‘Who do you see?’ How do unaccompanied young women and UK social workers construct and understand each other in practice encounters?

Larkin, Rachel Pauline (2019) ‘Who do you see?’ How do unaccompanied young women and UK social workers construct and understand each other in practice encounters? Doctoral thesis (DSW), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis combines creative qualitative research (Mannay 2016) with autoethnography (Muncey 2010) to consider social work practice with unaccompanied asylum-seeking young women in England. It explores how unaccompanied young women and practitioners construct and understand each other within micro-level practice encounters at this cultural moment, and examines how this may be implicated in young women’s experiences of social workers and in practitioners’ responses to them. As a practitioner insider-researcher (Costley et al 2010), with current experience of this work, I position myself as one of the ‘unstable subjects’ being considered here, grappling with ‘concepts-on-the move’ (Jackson and Mazzie 2012) and conceiving of knowledge as situated and always formed through power (Trinh 1991).

The empirical study used a mixed-method approach (Hesse-Biber 2010), collecting qualitative data over a twelve-month period. Data was gathered with eight research participants, five practitioners and three young women. Free drawing was used in unstructured, creative interviews (Mannay 2016), to disrupt accepted ways of seeing and talking (Yates 2010) and to access new knowledges. In addition, personal reflections were collected in an autoethnographic diary over ten months. The participant transcripts were analysed using an extended form of Mauthner and Doucet’s (1998) Voice-Centred Relational (VCR) analysis, to explore the relational experiences of practice encounters. An analytic innovation was made in the development of additional relational data ‘poems’, adding to Mauthner and Doucet’s (1998) existing VCR method. Maclure’s (2013) concept of analysis as finding moments of disconcertion and wonder in the data was utilised to analyse the participants’ drawings and the autoethnographic thread.

Doreen Massey’s (1994; 2004; 2013; 2014) theoretical work is employed to conceptualise how understandings develop within gendered social relations that construct the practice spaces, always located within power and situated in space/time. Drawing on post-structural notions of the relational self (Weigert 2010), participants are theorised as engaged in a continual process of molecular becoming (Deleuze et al 2003). In addition, Wetherell’s (2012) theory of ‘affective-discursive practice’ is used to explore how understandings may emerge within and through affect, in a process of relational and situated ‘embodied meaning-making’ (ibid. p19).

Research findings are presented in four thematic chapters, locating understandings within the power/gender relations (Massey 1994; 2005) that construct the key encounter spaces. The young women are framed as active in the relational production of understandings, challenging informational ways of knowing which accord practitioners the ‘privileged position of vision’ (Froggett 2002, p172). I argue that relational understandings are spatial, shifting and partial, emerging through both ‘ways of thinking’ and ‘ways of feeling’. Social work spaces are theorised as porous spaces (Massey 2005), where boundaries are continually contested and young women can be excluded or included in hierarchies of belonging (Back et al 2012).

This thesis offers substantive new knowledge about social work practice with unaccompanied young women and makes a number of original contributions. Unaccompanied young women’s voices are rarely heard in research or in debates about forced migration (Asaf 2017). By interweaving autoethnography with stories and drawings from young women and practitioners, I offer a new, multi-voiced lens into practice encounter spaces. The multi-disciplinary theoretical frames of Massey (1994; 2005) and Wetherell (2012, 2015a, 2015b) offer an original approach to research which explores how relational understandings may emerge and impact within social work practice. The research has a number of implications for practice, and for future research, which are identified. At a time of polarising and potentially excluding constructions of the refugee and migrant, this thesis offers new and valuable knowledge about a pressing area of social work practice.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Education and Social Work > Social Work and Social Care
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology > HV0040 Social service. Social work. Charity organization and practice Including social case work, private and public relief, institutional care, rural social work, work relief
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 30 Apr 2019 06:52
Last Modified: 30 Apr 2019 06:52
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/83466

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