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The Categorisation of Clients by Social Work Professionals in Child and Youth Welfare Services

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In Germany, in the 1980s a new period of debate on profession and professionalisation in Social Work started (cf. Kraul, Marotzki & Schweppe 2002, 7). In contrast to a former period the debates of this new period focus on the internal structures of professional action, especially on antinomies and paradoxical aspects. The antinomy of subsumtion and reconstruction (cf. Oevermann 1996, 126; Helsper 2000, 145; Schütze 1992, 147) is one of the antinomies being discussed. It deals with the dilemma using categories to classify the Social Work case on the one hand and coping with the singularity of the case on the other hand. Hence, besides the reconstruction of each single case, the other activity constituting this dilemma is categorisation which, analytically regarded, needs a point of reference, i.e. something you can categorise. To draw on the argumentation of Juhila, Pösö, Hall and Parton (cf. 2003, 11) the client has been chosen as such a point of reference in the presented study because he or she “is at the core of social work” (11) or rather at the core of the Social Work case. That means that the basis of Social Work and other human service professions “lies in the actors who use and need them” (11). Even more, the client justifies the existence of these professions.

Although these considerations underline the relevance of the phenomenon, at least in the German context, hardly any empirical research can be found concerning the categorisation of clients by Social Work professionals. To reduce this gap, the presented study analyses the phenomenon of categorising work with regard to the client. The empirical basis consists of six Repertory Grid Interviews (cf. Kelly 1955) of Social Work professionals working in different institutions of child and youth welfare services. One of these interviews was extensively reconstructed with a sequential analysis that originates from a hermeneutic sociology of knowledge (cf. Hitzler, Reichertz & Schröer 1999; Soeffner 1999, 2004). In brief, the main results of the study are the following: Firstly, categorisation, which is inseparably connected with particularisation, takes place as naming or attribution. While, in principle, naming and attribution can be connected to positively as well as to negatively connoted categories, the study shows that the professional social workers who were interviewed prefer negatively connoted categories while talking about their clients. Secondly – in contrast to the explanation of Fritz Schütze (cf. 1996, 230), a famous German theorist in professions theory – categorisation was reconstructed as not being unitarily ‘bad’ but as encompassing two modes, a reflexive and a non-reflexive one. While the reflexive mode to professional action assumes “[that] there is nothing natural about categories” (Yanow 2003, 21) the non-reflexive mode of categorisation presupposes “[that] there is a reality independent of the […] practitioner […] whose nature can be known” (Taylor & White 2009, 19). Although categorisation can take place by some means or other as the reconstruction of different modes implies, basically the phenomenon of categorisation is inevitable for professional action, is a third main conclusion of the study.

References
  • Helsper, Werner 2000, Antinomien des Lehrerhandelns und die Bedeutung der Fallrekonstruktion – Überlegungen zu einer Professionalisierung im Rahmen universitärer Lehrerausbildung, in: Cloer, Ernst; Klika, Dorle & Kunert, Hubertus [eds.], Welche Lehrer braucht das Land? Notwendige und mögliche Reformen der Lehrerbildung, Weinheim & München: Juventa Verlag, pp. 142 – 177.
  • Hitzler, Ronald; Reichertz; Jo & Schröer, Norbert [eds.] 1999, Hermeneutische Wissenssoziologie. Standpunkte zur Theorie der Interpretation [Hermeneutic Sociology of Knowledge. Aspects of a Theory of Interpretation], Konstanz: Universitätsverlag Konstanz.
  • Kelly, George A. 1955, The Psychology of Personal Constructs. Volume One. A Theory of Personality, New York: Norton & Company.
  • Kraul, Margret; Marotzki, Winfried & Schweppe, Cornelia 2002, Biographie und Profession. Eine Einleitung, in: Kraul, Margret; Marotzki, Winfried & Schweppe, Cornelia [eds.], Biographie und Profession, Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt, pp. 7 – 16.
  • Oevermann, Ulrich 1996, Theoretische Skizze einer revidierten Theorie professionalisierten Handelns, in: Combe, Arno & Helsper, Werner [eds.], Pädagogische Professionalität. Untersuchungen zum Typus pädagogischen Handelns, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, pp. 70 – 182.
  • Schütze, Fritz 1992, Sozialarbeit als „bescheidene“ Profession, in: Dewe, Bernd; Ferchhoff, Winfried & Radtke, Frank-Olaf [eds.], Erziehen als Profession. Zur Logik professionellen Handelns in pädagogischen Feldern, Opladen: Leske + Budrich, pp. 132 – 170.
  • Schütze, Fritz 1996, Organisationszwänge und hoheitsstaatliche Rahmenbedingungen im So-zialwesen. Ihre Auswirkungen auf die Paradoxien des professionellen Handelns, in: Combe, Arno & Helsper, Werner [eds.], Pädagogische Professionalität. Untersuchungen zum Typus pädagogischen Handelns. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, pp. 183 – 275.
  • Soeffner, Hans-Georg 1999, Verstehende Soziologie und sozialwissenschaftliche Hermeneutik. Die Rekonstruktion der gesellschaftlichen Konstruktion der Wirklichkeit, in: Hitzler, Ronald; Reichertz, Jo & Schröer, Norbert [eds.], Hermeneutische Wissenssoziologie. Standpunkte zur Theorie der Interpretation [Hermeneutic Sociology of Knowledge. Aspects of a Theory of Interpretation], Konstanz: Universitätsverlag Konstanz, pp. 39 – 49.
  • Soeffner, Hans-Georg 20042, Auslegung des Alltags – Der Alltag der Auslegung, Konstanz: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft.
  • Taylor, Carolyn & White, Susan 2009, Practising reflexivity in health and welfare. Making knowledge, 2nd edition, Maidenhead & New York: Open University Press.
  • Yanow, Dvora 2003, Constructing »race« and »ethnicity« in America. Category-making in public policy and administration, Armonk: M. E. Sharpe.

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