Ethics of Obedience and Bureaucratic Cruelty in Social Work with Vulnerable Children and their Families

Bidragets oversatte titel: Lydighedsetik og bureaukratisk grusomhed i socialt arbejde med udsatte børn og deres familier

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftKonferenceabstrakt til konferenceForskningpeer review


In Denmark, vulnerable children and their families meet a variety of professionals who has to collaborate to help them. This inter-professional collaboration is not easy since the actors not only have different professions, but also have different responsibilities and opportunities to help, as well as different ways to define (social) problems and offer solutions. The collaboration often results in conflicts regarding: What should be done, who has to do what and when (Seemann et al. 2013). This presentation focuses on the challenges of inter-professional collaboration and its consequences for vulnerable children and their families. To put it more accurately, we investigate what characterizes the inter-professional collaboration between caseworkers in child protection services and staff in psychology and pedagogical counselling unit (PPC).
We show that this collaboration fundamentally is an expression of a complex bureaucratic, conflictual organizing, which has immanent insensitive traits, that put vulnerable children and their families under pressure and sometimes produces social suffering.
Drawing upon Weber (1994) and Zygmunt Bauman (1994) it is suggested that the bureaucratic work organizing in child protection services can be cruel due to the ethics of obedience that is inherent in bureaucratic organizing, where rule-following takes precedence to contemplating the consequences of actions. The problematic is presented through three empirically established themes, that inevitably arise: 1. Immobility of knowledge, 2. Conflicts of domains and 3. Denial of responsibility.
This presentation is based upon a four months long ethnographic fieldwork study, which include participant observation in a child protection services department in a large Danish municipality, as well as sixteen individual semi-structured interviews with caseworkers in the department. We also conducted nine individual semi-structured interviews with parents to children with an ongoing child protection case in the municipality.
Bidragets oversatte titelLydighedsetik og bureaukratisk grusomhed i socialt arbejde med udsatte børn og deres familier
Antal sider1
StatusUdgivet - 2018
BegivenhedNordic Sociological Association Conference 2018 - Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Danmark
Varighed: 8 aug. 201810 aug. 2018


KonferenceNordic Sociological Association Conference 2018
LokationAalborg Universitet


  • Udsatte børn og unge
  • Autisme
  • Socialt arbejde
  • Lydighedsetik
  • Bureaukratisk grusomhed
  • Myndighedsarbejde