From Embodied to Disembodied Professionalism? Discussing the Implications of Medico-Managerial Management in Welfare Service Work



Welfare service work is traditionally understood to comprise embodied, situational and social practices of care that are central to a worker's professional self-image. Over the past few decades, public management reforms have called for reassessment of welfare service workers' professional accountability through practices of medico-managerial service management. These practices promote the production of transparency and accountability in welfare service work through checking-based trust and disembodied professional practices. This article argues that the changes in the nature of trust toward welfare service professionals have implications for care work cultures and workers' professional agency that has traditionally built on the idea of the embodied, situational and social practice of welfare service work. Drawing on an interview study with Finnish welfare service workers (n = 25), the article analyses frontline workers' descriptions of medico-managerial management in the social and healthcare sector. The results point to the significance of embodied practices of care in creation of client trust and for workers' professional self-images. The conclusion is that while disembodied professionalism offers opportunities for workers' self-management and evaluation of accountability and transparency of service processes, it may disregard the importance of embodied practices for the workers' professional self-images and client relations.