Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Decades of welfare state restructuring in Europe have profoundly reshaped relations between state, society and citizens. This paper uses community social work as a lens to study these reconfigured state-society relations in practice. Taking inspiration from the work of Latour and Mol, I approach social workers as experts who assemble social worlds. While these social worlds are shaped by social workers' training and professional outlook, they are also products of particular socio-political contexts. As community social workers go about their work, they routinely bring citizens, society and the state into being as relational entities. The various publics with whom they interact, from residents to other welfare actors, have their own sociopolitical notions and moral economies, and this leads to frictional encounters that provide a rich picture of the volatile reshaping of state-society relations. Community social work thus offers a unique access point to how the state, society and citizens are enacted in material, locally embedded ways. I illustrate the analytical purchase of this approach by drawing on fieldwork with social workers in Amsterdam, examining how they enact relations between the welfare state, society and citizens in a setting in which they are tasked to stimulate local social energies and use a strength-based approach, while they are also drawn into close collaborations with other welfare actors in intrusive, dense institutional landscapes.