I am a Senior Lecturer in Social Work in the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, based at the Medway campus. I came to Kent in 2005, having previously held lectureships in Health and Social Care at The Open University and in Applied Social Studies at the University of Oxford. I also have a background as a practitioner in social work and community development and until recently as a lay Mental Health Act Manager in an NHS Trust.
My research interests broadly fall under the umbrella of sociological approaches to risk in health and social care, with a particular focus on using qualitative research methods to understand the way risk is constructed in contemporary society. I am particularly concerned to improve our understanding of the way ‘risk work’ has shaped professional practice and the impact of cultures of inquiry, fear and blame on social workers and others. I have undertaken several projects involving the qualitative analysis of documents such as inquiry reports, serious case reviews and media accounts such as newspaper reports.
In my early research (including my PhD) I focused on the role of homicide inquiries in constructing risk and blame in the mental health field, particularly as these mechanisms intersect with gender and ‘race’. More recently I have shifted attention to parallel processes in child protection and the ‘emotional politics’ of risk, about which I have recently completed a new book: The Emotional Politics of Social Work and Child Protection (2015, Policy Press, see under Publications). I have also developed an interest in understanding the way people negotiate everyday risk and insecurity; especially the role of ‘affective community spaces’ such as cafes and libraries in the lives of people who are perceived as outsiders or are otherwise marginalised.
The main aim of all my work is to contribute to the production of critical knowledge and understanding that will help produce positive change.
Room Gillingham G2-14
University of Kent
Kent ME4 4AG
Also view these in the Kent Academic Repository
Current Research Projects
One major strand of my current work involves the analysis of political and media discourses around risk in child protection – specifically in response to child abuse deaths. In my research on the ‘Baby P’ case I have used qualitative documentary analysis to understand more about the role of politicians and the press in the events that unfolded. I have also investigated the newspaper coverage of the case in relation to critical moral panic theory, arguing that an analysis of class politics is fundamentally important in understanding how the case was reported. This research is reported in two recent articles: ‘Heads must roll’? Emotional politics, the press, and the death of Baby P and Social work, class politics and risk in the moral panic over Baby P
The second major strand of my current research focuses on ‘affective community spaces’, and is in collaboration with Gerry Bennison and Dawn Talbot. We are interested in the care that people experience in everyday places such as cafes and libraries. Our first research project was a study of a local cafe, where we showed how ‘care work’ and subtle forms of risk management are undertaken in everyday and mundane ways in sites not normally associated with caring. We investigate how such work is carried out by people who have no formal or informal responsibility to care or manage risk, and in ways that are invisible to all but those that are directly involved in the relationship. This study is reported in our recent article The cafe as affective community space: reconceptualising care and emotional labour in everyday life in Critical Social Policy. We have recently turned our attention to libraries as sites of care and emotional labour.
Since spring 2008, I have been engaged in a knowledge exchange project on the theme of risk and decision-making with staff and senior managers in Kent County Council’s Children’s and Adult’s Social Services Directorates. The aim of this work is to address the current negative preoccupation with risk and fear of blame in social work and social care so that practice (including management practice) is more positively oriented. One outcome of this collaboration was that Kent County Council co-funded a research studentship, now held by Jade Johns. The aim of her PhD research is to examine risk, decision-making and the exercise of discretion by practitioners.
I am also currently collaborating with an international group of academics who all share an interest in risk and the human services across the three domains of mental health, children and families and
criminal justice. The aim of the group is to look 'beyond the risk paradigm' in each of these three service domains and to develop a number of different strands of work to help effect change. One
strand of our work will be a series of edited books.
I currently co-supervise PhD students undertaking research on a wide range of topics including:
- Threshold decision making about risk in social work as a moral activity
- The experience of early stage dementia with a focus on gender and social class
- Practitioner perceptions of vulnerability in adults at risk of abuse
- Death of the Punitive Turn? Penal Tolerance in Contemporary Youth Justice
- Social work responses to women with a learning disability who experience domestic violence
I would encourage any prospective research student with an interest in the broad area of risk in health and social care to email me to arrange to discuss their ideas further.back to top
I convene two modules: Research for Social Work Practice (SO673) on the BA Social Work and the Research and Dissertation (SO899) module onthe MA Social Work. I am personal tutor to undergraduate and postgraduate students and I am also responsible for coordinating the research strategy of the social work team. back to top
Member of the British Sociological Association (www.britsoc.co.uk ) and the BSA Sociology of Mental Health Study Group. Co-convenor of the BSA Risk and Society Study Group
School representative on the Joint University Council Social Work Education Committee’s Research Sub-committee
Editorial board member of Health, Risk and Society and Sociology Compass and book review co-editor of the British Journal of Social Work (with Dr Shepard Masocha)
Registered social worker with the Health and Care Professions Council
Fellow of the Higher Education Academy