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Professional Practice as Processes of Muddling Through: a Study of Learning and Sense Making in Social Work
Linköping University, Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Education and Sociology. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6784-0133
2015 (English)In: Vocations and Learning, ISSN 1874-785X, E-ISSN 1874-7868, Vol. 8, no 1, 95-113 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Using an ethnographic approach, the aim of this study was to explore how social workers learn and make sense of experiences in their daily practices. Five events that took place during an ordinary day of child investigation work are described and serve as the basis for the analysis. The findings imply that investigation work is largely a social rationalization process and that the interaction between different actors in work is a strategy to enhance the level of knowledge and contribute to learning among the professionals. Thus, learning is embedded in daily activities, for example, consulting colleagues, framing problems and building relationships. Furthermore, the findings suggest the possibility of assuming a contextualized view of reasoning, a so-called contextual rationality, which maintains that practitioners need to make judgments in a way that is sensitive to and relevant for their own contextualized settings. Contextual rationality is a reasonable strategy to deal with complex problems in daily practices that cannot be completely analysed or solved. Contextual rationality is thus not about accuracy, rather it engages individuals to find meaning and order in the complexity of modern organizations where norms, values and expectations provide frameworks for explanations. Besides offering an explanation for the basis of practice, the study identifies a variety of learning opportunities in everyday practice that could potentially be used in efforts to organize a more reflective practice to facilitate improved workplace learning.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Springer, 2015. Vol. 8, no 1, 95-113 p.
Keyword [en]
Workplace learning, Sense making, Professional work, Contextual rationality, Evidence-based practice
National Category
Work Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-115273DOI: 10.1007/s12186-014-9123-yISI: 000352484400005OAI: diva2:794593
Available from: 2015-03-11 Created: 2015-03-11 Last updated: 2015-05-20
In thesis
1. Evidence in Practice: On Knowledge Use and Learning in Social Work
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Evidence in Practice: On Knowledge Use and Learning in Social Work
2015 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Alternative title[sv]
Evidens i praktiken : En studie kring kunskapsanvändning och lärande i socialt arbete
Abstract [en]

Against the backdrop of the transformations in the entire framing of professional work, social work has come under close scrutiny in many countries, including Sweden. Doubts have been raised about practitioners’ existing knowledge base, and the importance of practitioners engaging in learning and the renewal and extension of professional capacities has been emphasized.

The present thesis concerns knowledge use and learning in the daily practices of child investigation work. The aim is to explore processes of knowledge use and learning in practice. The study is based on a mix of qualitative approaches, basically from ethnography, comprising methods such as participant observations, interviews, reflective dialogues and documentary analysis of case data.

The main findings demonstrate that investigation work is characterized mainly by the use of practice-based knowledge. Research-based knowledge is predominantly used as a means of explaining a client’s situation or to underpin and legitimize one’s own beliefs and decisions made on other grounds. Professional learning is largely adaptive in character, as the social workers learn to handle tasks in a fairly routinized way on the basis of rules or procedures that draw on existing knowledge in the practice setting.

Two conclusions are drawn: First, the use of knowledge in child investigation work bears little resemblance to principles of evidence-based practice. Second, the reproduction of professional knowledge is largely implicit and taken for granted. The study offers insight into the much-discussed topic of putting knowledge into practice, which is of importance to strategies for organizing profes sional learning and knowledgeable practice.

Abstract [sv]

Ett i allt högre grad vetenskapsbaserat samhälle har lett till att kunskapsbasen i många verksamheter ifrågasatts, däribland socialt arbete. Avhandlingen behandlar kunskapsanvändning och lärande i utredningsarbetet inom den sociala barn- och ungdomsvården. Syfte är att öka kunskapen kring hur individer använder kunskap och lär sig i och genom sin dagliga praktik.

Avhandlingen baseras på fyra delstudier som genomförts i tre svenska kommuners socialtjänst. Det empiriska materialet består av deltagande observationer, intervjuer, reflekterande dialoger och dokumentanalyser. Studien tar sin utgångspunkt i ett kognitivt perspektiv på lärande med teoretiska rötter i pragmatism. Ett grundläggande antagande bakom studien är att lärandet utgår från hur individen tolkar och förstår den situation som hen möter och därefter handlar.

Resultaten visar att utredningsarbetet företrädesvis baseras på praktikbaserad kunskap som erhålls från tidigare erfarenheter och kollegor. Forskningsbaserad kunskap används huvudsakligen för att bekräfta och legitimera en uppfattning och inte för att ifrågasätta och utmana existerande åsikter och antaganden. Lärandet kan främst karaktäriseras som ett anpassningsinriktat lärande där praktikern med stöd i tidigare erfarenheter och utifrån befintlig kunskapsbas skapar rutiner för att hantera arbetet.

Kunskapsanvändningen inom den sociala barn- och ungdomsvården ligger långt ifrån idealen för evidensbaserad praktik. Reproduktionen av professionell kunskap sker främst implicit och utan frågasättande. Förståelse för praktikers faktiska kunskapsanvändning och lärande har central betydelse för hur verksamheter kan organiseras för att stödja lärande i arbetet.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2015. 92 p.
Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, ISSN 0282-9800 ; 641Linköping Studies in Behavioural Science, ISSN 1654-2029 ; 192
Knowledge, knowledge use, learning, evidence-based practice, social work practice, Kunskap, kunskapsanvändning, lärande, evidensbaserad praktik, socialt arbete
National Category
Pedagogy Sociology
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-117912 (URN)10.3384/diss.diva-117912 (DOI)978-91-7519-088-4 (print) (ISBN)
Public defence
2015-06-05, Eklundska salen, Hus I, Campus Valla, Linköping, 13:00 (Swedish)
Available from: 2015-05-13 Created: 2015-05-13 Last updated: 2015-06-02Bibliographically approved

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