Negotiating trustworthiness and responsibility in social work

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Rawls and David (2005) suggests that in order to be trusted by others, people must “demonstrate competence in detailed situated ways” or else they risk being “ostracized and (...) segregated from others, physically, socially and legally” (Rawls & David, 2005, P.474). It is therefore unsurprising that research shows that people in vulnerable positions in society are less likely to both trust and be trusted by others (Henriksen & Skjøtt, 2011). As trusting relations between socially disadvantaged citizens and social workers are paramount for a positive outcome of social interventions (Behnia, 2005; Smith, 2004), knowledge on how these can build mutual trust is of great societal importance.
Drawing on Ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967) and Conversation Analysis (Sacks et al., 1974) this paper analyzes recorded conversations between social workers, prison inmates, and people with dual diagnosis. In these data it empirically shows how the participants in their interactions via recipient design (Sacks et al., 1974), normalizing devises (Jefferson, 2004), promises and reassurances, optimistic action ascriptions (Jørgensen, 2017; Deppermann & Haugh, 2022), and accountability (Garfinkel & Sacks, 1970; Garfinkel, 1967; Antaki, 1994) orient to what Nielsen & Nielsen (2022) suggest to be dimensions of trustworthiness as interactional phenomenon. These include own and others’ competence, ability, openness about own interest, and honesty. This paper argues that this interactional orientation to these aspects of trustworthiness can contribute to a mutual, continuous negotiation of trustworthiness as an interactional practice (Nielsen and Nielsen, 2022), and thus by proxy to mutual trust as practical achievement (González-Martínez & Mlynář, 2019).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date12 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2023
EventPracticing Trust and Authority
2023 Conference of the Graduiertenkolleg ‘Authority and Trust’ (GKAT)
- HCA Heidelberg Center for American Studies; Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, , Germany
Duration: 11 May 202313 May 2023


ConferencePracticing Trust and Authority
2023 Conference of the Graduiertenkolleg ‘Authority and Trust’ (GKAT)
LocationHCA Heidelberg Center for American Studies; Heidelberg University
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