Morten Nissen, PhD

Nordiske Udkast 25/1997:1, 45-64

1. The Problem Field and the Action Research Approach

This article reports reflections and results from an ongoing empirical investigation into problems of user influence in social work and mental health care in Denmark. The general aim of the project is to develop theoretical and methodological tools suitable for the clarification and qualification of the current orientation towards the perspective of the user in science and practice. As a theoretical point of departure, I take the paradox of attempting to represent the views of those whose views are considered in need of treatment. Psycho-social treatment is one form of health service in which the search for "user perspectives" seems to encounter special obstacles that derive from the very nature of the services themselves. The contradiction often leads to a division between a "traditional" clinical psychology that absorbs any user perspective into psychopathology, and a sociology or social psychology that tends to "bracket" the question of irrationality altogether . This division implies that any research in "user perspectives" faces two equally uncomfortable alternative notions. Either, there is nothing new about it, since the perspectives of the user have always been precisely what clinical psychology is all about; or, by its very existence, it must ignore or challenge the core rationale of the profession. With the typical consequence that it is either reintegrated into another form of "therapeutic ideology", or remains sterile and abstract, outside of the practice it was supposed to inspire. One can distinguish typical ways of handling this predicament in user perspectives research - a methodological reduction of perspectives into isolated survey items leaving out theoretical reflection; basing research on an ideologically organized identity of perspectives; abstracting the clash of perspectives into formal interaction patterns; proclaiming a paradigmatic turn that places therapy and research on opposite sides of a conceptual polemics. In either case, I would argue, the theoretical contradiction is left unresolved and renders any empirical findings open to interpretation, thus suggesting widely divergent conclusions. This is where an action research approach may be useful. The hypothesis is that the theoretical contradiction reflects a major shift in practice; a paradigmatic turn that does not originate in theoretical dispute, but rather in a wide-ranging and deeply rooted societal development towards problematization and change in how persons are constituted as subjects and objects in the practice of psycho-social treatment. If this holds true, one can try to trace the controversial emergence and movement of a user perspective at sites where new forms of practice are developed and formulated. Research will then take part in the organized monitoring and reflection of this transition undertaken by the actors involved. Thus, the paradox at the conceptual level can be seen to reflect an opposition of forces at the practical level, and involvement in practical development may then allow empirical access to how the opposing perspectives might be interrelated theoretically.

2. Critical psychology

Such an enterprise calls for a theory with which changes in the fundamental subject-object relations in psycho-social treatment can be analyzed and encouraged. This has for long been the project of "critical psychology". Originating in the Marxist "activity theory" tradition, critical psychology first set out to develop a paradigmatic foundation of a "science of the subject" in an historical analysis (Holzkamp, 1983, Tolman & Maiers, 1991). The result was a formulation of individual subjectivity that did not oppose it to societal structuration of activity, but viewed it as an acquisition and participation in culture grounded in the subject's reasons-for-action. On this background, most of "traditional psychology" is criticized as a "science of control" that aims to support either measures for external manipulation of the individual or the individual's own adaptation to an unquestioned societal form. Principles for empirical methodology consequently stress a "first person perspective", that is, they insist on the development of psychological theories as practical tools in the process of the subject's own reflection and expansion of action possibilities, thus constituting the subject of action as also the subject of research. To implement this program in the field of psychological practice means first to reflect the action possibilities of the psychologist herself. For a decade, critical psychology has conducted "practice research" to portray, analyze and develop psychological practice (Markard & Holzkamp, 1989, Dreier, 1988) from the point of view of the "practitioner" . This research has shed valuable light on "mundane" and largely unrecognized facets of psychological practice. By logical implication, however, practice research must move on to focus on the contents, that is on the object and the aims of practice; and from this point, we are no longer dealing with "the practice of the psychologist" - we must understand practice as a joint and plural activity, including the clients as participant subjects. This theme is predominant in the work of Dreier (1991, 1992), whose critical reappraisal of psychotherapy focused on a de-centering of its conceptualization. From the outside in, psychotherapy is viewed as a societally mediated context of action, formed and used by its participants according to its meanings in relation to the daily life of clients and the social conditions of treatment services, in a way that is as conflictful as the nature of the problems treated. At the theoretical level, this theme highlights the contextuality of action, and the positioned and partaking nature of the individual's activity and consciousness. In empirical research, Dreier has conducted client perspective evaluation parallel and interacting with psychotherapy; later, Rasmussen and Højholt followed up by developing this procedure into a process which reflected and began to change how psycho-social problems are situated and negotiated between actors and institutional services. My project comes out of the same theoretical background, but addresses the issue in a somewhat different empirical design. Rather than pushing psychotherapy and the practice of the psychologist to the point where it begins to question its own constitution, I try to cooperate with developmental efforts in less specialized kinds of psycho-social practice, and see how these may lead to a re-constitution and re-contextualization of "the psychological factor" on new grounds. To be more specific, I engage in development projects in the Danish Social Development Program and try to contribute to their evaluation and reflection, particularly in regard to how user perspective and influence is practiced and conceptualized. For this purpose, I need a sketch of a general field analysis to serve as a provisional map of the tendencies I may come to meet in a local practice, and thus to furnish me with criteria for evaluating where and how to develop an empirical dialogue. This does not constitute a comprehensive historical assessment - merely a "rear view" account of developmental trends relevant to my project.

