From Emotionality to the Cultivation of Employability: An Ethnography of Change in Social Work Expertise Following the Spread of Quantification in a Social Enterprise
Forthcoming in Management Accounting Research
Posted: 26 Jun 2018
Date Written: June 19, 2018
How do members of a profession, initially reluctant to use quantification, finally accept it and change their expertise accordingly? This paper examines the processes by which a group of social workers in a social enterprise came to adhere to the claimed benefits of quantitative templates in framing the social problems of individuals and ways of addressing them. We also reflect on consequences ensuing from this important shift in social work expertise. We build our insights from an ethnographic study conducted in a social enterprise in France, where the management had recently been taken over by social entrepreneurs. The latter were especially concerned in rendering their organization’s social workers more focused on strengthening the employability of beneficiaries, particularly through the compulsory use of quantified grids of evaluation. Our analysis brings to light the strategic initiatives and main conditions of possibility that collectively played a role in strengthening social worker receptivity towards quantification and in modifying the nature of their expertise. Specifically, we found that the core of social work expertise was altered in three main ways: strengthening of emotional boundaries between expert and beneficiary; downplaying the victimhood (of beneficiaries) as a key referent; and development of a breach in the claim of exclusivity in the relationship between social worker and beneficiary. This shift in expertise has deep consequences on the kind of person social work aims to produce; the emphasis is now on the development of individuals capable of being employed in the labor market. For now, at least in the social enterprise we studied, the economic conception of social work increasingly prevails over the traditional, emotionally and psychologically-based template.
Keywords: change in expertise; ethnography; legitimization; quantification; social enterprise; social work
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation