Professional written voice ‘in flux’: the case of social work

Lillis, Theresa (2023). Professional written voice ‘in flux’: the case of social work. Applied Linguistics Review, 14(3) pp. 615–641.



Contemporary professional social work can be characterised by increased ‘textualisation’ (after Iedema and Scheeres 2003) with written texts mediating most action. At the same time, writing, as a key dimension to social workers’ practice and labour, is often institutionally unacknowledged, becoming visible primarily when identified as a ‘problem’. This paper draws on a three year nationally funded UK-based research project to offer a situated account of contemporary professional social work writing, challenging dominant institutional orientations to writing in professional practice. The paper outlines the specific ways in which social work practices, including writing, can be characterised as being ‘in flux’. Drawing on ethnographic data and adopting a Bakhtinian (1981,1986) oriented approach to ‘voice’, the paper explores the entextualisation of three specific social work texts, focusing in particular on ‘critical moments’ (after Candlin 1987, Candlin 1997). These critical moments offer insights into key problematics of social work writing, in particular the tensions around professional voice and discourse. The paper concludes by arguing for an articulation of professional social work writing which takes account of the dialogic nature of language and the discoursal challenges experienced in everyday practice.

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