Chairing participation: Chairs’ use of ‘we’ in team decision making with clients

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In this chapter we will contribute to understanding this more complex reality by analysing multiparty meetings in a Danish welfare-to-work context. We will look at how the participants use the personal pronoun ‘we’ in these naturally occurring meetings. One way in which collaborative and participatory elements of social work are managed, is though talk that includes or excludes one or more of the participants. As such, the activity of selecting pronouns in multiparty talk is one that works to accomplish certain roles and identities in practice. Language works to construct and represent the professional collective (the team) as well as the position of the client vis-a-vis the professional(s). As argued by Drew & Heritage (20??) one of the underlying characteristics of talk-in-interaction is ‘action’ and the question of what actions the speakers are engaged in. Speakers make choices and select “…from the alternative ways in which they might have ‘filled the slot’, so as to enact or accomplish particular actions” (Drew & Heritage; intro to benchmarks in social research methods, p. 15). The use of a collective self-reference such as ‘we’ represents such an action that have implications for both the role of the professional (collaborative) team and for the role of the client. For these reasons we argue, that the importance of understanding the use of the collective self-reference ‘we’ is related to the construction of institutional identities and how these identities are linked to specific roles and activities in social work practice. We focus specifically on chairs because in the meetings we are working with here, there is a clear role allocation in which the chair guides and directs both the meeting itself and the decision making more specifically. This is perhaps not surprising, as research in corporate contexts that have shown how the activity role of the chair allows this person (or persons) to direct talk in terms of agenda management, turn allocation, task management and more (e.g. Angouri & Marra 2010). This is especially so when, as in the meetings we study here, the activity role of chair is a formal and explicit one. In the social work context, where ideals of collaborative and participatory decision making are at the forefront of (these) meetings, the ways in which chairs allocate turns and roles becomes crucial for how these ideals are brought into being (or not). On this background, we will examine how chairs use the pronoun ‘we’ to include or exclude other team members and/or the client. We will argue, that the chairs’ use of ‘we’ is one of the subtle ways that chairs allocate and differentiate participant roles in decision making, as well manage the task of making ‘correct’ decisions within this given context. We continue in the next section with an outline of our conceptual understanding of the use of ‘we’, before making a brief introduction to the specific empirical context of our analysis, the rehabilitation team meetings in Danish employment services. We then present our data and analytical strategy and illustrate two main themes in our data; the ‘exclusive we’ in interactions with clients and the ‘inclusive we’ in interactions between team members’. We end the chapter with a discussion of how these different uses of ‘we’ function to allocate roles and manage decision making, and what implications this hold for social work practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date15 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2018
EventDANASWAC 2018 - York University, York, United Kingdom
Duration: 13 Aug 201816 Aug 2018


ConferenceDANASWAC 2018
LocationYork University
CountryUnited Kingdom

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