as an important dimension of the knowledge production