Association for the Anthropology of Policy
Oral Presentation Session
Models can be seen as tools of sensemaking, which bring order and structure to the ongoing flux of events in organizations. Using a model often means assigning specific meanings and labels to events, enforcing a particular interpretation of what takes place, inherent in the model. This paper studies the development and use of a model for change in Swedish social services at a social assistance benefits office, with ethnographic focus on everyday work at the office. The clients at this office have no other means of income, and often a long history of failed attempts to find work, or any other source of income. Although financial assistance from the social services is meant to be a temporary aid, clients often stay on, as the complexity of their problems prevents finding another sustainable source of income. Rather than a temporary solution, being a client at the social assistance benefits office becomes an indefinite placement in limbo, marked by hopelessness and inertia. The paper investigates how the “model for change” seeks to create a sense of movement and direction to social service work, ordering events in the client’s lives to a sequential storyline with the desired ending. By ordering the past, the model aims to enable the creation of the future, and give events in the present a sense of purpose. Thereby, all client’s lives are reconstructed to follow the same narrative arc, as the model sets to become the predominant way to interpret social work at the office.