Does it feel right? – Emotional and embodied processes as a ‘shadowy epistemology’ in difficult child protection cases

Line Søberg Bjerre*, Maria Appel Nissen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
22 Downloads (Pure)


Social workers in child protection services must make difficult decisions often based on fragmented knowledge and the inevitable risk of not knowing what is important to know about a child and the family. Cases of severe neglect have been subject to public attention of politicians and media in several European countries often followed by reforms with a strong focus on standardising risk assessment and documentation. This article argues and shows that emotional and embodied processes are an important source of knowledge in child protection. Such processes appear in social workers’ narratives about worries for the well-being and security of children underpinned by moments of silence and symbolic bodily utterances. These ways of communicating emotions help social workers navigate and make sense in child protection cases, where knowledge is limited. The question ‘Does it feel right?’ becomes crucial in terms of identifying and expressing potential risks. However, as a legitimate professional question that can lead to valuable knowledge it remains latent. Therefore, emotional and embodied processes constitute a ‘shadowy epistemology’ (Bruner, J. (1991) ‘The narrative construction of reality’, Critical Inquiry, 18(1), pp. 1–21). Instead of denouncing these processes, we need to develop a professional language of understanding and naming them, and the aim of this article is to contribute to this.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)600–616
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Child protection
  • Cultural psychology
  • Embodiment
  • Emotions
  • Risk
  • Social work
  • Child welfare
  • Children


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