3. User Influence in Danish Social Development Projects

The Social Development Program in Denmark marks a general turn in social policy during the past decade from a strategy of reform to one of local experiments, in accordance with a general de-centralization in the management of public services. Government funded local projects make up only a small proportion of welfare expenses, but they connect with trends in local social policy in ways that allow us to use them as contingent empirical access to general tendencies in social policy. The main principles outlined for development projects in Denmark, forming criteria for funding and evaluation, include intentions to enhance user involvement and influence, community orientation, self-help activities, and the reversal of segregation patterns. Thus, it would seem that the empowerment of the disadvantaged users of public services, and of citizens in general, vis á vis institutions and professionals, has come to be the official policy of government. However, such optimistic views are scorned by critical voices claiming that it is pure ideology to camouflage economic cutbacks and a liberalist attack on the welfare state. References to international (above all, American) experience seem to support the arguments of the critics; much of the rhetoric and many of the programs adapted come very close to copying the American de-institutionalization of the 1960's. Indeed, recent general evaluations point to problems known in American experience. First and foremost, it proves very hard to combine community involvement with heavy psycho-social problems (Jones, 1988, Fridberg, 1992, Just Jeppesen, 1992). One conclusion could be that the Social Development Program, together with de-institutionalization in psychiatry, works to privatize social problems and extend the field of psycho-social services. At any rate, the term "user influence" covers very different movements. When expensive institutional drug rehabilitation programs are shut down and outpatient methadone maintenance clinics replace them, it is in order to meet the addict on his own terms. When confined to a locked psychiatric ward, the patient in one suburban hospital is requested to take responsibility for his actions and define the goals for his stay. At the other end of the social spectrum, self-help groups and private enterprise, with or without commercial professionalism, seem to define ever more psychological crises, trauma, and problems, all of which rest side by side in the minds of the individuals and must be worked through in organized settings. The challenge to paternalistic professional expertise often leads to either well-meaning charity or refinement of manipulation techniques. In either case, the opening of psychological practice into a broader social environment seems paradoxically to go hand in hand with a privatization and isolated cultivation of its themes and settings, to the effect that user influence is directly proportional to how much the practice is shaped to help the user come to terms with his present circumstances, regardless how intolerable. On the other hand, user influence also forms part of trends toward integrating psycho-social concerns into practices organized for other purposes. In many work organizations, specialized training is supplemented with a (profitable) concern for the employee's general creative and adaptive abilities and well-being, as authority and competence is delegated to him. Schools combine grades with general performance evaluations which are made in dialogue with the pupils in question. The progression towards specialized and differential qualification seems to develop into a demand for general qualifications, that in turn calls forth individual subjectivity. Both urbanization and the rapidly increasing qualification demands lead to reorganizations of people's general life situations, and emerging cultural forms must deal with psycho-social problems in new ways. In general, these integrative tendencies overpass the segregated and specialized practices in the psycho-social and mental health field. However, many social development projects try to utilize the pressure for a softening of the barriers between the societal sectors of "production" and "reproduction" that grows in the face of rising productivity and chronic unemployment. To some extent, it is possible to run activities that unite commercial, cultural/political, welfare and daily life goals and finances. In general, it may be argued against the assumption of an import of American liberalism that Denmark now differs significantly from USA in the 60's, due to the fact that our starting point is a well-established welfare state, as well as to the intimate links to changing forms of societal integration in post-industrial society. Moreover, there is no autonomous "discursive logic" to dictate the course of events. If these developments are seen as new power mechanisms, as in the tradition inspired by Foucault (e.g. Castel, Castel & Lovell, 1982), it only means they open new arenas for the clash of forces; and with every project, every self-help initiative, every rearrangement of psychological practice, one must search the resources and conditions mobilized by each of the tendencies present.

