Maintaining and mitigating authority: the role of first name address terms in the production of asymmetry in social work encounters

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In encounters between social workers and clients the social worker occasionally addresses the client by their first name. While this recurrent practice may intuitively seem like a way to invoke closeness and build rapport, studies on the use of address terms in conversations in everyday and institutional settings suggests that such practices can be employed in the service of a variety of actions. Some of these deal with relational aspects of the encounter and others are concerned with more structural features of the conversation – usually intertwined with the institutionalised activity structure of the particular encounter. In this paper we examine the use of first name address terms in encounters between social workers and unemployed clients with physical, mental and/or social challenges on public welfare programmes. In the analyses we draw on conversation analytic findings and methods (Sacks et al., 1974). The analyses focus particularly on the sequential environment surrounding the use of the address term in order to discuss the role of clients’ names in the social actions participants are accomplishing in and through the interaction (Atkinson & Heritage, 1984). Guided by participant’s own orientations as they are made observable in the interaction on a turn-by-turn basis we looked for recurrent uses and patterns in the appearance of such address terms while considering the larger activities in which they are embedded and the overall organisation of the encounter.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date1 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2022
EventThe eighteenth DANASWAC meeting - Jönköping Universitet, Jönköping, Sweden
Duration: 31 Aug 20222 Sept 2022
Conference number: 18


ConferenceThe eighteenth DANASWAC meeting
LocationJönköping Universitet
Internet address


  • social work and social conditions


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