Journal Article

Identity Work and Critical Social Service Management: Balancing on a Tightrope?

Jane Aronson and Kristin Smith

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 41, issue 3, pages 432-448
Published in print April 2011 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online September 2010 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Identity Work and Critical Social Service Management: Balancing on a Tightrope?

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An ongoing qualitative study of social service managers in southern Ontario explores the challenges of critical management in restructured social programmes. Recruited because of their extensive practice backgrounds and commitments to progressive public services, study participants illuminate the tensions in their contradictory positioning: at odds with managerialist practices they are charged to implement, while also in positions of some influence and resistant potential. Their resistance consists of an inter-play of oppositional behaviour and, the focus of this paper, complex identity work. In order to advance or shelter their critical aspirations, participating managers engage strategically in multiple performances of self—performances acutely attuned to the demands for flexibility and individualistic accomplishment that dominate the neo-liberal work order and contemporary management discourses. Participants are intensely aware of the dangers of losing themselves and their oppositional capacity amid these multiple and conflicting performances. They gauge the risks with vigilant self-examination. Analysis of their isolated struggles with divided identities sheds light on the challenges of resisting the de-politicisation of practice at senior levels inside the dispersed state, and contributes to unfolding debates about the practices and ambiguities of resistance.

Keywords: social service management; identity; resistance; social justice

Journal Article.  6741 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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