• Ane Blom
  • Marie Brejnrod
4. term, Sociology, Master (Master Programme)


Intervention in families deviating from contemporary social norms regarding ’The good childhood’ has been organized in various forms in the Danish state through the past 100 years. This thesis concerns how social workers employed in a Danish ‘family department’ in the social services, who authorizes interventions in families, employ different strategies when attempting to govern parents towards the norm. The thesis is based on a social constructivist perspective as the theoretical foundation is Foucault’s conceptions of government in modern society.

The basis of the study is a micro‐level investigation of the governance strategies and a design composed of respectively interviews with eight social workers employed in Danish family departments and observation of seven meetings between social workers and parents. Where the first half of the research design is concerned with exploring which strategies the social workers experience to employ when trying to govern parents, the second is concerned with the strategies as they unfold in the interaction between social worker and parent.

The main conclusions reached in the thesis are the six different governance strategies the social workers experience to employ. Three of the strategies are indirect, governmentality strategies whose purpose is to govern the parents through conduct of conduct and three are direct as their purpose is to govern the parents through means of obedience. The three indirect strategies downplay the asymmetry inherent in the relation between the social worker, who represents the welfare state, and the parent/client. One strategy, gift giving, by articulating the intervention as a gift to the parents, the other, accountability, by articulating the parents as accountable for the family’s problems and solutions, and the third, the child’s best, by referring to the norms as the child’s best interests and the parents as natural providers of that. The three direct strategies are respectively direction where the parent’s obedience by the social worker is sought by articulating herself as an authority who knows best, threat of enforcement, where obedience is sought by threatening or intimidating the parent, e.g. with reference to use the act on involuntary enforcement. The third is enforcement where obedience is reached by the use of actual enforcement based on the act on involuntary enforcement The strategies are apparently taken into use depending on a division of the deviant parents into two groups; the confessing parents, who themselves request the intervention and therefore already admit and acknowledge their deviance, and the monitored parents where the intervention is not a parent request and the parents therefore consider the intervention as a threat. The indirect strategies are usually targeted the confessing parents and the direct strategies the monitored parents depending on how far away the parents are from acknowledging and confessing their deviance.

Three of the six strategies were observed in the meetings, respectively gift giving, accountability and direction. The study shows how parents are far from passive objects of the social workers’ strategies and observes a range of different forms of resistance that affect both the success and the development of the strategy in practice. Parents can be highly active in the definition of the situation and in negotiating knowledge and their positions as e.g. knowledgeable, caring parents, victims, coping parents etc.

The study also analyses how the social workers prefer the indirect strategies and are ambivalent about carrying out the authority they hold though it is an inherent part of their position as social workers in a family department. The consequence is an overstatement of the relation as equal and informal and an understatement of the relation as a legal relation where the parents have certain rights when the social workers employ indirect strategies.

The study does not intend to judge whether the different strategies are positive or negative, as Foucault’s conception of power does not provide a normative foundation for such assessments. Also the strategies are understood as coping strategies, as they are highly dependent of the different contexts in which the social workers are embedded on both macro and meso level.

Publication date14 Dec 2010
Number of pages142
ID: 42112336