The Mundane in the Digital: A Qualitative Study of Social Work and Vulnerable Clients in Danish Job Centres

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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Denmark has one of the most digitalised public sectors in the world. Being a social worker within a digital public organisation requires the use of vast information and communication technologies. Being enrolled in such an organisation as a client implies being able to navigate, for example, an array of digital self-help solutions, systems such as digital ID, complete online applications, and digital mailing systems. In this increasingly ubiquitous digital society, research interests tend to overlook the mundane technologies that support and govern our everyday lives and activities. This thesis foregrounds these mundane technologies by investigating their role in social work with vulnerable clients and in vulnerable clients’ agentic practices.
This thesis builds on qualitative interviews with social workers (n = 24) and vulnerable clients (n = 17) enrolled in Danish job centres. It takes a constructivist grounded theory approach to the investigation, combined with a symbolic interactionist theoretical approach. Such a combination offers systematic tools for analysis and approaches data with a focus on social interaction, context, and identity negotiations.
This thesis is comprised of three articles. Article one explores social workers’ use of a digital CV tool. The study shows how social workers may collect and use information strategically through mundane technologies such as the CV tool. Article two examines the identity negotiations of vulnerable clients in response to the digital requirements of job centres. It examines how clients may reconcile contrasting demands to their positions by performing agentic vulnerability. Article three investigates social workers’ and clients’ role performances in welfare encounters via phone where non-verbal cues of interaction are absent. The study shows that phone mediation may visualise the consequentiality of welfare encounters for both social workers and clients, which may otherwise be taken for granted in routinised face-to-face encounters.
Overall, the thesis demonstrates how mundane technologies partake in the social worker–client relationship. It also shows that such technologies can both enable and constrain social work practices and clients’ agentic practices and provide opportunities for everyday resistance. This thesis suggests extending the focus from new and spectacular digital technologies to the mundane in the digital.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages162
ISBN (Print)9788775682591
ISBN (Electronic)9788775682607
Publication statusPublished - 2024
SeriesPhD Series

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