Description du projet :
Background: This project is about the work of those who are delegated the task of helping vulnerable people to live a “normal” life, while they struggle with mental health issues or other complex problems. But what is “normality”, what degree of unconventional behaviours is acceptable? How can workers prioritize their “clients” resources and self-determination in a context of imposed help? Is it possible or required that they avoid paternalistic approaches? These issues are part of the broader question of how the State treats its citizens and their problems, especially those living in its margins. There are political debates about the collective answers that should be chosen. Discussions about the best ways to provide help also divide workers: there are intense professional discussions about how to balance institutional and “clients” interests in adult safeguarding. This project will take a sociological look at these questions, by investigating frontline workers’ perceptions and practices. This will shed light on three elements that underlie these debates: the degree to which workers use rigorism and normalization, and how they morally evaluate their “clients”. By looking at the varying practices on these three dimensions, this project will provide, firstly, a deep understanding of the tensions arising from such choices as those between sanctions and negotiations, firmness and flexibility or normativity and inclusivity. Secondly, it will make an analytical step further by providing explanations to the variable positioning of workers on the dimensions investigated. Although adult safeguarding work is ruled by public policies and professional regulations, it is accomplished within a great deal of autonomy. The complexity of the often intertwined and multifactorial problems they handle, the ambiguities of their role definitions, the unpredictable reactions of humans they deal with and the emotional component of their work make workers’ activity impossible to standardize or to conduct with purely technical tools. Therefore, there are considerable variations in the way frontline workers define their roles, treat their clients and handle their problems.
Theoretical foundations: The model of analysis is based on Bourdieu(-inspired) social theory (Lahire, Darmon). Human practices are conceptualized as resulting from encounters between dispositions and contexts, both presenting varying degree of force or constraint. Dispositions are interiorized through processes of socialisation, which can have strong and durable effects, especially when they happen in childhood and adolescence. Depending on the force and features of situational contexts, they can be activated or not.
Question and hypotheses: To better understand and to explain interindividual variations, the different “professional styles” of adult safeguarding workers, the project will identify the content, origins and activation of dispositions that shape their ways of thinking and practicing their job. Investigating variability on the degrees of rigorism and normativity, as well as client moral evaluations is expected to reveal two pairs of opposing dispositions: rigorist vs. liberal and moralist vs. hedonist, which are assumed to shape workers’ worldviews and working practices. The project will look at the interiorization of these dispositions, by exploring workers’ past in detail, in particular family, social mobility and gender socialization. Although dispositions are deeply incorporated, the behaviours and specificities of clients and the workload size are expected to be able, in some situations, to lead workers to make choices that are not congruent with their dispositions.
Data: Biographical interviews are combined with direct observation of frontline workers’ practices in adult protection units (“curateurs/trices” in Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Vaud). This area of social intervention has remained unexplored. It is characterized by a large variety of “clients” types and intense issues about their self-determination rights.
Scientific relevance: This project will contribute to the sociology of socialisation, of professional groups and relational work, and of bureaucracy. It will stress the importance of studying relational work and workers as social actors (and not only professionals). The qualitative approach will grasp the detailed effects of multiple instances of socialisation, far more precisely than basing on social origins.
Research team within HES-SO:
, Aubry Agnès
, Quéré Lucile
Partenaires académiques: Muriel Darmon, Centre européen de sociologie et de science politique; Florent Champy, Université Toulouse II; Will Atkinson, University of Bristol; Philippe Longchamp, HESAV (HES-SO)
Durée du projet:
01.12.2021 - 31.08.2024
Archivage des données: