“…this research advances the field considerably in terms of our understanding of issues of responding to diversity, children’s participation and to understanding how knowledge cultures determine outcomes.” (Williams, 2020: 3)
I was very pleased to see Professor Charlotte Williams’ review of my dissertation in Nordic Social Work Research. Williams is a leading scholar in the field and internationally recognised for her research on ethnic diversity, multiculturalism, racism and social justice issues in the context of welfare regimes and practices. Continue reading “Dissertation review, by Charlotte Williams”
This study was partially inspired by a comment at a seminar, which I attended to present what at that point in time was a work in progress but is now a published article “A Cry for Care but not Justice: Embodied Vulnerabilities and the Moral Economy of Child Welfare”. My presentation addressed child welfare as a moral economy and how the focus on care rather than on social justice downplays children’s voices as well as racism, sexual and gender-based violence in childhoods and other violations of children’s bodily integrity. Yet, paradoxically, in the case of children that are not coded as ethnically Swedish, gender-based violations seem more easily imaginable (see Knezevic, 2020b, 2020c, below). One of the participants at the seminar commented on my findings by pointing out that these issues may be related to the difficult task of providing evidence in child welfare. The study “Speaking Bodies – Silenced Voices” was written as a response to this comment – a “write back” – to problematise the idea of viewing evidencing as difficult or easy.
In this study, I instead discuss how different knowledge cultures generate different ideas about what evidence is, how it is to be achieved, and who should provide it. The downplaying of issues such as racism and children’s voices is not a matter of the difficulty of providing proof. Instead, the problem is that this kind of proof is not always considered the most important one in child welfare and child protection. Another issue relates to the status of the child and their parent(s), which creates differentiations with regards to who can be trusted and whose problems are seen as severe (see also Knezevic, 2020b, Knezevic, 2020c). I relate this status to race/ethnicity, class, gender and age.
My main argument in this study is that the contemporary knowledge culture in child welfare is not well aligned with children’s participation rights “as we know them” (voice). If children participate, they are primarily “heard” as “speaking bodies” because in this context, it is assumed that the “evidence” can be inscribed onto their bodies.
The knowledge culture that gives the impression of “speaking bodies” – bodies that speak in distinct ways, that is, of developmental and psychosomatic harm – is closely related to what I refer to as a moral economy of care (see Watters, 2007). A sketch of this parallel can be seen below. It depicts an ear and it is written in Swedish “listen to the ear?”. I had a particular case in mind when illustrating this, the young girl that I have given the pseudonym Bell in another study.
Bell is responded to primarily as the “forcibly medicated” and “detained” body with “health problems” (ears) rather than a body that might have been subjected to violence and sexual abuse (“touched [ . . . ] bottom and genitals”). There are no words to explain why forced medication is not an issue nor why Bell does not resist receiving medication by her mother. The “will to health” (Rose, 2001, p. 6) of a parent, and here of professionals, is also in this case ruling out suspicions that the parent (or practitioners) violates the child’s bodily integrity. (Knezevic, 2020b: 236)
The case of Bell is interesting because it shows how a child, who gives indications of sexual abuse, is reduced to her ear disorder (medical condition) and how her resistance to medical care makes her concerns less trustworthy in such a health-focused setting. Forced midication is never problematised, which suggests that the medicalisation of Bell is taken for granted. Bell’s body does not “speak” of developmental and psychosomatic harm and given that this type of harm is taken seriously by the Social Services the indications she gives about sexual abuse are never taken seriously.
There are often several testimonies to consider when assessing children in this context: the testimony of the child, the parent(s), the professionals. In this case, child welfare shows a difficulty in hearing Bell, not because she does not raise her voice, but because the parent, the professionals and her medicalised body (but not necessarily her bodily language) do not support her testimony.