Agile Emotion Practices: Findings from an Ethnographic Study of Children and Families Social Work

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Social work is intrinsically relational, centred on interpersonal encounters between practitioners, service users and other professionals. Emotions are a core element in these encounters. Yet, despite a substantial focus on relationship-based practice there is limited research into the everyday experience and functions of practitioners’ emotions in socio-legal organisational environments. This article reports on findings from an ethnographic study of a Local Authority Children and Families Referral and Assessment Service in England. It explores how practitioners constructed and used their emotions in everyday practice. The construct of ‘agile emotion practices’ was generated from analysing observations of teams, home visits, systemic group supervision, interviews and diaries. Informed by social constructionist and psychosocial theories, the characteristics of agile emotion practices are outlined. This article suggests there is merit in recognising practitioners’ emotions as functional practices, which inform relational practice, analysis and assessment. Data are specific to the organisation, context and timeframe. However, valuable insights are provided into the ‘doing’ of emotions in social work, including some of the factors that facilitate and hinder agile emotion practices. The analysis offers new empirically based knowledge, applicable to diverse social work settings, education and research.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Publication statusPublished - 17 Mar 2022


  • agile emotion practices, children and families, emotions, ethnography, relationship-based, social work practice

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