Session: Enacting Expertise: Ethnographic Accounts of Contested Professional Authority and Legitimacy in Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

219 Enacting Expertise: Ethnographic Accounts of Contested Professional Authority and Legitimacy in Practice

Saturday, January 18, 2020: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Social Work Practice (SWP)
Symposium Organizer:
Hannah Norwood, AM, University of Chicago
Summerson Carr, PhD, University of Chicago
Social work practice often occurs in contexts in which multiple forms of professional expertise--such as moral authority and scientific knowledge--co-exist and frequently conflict (e.g. schools, hospitals). However, there is limited ethnographic research by social work scholars on the stakes and consequences of such conflicts in social service settings. Anthropologists of expertise conceptualize expertise not as an abstraction possessed by an individual but as a set of material and discursive practices that unfold in interactions between people. Following this lead, this symposium asks: What are the practices through which certain forms of professional expertise and authority are established, maintained or transformed? This symposium showcases five ethnographic studies, each of which examines how professionals and activists in social service and humanitarian aid settings negotiate tensions and conflicts between different forms of expertise and authority. Together these studies ask: How do certain professional discourses and forms of expertise gain legitimacy and authority in practice? What new discourses and forms of expertise emerge when professionals challenge or improvise on existing forms of scientific and moral authority? And what effects do such processes have on clients? The first study investigates how professionals respond when their roles as experts are called into question by colleagues and clients. It describes how disaster mental health workers in Japan's nuclear evacuation zones adopt local practices and set aside their expertise to successfully collaborate across disciplinary boundaries and build rapport with insular communities. The second study examines the practices of professionals inhabiting the liminal space between theory and practice. It demonstrates how early education interventionists and researchers uphold the authority of scientific expertise by enacting “inexpertise.” The third and fourth studies consider how advocates and organizers in Mexico and India navigate tensions between different forms of moral and legal legitimacy to make persuasive appeals. The former examines the discursive framing that allows aid workers with tenuous professional status to gain political recognition as they advocate for migrants who experience violence en route from Central America to the US. The latter study demonstrates how organizers in Kerala, India, employ diverging strategies to establish moral authority and expertise. The fifth study examines how conflicts between different forms of professional skill and knowledge affect the kinds of treatment clients receive. Sited in a residential treatment center in the mid-western US, it describes how differences in the skills and knowledge of medical professionals and social workers affect their ability to collaboratively design the psychotropic treatments youth receive. This symposium convenes around a discussion of how various kinds of professional authority are legitimized and re-worked in the context of micro and macro-political crisis and conflict. The papers that comprise this symposium offer insights into how the multiple forms of expert and moral authority that social workers encounter influence their everyday practices as advocates and interventionists. This topic is vital to social work as social workers are active participants in the remaking of expert legitimacy and authority in multidisciplinary settings, with practical and political consequences for clients.
* noted as presenting author
Hospitality and Humanitarian Aid Along the Central American Migrant Trail
John Doering-White, PhD, University of South Carolina
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