This dissertation examines the conditions of front-line social service workers, in not-for-profit organizations serving marginalized groups, as they navigate their transition from post-secondary education into their professional role. Social service work involves relational engagement with clients shaped by and situated in significant social conditions, yet this work is constrained by neoliberal, managerialist expectations. I critically deconstructed these neoliberal, managerialist assumptions underlying much of the scholarship on the transition from post-secondary education to work, in order to create space for social service workers’ more nuanced perspectives on the purposes of education and of work. I explored the experiences of individuals who identified themselves as newly transitioned into social service work in Vancouver, British Columbia. Through a series of in-depth interviews, guided by principles of critical narrative inquiry, the participants and I co-created narratives of their transition experiences. Drawing on these participant narratives, I found that these social service workers experienced tensions between technocratic skills and relational practice; internal conflicts in being in relationship while maintaining appropriate boundaries; and tensions between self and others in terms of values and societal measures of financial ‘success’ and comparisons and competition with others. By examining the narratives through Foucault’s conceptualizations of power and Butler’s theory of performativity, I found that while the social service workers were constrained by neoliberal definitions of ‘success’ and performed toward the ‘ideal social service worker,’ they also demonstrated resistance and an ability to redefine success and social service work. Their experiences, reflected in their narratives, led me to analyze their transitions as an ongoing process of ‘becoming,’ within material and discursive arrangements, or ‘entanglements.’ Recognizing the complexity of social service work as entanglement promotes intra-active relational practice; this has meaningful implications for social service work and education. Being entangled promotes increased responsibility to one another and the need, in working relationally, to be critically aware of, and awake to, emergent possibilities to remake the world.
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Thesis advisor: Cox, Rebecca D.
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