4. The "User Service" Project

The most important of the copartners I found is "User Service" in central Copenhagen. Funded by a mixture of development grants and job rehabilitation contracts in individual cases, User Service consists of 6 social workers who organize long-time welfare recipients to work for/in local "grass-root" movements, including: an ecological civic canteen in a local community center; an amateur rock music organization and concert bureau; galleries for commercially unsuccessful painters and sculptors; a non-commercial radio station; and a school for ecological project initiators. Instead of being disciplined for labor, or treated for psycho-social problems, the clients - called "assistants" - become participants in useful, democratic activities; the aim is to "exchange a social policy with a cultural dimension for a local, cultural politics with a social dimension". User Service resides in a worn-out building in the middle of a poor but culturally active city district. It is financially self-sustained, but administratively belongs to a private organization of social institutions and development projects. I was introduced to User Service in November 1990 when the project was six months old. Starting with an individual interview, the contact soon grew into monthly meetings in which I discussed theory, practice, and strategy with the staff. Six months later, I was assisted by a student , and expanded the range of contacts, including individual interviews with staff and assistants, general field observation, specific evaluation/development issues, and a weekly evaluation meeting with participants in the civic canteen project. These activities and reflections are all recorded on audio tape or in field notes, and this, together with a large amount of written feedback material that I delivered in the process, comprises my documentary empirical evidence.

5. The Need for a Conceptual Framework

What made our cooperation possible, and made it include some discussions of theoretical analyses, was above all the fact that the staff of User Service felt a need for a conceptual framework, and were willing to spend time and effort trying to build one. All they had was a 12 page original sketch of the project, and they had begun to think that this was no longer quite representative of what they did and why and how. The implementation of the ideas had produced a practice which came to be increasingly interpreted in terms that belonged to a quite different system of reference, one which matched experiences transferred to User Service from another development project by two staff members. There were two main reasons why this situation led to a demand for organized reflection. First of all, the two "versions" of User Service kept colliding in heated discussions, which in themselves produced a demand for clarification. Secondly, both version were socially distributed and controlled in ways that obscured them and blocked their appropriation and reflection by some of the participants. The original version was connected to the "company ideology" of the institutional organization to which User Service administratively belongs, and thus, the power structures of hierarchical leadership. The new version, on the other hand, was more compatible with the ideology of the local "grass-root" communities; but it was also only fragmentarily formulated as a method of social work, and for the most part existed as the "tacit knowledge" of two staff members, occasionally formulated in narratives from their background experience. The outcome was a vocabulary of "User Service" terms, the concrete meanings of which were constantly disputed or unclear. These discussions were continually required for concrete decisions concerning strategy, pedagogy, and evaluation methodology. For example, should General Assemblies and other activities common to all User Service assistants be encouraged or ended? How should concrete project activities be evaluated and developed? How should staff activities be distributed among staff members of different educational background? Moreover, User Service was obliged to produce verbal accounts of its activities to maintain a financially vital ideological legitimacy. These would have to combine "institutional identity" (User Service as a rehabilitation program) with "developmental identity" (User Service as different from what is known as rehabilitation programs) in descriptions of concrete conditions, activities, and outcomes. Thus, I did not simply engage in a dialogue with "practice" organized in my own theoretical framework. I came to take part in an ongoing polemic in which different conceptual systems were developed, debated and used as organizational accounts, as well as guidelines for practice.

