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Talk, text and institutional order: A study of communication in social welfare bureaucracies
Linköping University, The Tema Institute, Department of Communications Studies. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-1443-5895
1992 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This work focuses on the role of talk and text in the processing of people in public organizations. It is a study of communication between citizens and officials in one such organization, namely, the Swedish social services. The aim of the study is to examine some of the micro-level processes which make up the daily operations and routines of this kind of institution.

The work consists of three parts. The first part reports a study of the initial telephone contacts between parents who need day care for their children and the clerks in charge of the 'waiting-list' for municipal day-care services. The data that have been analysed consist of 10 audio-taped telephone conversations between parents and clerks. Theanalyses focus on the local organization of talk and show that the professional dominance is maintained during all the various phases of the call. Starting the conversation with an extensive 'filling-in-the-form phase' turns out to be an effective way of preserving the institutional order. The clerks manage to achieve communicative dominance, while theparents are induced to accept the limited repertoire of bureaucratic expressions as valid descriptions of their own needs and wishes concerning the future day care for their children.

The second part is a study of clients who are applying for financial assistance. It is an attempt to scrutinize the mode in which clients present their financial problems in social welfare interviews. The data consist of 25 audio-taped social welfare interviews. The clients' talk about their financial problems has been analysed in detail and this analysis has served as a basis of a typology, which contains the following basic discursive formats: 1) monological narratives, 2) dialogical talk, 3) minimal contributions from the client.

The third part, which is published as a separate monograph written in Swedish, deals with the processing of applications for financial assistance. This part includes a detailed documentation of the processing of 25 applications. The study is based on a documentation of the following stages in the handling of the cases: 1) the client's initial telephone cali to the social welfare office; 2) the application form which is supposed to be filled in by the client; 3) the social welfare interview; 4) the decision concerning the client's application. One of the main interests behind this part has been to examine how institutions, such as the social welfare bureaucracy, deal with people's troubles and difficulties; how a private problem is transferred to the language used within a public institution.

This work describes how the processing of people relies on standardization of communicative practices where oral discourse is embedded in routines which also comprise the use of texts and other artifacts. The texts are important tools for maintaining the institutional order and they are integral parls in encounters between citizens andofficials in institutional settings. The tools seem to provide for continuity and coherence and to be an important element in the ability of the organization to maintain the 'proper procedures' irrespective of who the individual actor is.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköpings universitet , 1992. , 80 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 78
Keyword [en]
talk, text, communicative practices, institutional order, street-level bureaucracy, social welfare, interviews, telephone conversations, discourse analysis
National Category
Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-35108Local ID: 24871ISBN: 91-7870-891-5OAI: diva2:255956
Public defence
1992-05-07, Sal Elysion, Hus-T, Universitetsområdet Valla, Linköping, 13:15 (Swedish)
Papers, included in the Ph.D. thesis, are not registered and included in the posts from 1999 and backwards.Available from: 2009-10-10 Created: 2009-10-10 Last updated: 2015-01-19Bibliographically approved

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