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The local rep and the Royal Shakespeare Company: Problems of identity and capital for social workers as actors in the criminal justice system

McNeill, Fergus and Halliday, Simon (2008) The local rep and the Royal Shakespeare Company: Problems of identity and capital for social workers as actors in the criminal justice system. In: ESRC Seminar: The effects of professionals' human and cultural capital for interprofessional social capital, 2008-10-30 - 2008-10-31. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper co-authored with Professor Simon Halliday of Strathclyde Law School draws on the findings of a recent ESRC-funded ethnography of social enquiry and sentencing in the Sheriff Courts in Scotland. Drawing on the social theory and sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and on Lipsky's work on street-level bureaucracy, we argue that criminal justice social workers (as street-level bureaucrats) face both 'vertical' and 'horizontal' pressures in seeking to establish and fulfil their professional identities in this field. Moreover, these pressures are often counter-veiling, serving to render criminal justice social workers perennially insecure and marginal in their influence on sentencing. The vertical pressures relate to changes in the penal field which serve to create political and policy imperatives that are, to some extent, at odds with the social workers' habitus. The horizontal pressures relate to the lack of capital (symbolic, cultural and social) which social workers suffer in this field. That said, we also draw on the study's findings to argue both that there are ways of managing these pressures and that the pressures themselves will be reconfigured, offering social workers new opportunities and threats.