6. Action Research as a Joint Venture and a Transformation of References

The feedback material and our discussions became part of the reflective and experimental activities by which User Service was developed during the period. In this classical sense, we did "action research". But precisely in what way and to what consequences was and is a complicated and disputable matter. For the most part, staff and assistants maintained a certain friendly distance to theoretical analysis when we tried to communicate about it on its own premises to specify our objectives. There was also a constant appeal for us to assume a general consultant supervisor function. To some extent, we advocated our own interests and tried to limit and push forward our efforts closer to research purposes. But at the same time, we considered it fruitful to allow User Service's own "texture of relevances" to co-determine the process, so as to utilize an important methodological potential of developmental work: the capacity to produce new research themes and thereby generate theory in connection with the movement where a development of new means leads to a re-evaluation of goals and conditions. This consideration is also a concretization, at the level of the contextuality of actions, of the general methodological principle that the involved actors be subjects of research. It means that the practice of reflection develops gradually as a "joint venture" in which all parties involved engage with certain aims, draw upon resources, connect to problems and conditions of practice, and reflect and revise all of these - as well as, consequently, the joint venture itself - in the process.

This procedure may be termed a transformation of references, because all sorts of relevant meanings are drawn into the process and handled in this perspective, thus defined and transformed as references. It utilizes and calls attention to the omnipresent "indexicality" and "essential reflexivity of accounts", which in ethnomethodology (cf. Garfinkel, 1967) characterizes practical sociological reasoning. But with the significant addition that the empirical research practice itself is steered by indexical references, including those of the researcher. The empirical inquiry is not simply a method deduced from the aims of the researcher. It is a context that is established to serve the purposes of a plurality of actors, and in which these purposes may in turn be concretized and developed. This does not imply that perceptions of relevance-in-practice are taken uncritically as ruling principles; they are themselves reflected in the process of establishing and adjusting the discussions. For example, this occurs when a choice is made between seeking conceptual coherence for accountability, and formulating contradictory experiences for analysis. Hence, the seemingly peripheral actions which establish and adjust the context of empirical research belong to the essential documentary evidence; and the conditions that made any specific joint venture relevant to research are discovered or even produced in the course of research. However, it remains a delicate task to balance interests in such a process. New aspects of this dilemma emerge presently, as we produce writings such as this and present them to people at User Service: distances and incongruities in time and context repeatedly complicate our efforts to institute a democratic action research. In the remaining part of this paper, I will describe a part of the process which I hope will illustrate some of its functions in research and in practice.

