Managing arguments in social work encounters

Tessa Verhallen, Christopher Hall, Stef Slembrouck, Steve Kirkwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Meetings between social workers and clients in child protection are highly sensitive and frequently contested. Much is at stake in terms of protecting identities and ultimately possibly child removal. It is not surprising then that disagreements occur and strong positions are defended in encounters between social workers and clients. In this paper, the authors use a combination of a case study approach and micro sequential analysis. The case study approach captures how arguments are produced and managed across successive social work encounters over a longer period of time. Additionally, the sequential analysis of one encounter demonstrates the relevance of discourse and conversation analytic concepts such as categorization, entitlement and accountability for a more detailed understanding of how argument and disagreement manifest themselves interactionally. The interactional sequence involves a family supervisor and a mother in the Netherlands. The paper examines key features of an argument in the context of child protection and engages with the interactional consequences for both worker and client. By providing insight into how arguments unfold over successive social work encounters, the paper contributes to an understanding of how stalemate positions come about and are resolved (or not). Adding to the picture, a detailed understanding of the real-time management of disagreement in interaction is useful in fostering social work practitioners’ awareness of how argumentative “logics” may be taking over.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-104
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Child and Family Welfare
Issue number1/2
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sept 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • child protection
  • discourse analysis
  • case study
  • argumentation
  • resolving conflict


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