Journal Article

The Material Presence of Early Social Work: The Practice of the Archive

Adrienne Chambon, Marjorie Johnstone and Julia Winckler

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 41, issue 4, pages 625-644
Published in print June 2011 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online December 2010 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
The Material Presence of Early Social Work: The Practice of the Archive

Show Summary Details


This article focuses on the practice of archival research and addresses the methodology and work of interpretation that are at stake in dealing with a multiplicity of archival media: texts, images and objects. It raises questions that arise from the archive of a Toronto child-care agency that celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2009. This work is part of a project that links social work practices to cultural representations. By exploring the knowledge and practices of early social work in English Canada, and the culturally marked assumptions of an era whose influence has continued to this day, we seek to understand social work practices in conjunction with broader debates or disputes of the time. As a practice of research, the examination of various materials brings to our awareness different features of the archive, and different angles on the practices and values of the West End Crèche. We read push and pulls between the priorities of child development, mothers' employment, family spirit, service development and nation building. Treating each source as a material object shows us the multifaceted nature of the agency's work, as each material fragment brings another angle of comprehension into view.

Keywords: Childcare; early social work practices; photography and archive; material history methodology

Journal Article.  6923 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Work

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