7. The Two Versions of User Service

In the original account, the idea of User Service was to engage the "assistants" in normal interaction patterns and thereby influence their self-image in a sort of counter-stigmatization process. Thus, the projects were seen as interaction frames designed by staff, and the communities were seen as an environment introduced as a means in this process. The references to forms of "applied symbolic interactionism" developed elsewhere in the institutional organization were indirect but unmistakable. In the challenging version, the notion of counter-stigmatization was retained and even radicalized, while critique was aimed at the idea of "framework design": the designing of the interaction remained the task and the privilege of staff and was withheld from assistants as well as community agents; frameworks tended to be (considered) fixed as opposed to the negotiable and constantly revised structures of "grass-root" activities; the criteria by which these negotiations could be made should be based on the content of the activity - the object and the goals - whereas frameworks would tend to replace these with the abstract, therapeutic goals of staff, and thereby reinstall the segregation that maintained stigma. At the time when I became involved, there was an intense discussion between User Service staff members and the leader of the institutional organization about discipline: How should staff deal with some assistants' having trouble keeping appointments and getting up in the morning? The leader advocated a strong emphasis on discipline - otherwise, the projects would degenerate and become unable to provide normal interaction patterns. And further, assistants with a weak Ego-structure needed well-structured activities to lean on after years of chaos. The staff argued that there was often no good reason to show up early in the morning, that the substance of the projects would have to prove their significance to assistants, and that assistants would assume responsibility where they perceived they could make a meaningful contribution. In this debate, I not only recognized the staff version as relevant theoretical objections to symbolic interactionism, but I also identified a point of debate that matched my theme about user influence and integration. At my first meeting with staff, I explained my interest in how psycho-social problems are construed, and we discussed concrete examples. By the second meeting, they expressed the need for a common conceptual system for practice and discussion, to counteract the confusion deriving from the frequent "relapses" into traditional thinking, and to strengthen the position of staff - and assistants and "grass-roots" - relative to administration and local welfare offices. So I set myself the task of developing a "positive" conceptual system for the "developmental identity" of User Service.

8. Sketch of a Conceptual System

To do this, I used the following analytic principles. First of all, the perspective would have to be reversed, from the administrator's view that saw the local community as a means in an abstract pedagogical method, to a view from this community as a practice in its own right, and from assistants and staff as participants. This meant identifying its meaningful objects and goals at a cultural level, and relating these to its potentials for integration. Then we must specify how these general possibilities were concretized and realized in each local project, in an autonomous process where all participants invested their resources and developed their ambitions, regularly negotiating its organization. Next, in this process, the individual assistant would gradually come forth, tacitly expressed in the way she participated, and explicitly as she needed to reflect and develop her premises for participation. Lastly, it would be possible to understand how these processes were organized or spontaneously occurred in different contexts of immediate action. I shall only give a brief outline. As a general characterization, the "communities" in question could be thought of as "local cultures", practices intentionally organized as local production-consumption-cycles, yet at the same time forming and interpreting their relations (conditions and impacts) to society at large . For example, the civic canteen was part of an "ecological" network in which to varying degrees "work", "education", "politics", and "family life" were integrated in a logic of its own. The potential for integration thus issued from the self-defined and often-revised character of their goals, and from their particular and intentional organization of their members' daily lives. On this basis, the local culture became a knowledgeable agent whom User Service dealt with in constructing a project. Conceptually, this process could be understood with the above mentioned notions of "indexicality", highlighting changing relations between common goals and different premises, and demanding cultural understanding (or explaining the value of "native" staff and assistants). But since it was such an important field of staff intervention reflections, these concepts connected to a rich pre-existing "local language": "pulling" the project to "run", "speeding" it at the right moment, estimating its "energy" and the "spark" of the participants, "letting go" to allow assistants take over, analyzing which interests "entered to cover" etc. Assessments done in this language were by no means vague or airy; for instance, they guided the internal distribution of staff-to-assistants ratios, because much more work had to be done at the time of "pulling" than when things "ran". The emerging image of the individual assistant could be organized in "subject-science" concepts that maintained references to the context in which it was built. Actions were understandable through reasons that referred to ever wider fields of meanings according to what the assistant and others involved felt relevant, and reflecting or changing meanings disclosed underlying conditions (cf. Tolman & Maiers, 1991). The dominance of common, practical goals for activity meant a shift in how psycho-social practice was contextualized as action. The fact that action reasons could be implied on the basis of a source of common meanings opened a field of what we called "implicit pedagogy", concerns for the psycho-social aspects of practice implicitly recognized in the ongoing contextual regulation of activity. And, consequently, a kind of "user influence" directly opposite to a "therapeutic ideology" version: instead of proclaiming the needs and premises of the user in a context which was precisely thereby constructed in the therapist's perspective, and the implicit rationality of which remained unclear with every step of verbalization, the rationality of pedagogical intervention was kept accessible by its manifest references to a logic that was not in itself pedagogical. With this theoretical perspective, the general direction of psychological questions aimed at practice is shifted from problems of pathology and technique to problems of concrete activities. You do not attempt to establish a particularly therapeutic pattern of actions, interpersonal relations etc., in a project, and generalize it as a method for a specific brand of people; rather, you participate in developing the activity for what it is worth in itself, and within the local infra-structure of activity you amplify the question of how does the individual assistant participate and why.

