Mätning och motstånd: Sifferstyrning i socialtjänstens vardag

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

Abstract

In the name of transparency and accountability, numbers and statistics have gained importance as indicators of quality, effectiveness and efficiency of welfare services such as social work. It has been argued that the requirements to formalise how and on what grounds decisions are made have undermined the professional autonomy and discretion of social workers. These requests have arguably also led to new kinds of knowledge use in social work. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore how social work practice takes form and develops around quantification and measuring activities based on the following questions: 1. How are numbers used to govern social workers’ judgements and decisions? 2. What practices arise as a response to this “governing by numbers”? and 3. What are the consequences of quantification and measuring activities for the way knowledge is constructed at the social service office?
Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted in several Swedish municipalities, with a focus on child welfare investigations and assistance assessments for elderly, sick and disabled citizens. The dissertation is based on data from participant observations, “shadowing”, interviews, photographs and documents. Theoretically, the analysis primarily builds on an interactionist, sociology of knowledge approach. In addition, inspiration comes from governmentality and “governing by numbers”- theory and studies of stat-activist (i.e. resistance by numbers) and pragmatic resistance.

Selected cases of number-based governance are analysed in four empirical chapters: Clock-time governance of child welfare investigations; governing by comparing care managers performance; governing by controlling the measurable and making what has been made invisible visible.

This study provides a concrete empirical illustration of metric cultures emerging in the social services. The emergence of those metric cultures stems from the tension between governing-by-numbers initiatives “from above” and the way in which the social workers “from below” also use quantification for resistance and counter purposes. The study shows that on the one hand number-based directives in many ways help and give social workers "clear" guidelines in the context of busy work schedules. Additionally, metrics serve as important ammunition when social workers negotiate and demand resources, and monitor their workload. On the other hand, it is shown that the governing-by-numbers initiatives have led to new ways for social workers to understand and talk about their tasks. In managements’ supervision of the social workers, and arguably also in client meetings, the numbers offer a neutral and objective language distancing the message from the sender, and excluding knowledge perceived as subjective. New dilemmas follow, as well as increased control over the social workers by management, new and time-consuming administrative work and an attention shift from clients to measurable achievements.

Details

Authors
Organisations
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Work

Keywords

Original languageSwedish
QualificationDoctor
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2020 Jan 31
Place of PublicationLund
Edition1st
Publisher
  • Lund University
Print ISBNs978-91-89604-64-3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jan 8
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2020-01-31 Time: 10:15 Place: Socialhögskolans auditorium, Allhelgona kyrkogata 8, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Bornemark, Jonna Title: Professor Affiliation: Södertörn University ---

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Related research output

Teres Hjärpe, 2019 Feb 28, In : Social Inclusion. 7, 1, p. 185-195 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Teres Hjärpe & Falkenström, H., 2018 Sep 19, In : Socialvetenskaplig tidskrift. 24, 3-4, p. 177-199

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Teres Hjärpe, 2017 Aug 30, (Unpublished).

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

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