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Sosiaalityön tutkinto-ohjelma

Tackling long-term problems in a short-term society

Researcher:  Professor Kirsi Juhila

Research period and funding:  2010-2011, UTACAS (Research Collegium, Tampere University)

This research explores two societal phenomena: short-term society and long-term problems. The concept short-term society is inspired by Sennett’s (1998; 2006) writings on new capitalism. I link the concept with the debate on project and outcome-oriented society (Rantala & Sulkunen 2006; Rajavaara 2007). In describing the new capitalist culture, Sennett (2006, 2) uses a railway station metaphor: ‘migration is the icon of the global age, moving on rather than settling in’. In a project and outcome-oriented society, it is precisely moving on and the associated change that are considered worth striving after. ’Projectification’ is visible, among other things, in that helping work in the welfare state is organised as short-term projects, requiring both the professionals and the clients to process problems rapidly (Rantala and Sulkunen 2006, 11–12). The outcome-oriented society is manifested in the increased evaluation of public services, and the necessity of furnishing evidence for the impact of services (Rajavaara 2007, 14–17).

By the concept long-term problems I refer to such problems which cause societal and professional concern because of their persistence and their apparent intractability. Such problems repeatedly surface as topics of public debate and their management and solution involve professional reorganisation and new initiatives. This research will concentrate on one such concern: mental health problems.

The focus of the research lies at the crossroads of long-term problems and short-term society. The topic merits examination because of its inherent dilemma. In the spirit of short-term society and relying on an audit/outcomes orientation, is there still a place for professional interventions which assess clients who have long-term and entrenched problems? This dilemma leads me to the third important concept of the research, professional discretion. About 30 years ago Lipsky (1980, 13) wrote that street-level workers ‘have considerable discretion in determining the nature, amount and quality of benefits and sanctions provided by their agencies’. This study aims to find out what is the state of professional discretion in a societal context where professionals are increasingly expected to work on a short-term basis.

The main aim of the research project is to address the question: How are long-term problems talked into being and tackled in mental health work in a short-term society? The objectives are to study:

•What difficulties do professionals encounter when viewing problems as long-term?

•How do they manage the dilemma when faced with short term procedures?

•What space exists for professional discretion in solving these difficulties and the dilemma?

The gathering of data will focus on two agencies: 1) a supporting housing unit for people of working age who suffer from both mental health and substance abuse problems, 2) a rehabilitation course for young adults suffering from schizophrenia. In these organisations the persistence and complexity of the problems is part of daily life, nevertheless they must furnish evidence of the efficiency and usefulness of their activity.

The data include: 

•client-worker conversations, where the aims, paths and plans of clients’ rehabilitation are discussed (20-30 tape-recordings) 

•meetings among professionals, in which the professionals assess their own activities as regards to the aims of rehabilitation and to the expectations of service purchases (20-30 tape-recordings)

•client documents, where issues of client progress and ‘moving on’ are addressed (20-30 cases).

I draw on discursive constructionism and accounts analysis as research methods.



Lipsky, M. (1980) Street-Level Bureaucracy: Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.

Rajavaara, M. (2007) Vaikuttavuusyhteiskunta: sosiaalisten olojen arvostelusta vaikutusten todentamiseen. Helsinki: Kelan tutkimusosasto, sosiaali- ja terveysalan tutkimuksia 84.

Rantala, K. & Sulkunen P. (2006) Esipuhe. In: K. Rantala & P. Sulkunen (eds.) Projektiyhteiskunnan kääntöpuolia. Helsinki: Gaudeamus, 7–14.

Sennett, R.(1998) The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism. New York & London: W.W. Norton & Company.

Sennett, R.(2006) The Culture of the New Capitalism. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Muutettu: 7.9.2011 19.58 Muokkaa

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