9. Ideology and Dichotomy

This conceptual elaboration of User Service became a general framework of references for its reasons for existing as a development project, its "developmental identity", in evaluative and strategic discussions. Much more than the written feedback materials, our increasingly central position in staff reflection processes served as a channel for information. The discussions helped to some extent clarify what User Service was about, and to loosen theoretical orientation from its anecdotal ambiguity and its unclear enmeshment in organizational and personal conflict. But precisely for this same reason, we began to sense that our engagement as "house theorists" could very well serve ideological functions: to create an institutional ideology that denied basic contradictions and covered up real differences in perspective. Themes from "the other side of the coin" centered around four problems: 1) The fact that User Service frequently had to compromise with "traditional" welfare office leaders in planning projects in order to secure finances; 2) The so-called "problem of the individual dimension" - it was hard to catch up with the social work in individual cases, unfinished reports to welfare offices piled up, and/or confidential talks overwhelmed staff time resources; 3) The problem with some projects, which did not really live up to the ideal and tended to degenerate into "internal" User Service activities, and correspondingly, 4) Some staff members who did not quite seem to understand the ideas. Initially, these problems appeared in our discussions in the shape of external forces, as political opponents, exceptions from the principles, or lack of consequence in their application. Even if we knew them all along, they had been set aside as we concentrated on User Service's "developmental identity". But the project leader, who was responsible for an overall evaluation and for organizational and financial relations, became increasingly eager that we looked into these matters, and this suited our interests in getting a closer look at how daily reality matched the principles. As we expanded our involvement in User Service, it became unavoidably clear that we were dealing with an internal contradiction at the heart of the project. Separate interviews with staff members revealed wide differences in how each interpreted his or her job. A job counselor, hired to improve employment statistics, quit the job as she felt that User Service could not enhance assistants' chances on the labor market, and that job counseling had no place in the project. Observations showed that segregation processes and traditional institutional interaction patterns (such as mutual information censoring and fixed roles between staff and assistants) were also present. Participation in an introductory course taught us that many assistants were uninterested in "grass-roots" ideology. All in all, we became aware that our meetings had conformed to a logic of dichotomy that worked to relegate the sides of the developmental contradiction into different sub-projects, action contexts, or persons, and that the conceptual system functioned also as a method to distinguish the "right" from the "wrong" in the special form of deciding what and whom should rank high in priorities. This awareness did not stop us from working with User Service's "developmental identity", since it remained important in marking the direction of development. But it did make us take measures to counteract dichotomization.

