Social care workers in Ireland - drawing on diverse representations and experiences

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Lyons, Denise
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University College Cork
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This thesis presents a multiple case study of the experiences of twenty-six social care workers. It addresses the core research question of ‘how is social care work experienced by workers in diverse settings in Ireland?’ The study’s first contribution is its diverse, yet in-depth analysis of Irish social care workers’ practices, identities and contexts, viewed through the triple lens of situated learning, holistic social pedagogy, and sociopolitical influences on social care. In other words, it examines ‘what social care workers do’ in different services. The study outlines the diverse, disjointed representations, or ideologies of social care that emerged from an openly patriarchal, predominantly Roman Catholic society, characterised by religious voluntarism, deserving/undeserving poor distinctions, and an ad hoc, administrative merging of diverse helping professions. The data, collected from focused interviews and arts based photo elicitation, was analysed through Yin’s (2009) six stage approach to multiple case studies, and a form of visual analysis, coined as visual reading, complements traditional textual analysis. The second contribution of the study is thus the identification and re-presentation of situated knowledges developed in learning to ‘do’ social care work, defined as either ‘indigenous’ or ‘shared enterprises’ (Wenger, 1998) which both inform, challenge and exceed those captured in forthcoming registration, regulation and proficiency frameworks. The findings suggest that workers claim and then perform the roles of helper, advocate, teammember and key-worker in their professional life. Workers used distinct spaces for purposeful social care work, including the kitchen and the car. The social care relationship was defined as the fundamental collective experience or shared enterprise necessary to claim the identity of social care worker. This relationship is ideally holistic and experienced through embodied practice involving the head, the heart and the hands/body. However, it is undervalued and under threat due to austerity-based, market-driven and new managerialist institutional change.
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Lyons, D. 2017. Social care workers in Ireland - drawing on diverse representations and experiences. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.