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Communication and the grammars of child protection: An analysis of interactions between social workers and their clients

Francois Huot, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation provides an understanding of the social practices of persons involved in situations where a social worker employed by a Child Protection organization meets with parents and families. This work is conducted by the examination of the different communicative grammars enacted by all the participants in these interactions. The idea of a communicative grammar find its roots in the work of Wittgenstein and can be defined as the way words, terms or expressions are used during communication episodes. Meaning can be ascertained through the exploration of the term's usage and of its reflexive connections with other terms. The inquiry initially focuses on the identification of key words used by the participants in conversations about child protection and moves on to the reconstruction of the grammars of these terms, using Coordinated Management of Meaning theory, developed by Pearce and Cronen, as the main methodological tool. This pragmatic approach allowed for the reconstruction of the language-games and moral orders of the social workers and of the families and for a comparison of those moral orders as they are constructed, maintained and enacted through communication. Narratives about the source of their clients' problems, about the importance of organizational processes and about their professional identity characterize the social workers' language-game. The grammar of these terms allows for the construction of a distance between the workers and the families, for the description of the parents as the main cause of their difficulties and for the construction of the work of child protection organizations as the best method to protect children. The families' language-game contains narratives about the difficulties of parenthood, about the lack of respect they receive and about manifestations of power in their relationship with the protection agencies. The grammar of these terms contributes to the difficult maintenance of a sense of identity for the parents and to the construction of child protection organizations as inadequate ones. A comparison of the two language-games revealed an important level of incompatibility between them. The dissertation concludes with propositions for action on this social situation.

Subject Area

Communication|Social work

Recommended Citation

Huot, Francois, "Communication and the grammars of child protection: An analysis of interactions between social workers and their clients" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179888.