Proximity to social work practice towards generating deeper insight to emotional labour

Helle Schjellerup Nielsen, Cecilie Moesby-Jensen

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftsartikelForskningpeer review


We will discuss how a practice research approach generated deeper insights into social work practice and particularly emotional labour. The purpose was to study professional social work practice with children and young people. The research question was: How do social workers manage their work with vulnerable children and youth and what influences this work?
We used multiple methods: participant observation in social services departments in two Danish municipalities; and interviews with caseworkers, managers, youth, and their parents. Further, we facilitated focus groups with frontline professionals and did a qualitative content analysis.
Our objective with the practice research approach was not only to produce scientific knowledge but also to produce knowledge, which was recognizable, relevant, and useful for social work practice as well as social work students. Thus, we were continuously in dialog with frontline professionals during the research process. The dialog had a double aim: 1) served as data collection and 2) to facilitate professional reflection. This approach included being present in their work life, which gave opportunities to get contextual explanations and concept clarification. However, it also posed the challenge of going native and ethical dilemmas related to getting consent in large organizations. The inherent asymmetrical power relation in fieldwork was counteracted with a participatory and involving research process.
The fieldwork gave insight into emotional labor as an important but also unconscious component of social work practice. We identified three types of emotional labor that expressed itself in different ways. Awareness of and discussions of different types of emotional labor contributed to a common language.
TidsskriftQualitative Research
StatusUnder udarbejdelse - 2023


  • Socialt arbejde og sociale forhold
  • Praksisnær forskning
  • etnografisk metode
  • partnerskaber
  • udvikling i praksis
  • Følelsesarbejde


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