‘If it’s not written down it didn’t happen’
Contemporary social work as a writing-intensive profession
Keywords:bureaucracy, ethnography, professional writing, recording practices, social work genres, text work
AbstractSocial work writing, often referred to as ‘recording’ or ‘paperwork’, is frequently the target of criticism in reviews and public media reporting in the UK. However, despite the many criticisms made and its significance in social work practice, little empirical research has been carried out on professional social work writing. This paper draws on findings from an ESRC-funded study in the UK to offer a baseline characterization of the nature and function of writing in contemporary social work. Drawing on text and ethnographic data, the paper foregrounds three key dimensions: the number of written texts, key textual functionalities and genres; the specific ways in which ‘text work’ constitutes everyday social work professional practice, using case studies from the domains of adults, children and mental health; and the concerns of social workers about the amount of time they are required to spend on writing. The baseline characterization provides empirical evidence for claims made about the increased bureaucratization of social work practice, signalling contemporary social work as a ‘writing-intensive’ profession which is at odds with social workers’ professional ‘imaginary’. The paper concludes by outlining the educational and policy implications of the baseline characterization and calls for debate about the nature of contemporary social work practice.
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