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"We Don't Pay for Bus Tickets, but We Can Help You Find Work": The Micropolitics of Trouble in Human Service Encounters

J. William Spencer and Jennifer L. McKinney
The Sociological Quarterly
Vol. 38, No. 1 (Winter, 1997), pp. 185-203
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Midwest Sociological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4121270
Page Count: 19
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"We Don't Pay for Bus Tickets, but We Can Help You Find Work": The Micropolitics of Trouble in Human Service Encounters
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Abstract

Guided by the concept of social problems work and the micropolitics of trouble perspective, we examine the discursive strategies used by social workers to conduct intake interviews with homeless clients. Trouble was a pervasive feature of these encounters: clients often requested services that diverged from the service preferences expressed by social workers. Social workers used elicitation strategies to solicit information about clients' biographies and their service needs and seminarrative raps to construct service plans with clients. Conceptualized as rhetorical devices, these strategies appear to have managed trouble in ways that articulated closely with material and nonmaterial aspects of the organizational context. We illustrate how these strategies articulated with an agency preference for consensus-style service planning and a focus on clients' recent biographies and immediate problems. Further, we show how these strategies managed the provision of scarce resources in ways that focused on remedies that could be tied to long-term client stability. We conclude by offering the outlines of a general model of the micropolitics of trouble in human service encounters.

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