My research interests concern social exclusion and social rights, power structures and power imbalance, social policy and ethics in social work. Empirically, I study public administration, policy processes and the relationship between policy and practice. I’m interested in the relationship between the citizen and the welfare state institutions, as well as citizen mobilization and acts to influence welfare policy and practice.
The methods I use are based on critical theory and social constructionism, and my research is most often qualitative. I understand research as a normative and subjective practice, which means that reflexivity and transparency are vital to the research process. I am orientated towards the use of organizational and institutional theory, discourse theory and perspectives concerning power and power structures.
Sanctioned resistance: Service user involvement as phenomenon and practice
In my dissertation, Sanctioned resistance: Service user involvement as phenomenon and practice, I investigate the phenomenon of “service user involvement” within the welfare services. The roots of the idea of user involvement within social services can be found in the efforts of the rising service user movement in the 1960s and 70s. Today, the idea has been adopted by the state and is widespread within political rhetoric, as well as in human service practices. However, ‘user involvement’ is an imprecise phenomenon and can be given different meanings, which opens for potential conflicts between service users and organisation representatives concerning goals, intentions and activities.
The aim of the work presented in the thesis was to investigate how service user involvement is constructed within contemporary human service organisations, and how the construction is affected by, and how it affects, the prevailing power structures that characterise the relationship between service users and welfare workers. The study had an ethnographic and constructionist base. During three years, I conducted fieldwork in two welfare organisations – a county based psychiatric hospital and a municipal social service administration – following such activities that the organisations defined as working with “service user involvement”. The concept of co-optation was used to analyse how power structures and institutional logic within the welfare organisations are maintained and questioned through the everyday interactions that take place during service user involvement.
The study suggested that no radical change in power positions is achieved through the service user involvement. The influence that users have can commonly be understood as adjustments within a prevailing institutional logic, rather than changes that transform the organisations in a more profound way. Moreover, the surrounding socio-political context plays a vital role in determining what service user involvement becomes. What employees can do when it comes to meeting service users’ demands depends on the overarching welfare politics and resource allocation.