Social change in developmental times? On ‘changeability’ and the uneven timings of child welfare interventions 

My first independent scholarly work is published!

…And it is published in Time & Society, one of my favourite peer-reviewed journals! What is the article about, then?

It is inspired by my earlier work on migration and asylum-seeking as contexts of waiting and being out of time as opposed to following normative and “right” timings. Here, however, I use some of these approaches to analyse child welfare practice in Sweden.

I started asking questions about the timings of child welfare interventions. How is it possible that some children are taken into care immediately when for others this happens after several years and continuous assessments? How is this possible in situations when the problems that children experience are similar? How can we understand these uneven timings of child welfare interventions from a temporal point of view? 

The analysis draws on postcolonial theory, queer theory and critical childhood studies. The article critically discusses developmentalism, which links to theories of developmental psychology which are popular in child welfare policy and practice. Developmentalism is also linked to modernist and colonial linear temporal orders that, for instance, appear in narratives about “West and the rest”, or binaries between the developed versus those underdeveloped/developing, the progressive versus the backward, to name a few examples. 

Themes addressed in the article are the absences and limitations of “the social” in terms of perspectives on problems and (social) change – central themes for social work. The article discusses how ideas about change are deeply rooted in developmentalist, modernist and neoliberal frameworks and reproduce wider societal and intersecting inequalities. I argue that although the temporalities leading to interventions may differ, and the timings are uneven, they still are confined to these frameworks and limit a discussion about change as societal. Unlike my Ph.D. thesis which focuses on children, this article pays more attention to assessments of parents, including differentiations made in terms of their potential to change for the better. 

The article encourages educators, policy-makers, and practitioners in fields that promote social perspectives and social change to take a closer look at how theoretical approaches and legacies within their field limit the scope of “the societal” – including who embodies the position of a social agent, who does not, and how this creates multiple and intersecting inequalities. 

I wrote the article when I struggled to keep my university affiliation. It was submitted shortly after hearing discouraging comments about how “academia isn’t for all of us”. This did not convince me to stop. Instead, I was inspired to write this article and this time around I was able to choose a journal without having to comply with preferences of fields, universities and “well-intended” advice from others. This article is a personal victory and a reminder to keep on researching.  

Source: Social change in developmental times? On ‘changeability’ and the uneven timings of child welfare interventions – Zlatana Knezevic, 2020

More on temporality and differentiation/othering:

Fabian, J (2014) Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object. New York: Columbia University Press, 3rd edn.