Elusive Relations: A Phenomenology of Interpersonal Understanding in Social Work

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)

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This thesis aims to explore how phenomenological philosophy may contribute to the conception of interpersonal understanding in the context of social work practice. The thesis consists of an extended introduction and four original papers, investigating modalities of interpersonal understanding in relation to three different subjects, namely empathy, stigmatization, and peer-support. The thesis sets out from the position that the phenomenology of interpersonal understanding sets up an ambiguity problematizing the notion that interpersonal understanding can be approached objectively, and as a tool or goal for the professional social worker. According to phenomenological thought, interpersonal understanding is disclosed as already being there in our relationships to other people when we turn to reflect on and describe these relationships. Whereas this insight presents a challenge to the course of applying phenomenology in social work research, there is also evidence in the phenomenological literature for the view that the phenomenological insight about the pre-reflective character of social life is implied in everyday experiences; thus, it is an insight not reserved for philosophy alone. One of the central findings of the thesis is that the phenomenological distinction between act and object clarifies how interpersonal understanding is enacted in interpersonal relationships in the context of social work practice. Such an enactment affords a critical vantage point for revealing objectivist approaches to interpersonal understanding in social work research. With a wider outlook towards human care work, I make the suggestion that the phenomenology of interpersonal understanding may articulate and value a dimension of uncertainty inherent in professional judgment in face-to-face encounters, as well as elucidate some of the impacts of technicalization of human care work.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • School of Social Work
  • Panican, Alexandru, Supervisor
  • Hilte, Mats, Assistant supervisor
  • Englander, Magnus, Assistant supervisor, External person
Award date2023 Feb 21
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-89604-73-5
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Jan 23

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2023-02-21
Time: 10:15
Place: Sal 128, Socialhögskolan, Allhelgona Kyrkogata 8, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Bornemark, Jonna
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Södertörn University

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Work
  • Philosophy

Free keywords

  • interpersonal understanding
  • phenomenology
  • empathy
  • self-stigma
  • peer-support


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