Exploring How Experts Define and Translate Knowledge in the ‘Risk Society’: The Case of Child and Family Social Work

2018-01-31T14:57:36Z (GMT) by Gemma Mitchell
Evidence based practice (EBP) has asserted itself as the best way to respond to risk and uncertainty in child and family social work, a relatively new profession with a constantly shifting knowledge base. Informed by a social constructionist approach, the thesis asks: (1) what types of knowledge do social workers use and what meanings do they attach to these; and (2) what strategies do they use when sharing knowledge within their epistemic community? Based on semi-structured interviews and research diaries with child and family social workers, I detect two types of knowledge the participants reported using, namely gut feeling and evidence. I identify the social element of gut feeling and that it is central to the response to uncertainty. I also reveal that the knowledge social workers associated with evidence is narrower than the EBP approach. I argue that these findings show that there is a gap between research and practice, and that the extent to which social workers are ‘comfortable’ with uncertainty is related to how they conceptualise the fact/ value distinction. I also identify two knowledge sharing strategies, conceptualised as (1) standard knowledge filtering (SKF) and (2) dynamic knowledge filtering (DKF). Users of SKF aimed to render gut feeling and the associated uncertainty invisible, whilst users of DKF aimed to keep uncertainty visible and share gut feeling with others. The thesis reveals why some types of knowledge are shared and others are not, the differences between social workers, as well as the causes of frictions and frustrations associated with knowledge sharing. The dominance of EBP, however, conceals such complex processes and differences. By uncovering and conceptualising them effectively, the thesis makes an original contribution to a better understandings of gut feeling, evidence, fact and value which are central components of constructing and translating social work to co-workers.

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