10. Concerns Analysis

One important step was to reconsider the relatively vague original concepts with which User Service operated. Working at the conceptual level to reach clarity and generalization would not attack the source of their ambiguity. When for example we criticized "quality of life" as a goal concept, the project leader would agree that, in general, it was an empty sign for what was outside specific therapy or job rehabilitation, and functioned as an excuse for lowering social work ambitions in specified cases; but she also felt it was one way to communicate and establish recognition for User Service's more extensive pedagogical goals. Thus, there existed a whole field of a more or less tacit knowledge on the "tactics of discourse", which in every case would overrule or at least coexist with theoretical clarity as criteria for conceptualization. This problem became clear to us especially when we were presented with a draft of a set of "success criteria" to be negotiated with the board of local welfare office leaders for further evaluation procedures. It was clear that in these, the terms for the goals of User Service should be understood as a concrete negotiable compromise among forces that influenced User Service's activities. To clarify which of these relations were actually considered in the goals of User Service's activities, under which conditions, and leading to what kinds of ideological ambiguities when put together in words or in contexts of action, we developed and practiced a form of strategic analysis that we termed concerns analysis. To begin with, "the project" - User Service - is considered an agent in a social field, and thereby a self-sustained practice. The "project identity" is concretized and reconstructed as goals in the processes by way of which the project reproduces itself as a social agent. In this view, the project is no longer a time-limited experiment that will succeed or fail; rather, it is a "house" that nourishes from various more or less time-limited sources of sustenance. This angle matches the upcoming reality of "entrepreneuring" social work in Denmark, as opposed to hierarchically organized institutional systems of care. A detachment from hierarchy allows us to see how social agents other than bureaucratic leadership are important concerns when goals are set for the project. By its existence, its activities, or its products, the project carries a certain meaning for each of these agents, depending on the agent's own conditions of reproduction; on this basis, the agent returns something that is meaningful in the reproduction of the project. We call each of these agents an "interested party", what the project means to it a "function", and the whole cycle of reproduction via one interested party a "functional relation". The ensemble of functional relations thus make up the field of social conditions which the project interacts with, influences, depends on, and has to take into concern. The important features of such functional relations that enables a concerns analysis to be a tool for strategic reflection are the following: each interested party is a social agent in itself, and not merely some environmental object on which the project is thought to have an "effect"; functions are internally plural, ambiguous, contradictory, and keep changing, developing as an aspect of the development of the interested party and its reproduction conditions; functional relations are related to one another - in other words, they support, contradict, mediate, etc., each other, and they always fuse into a concrete totality in practice, as they make out the concerns that have to be considered in establishing ends and means for the project. I cannot elaborate on the theoretical or methodological implications here. The relevance in relation to problems of "user influence", however, is that it suggests local analysis of the concrete social context of a user's perspective. To achieve this, it is necessary to understand "a project" as a social agent in a way that is complementary to its organizational differentiation into jobs, context-of-action, competencies, etc., and still allows for a "cooperative subject" that relates to these aspects, for example, as the subject of the concerns analysis itself. Important interested parties (among an infinite number) for User Service included: assistants, staff, local cultures, local welfare offices, and state development agencies. By analyzing each of these in turn, and then combining them into a "map" of User Service's social field of operation, it was possible to outline strategic options for developing User Service, and to point to relevant dimensions of evaluation. In the subsequent time, the analysis or its conceptual form became part of the reflections that guided strategic discussion.

11. Financial Crisis

One immediate form was how to deal with an urgent situation that arose as the number of assistants financed by welfare offices declined. We knew that the welfare offices' administration of societal functions of segregation and social control, and organizational splits between procedures for granting finances under different articles in social law, would generally cause problems. We also knew that User Service would have to hope for a general pressure "from above" for community experiments, initiative on the part of prospective assistants, and frequent "waves" of clients hard to place in other programs. A closer look at the administration revealed an element of "chaos" that caused officials to search for anything that could help them get rid of heaps of "cases" that piled up periodically; and in such times, projects would be used that were immediately well-known and could somehow promise a transfer of the case to a different financial source. This lead to speculations about an advertisement campaign, door-to-door campiagns, the production of shiny leaflets, etc. But in the long run, this would only work if User Service professionalized social work - if they could take over some of the anamnesis/diagnosis, if some projects could be described as ready-made, well-structured programs for certain sorts of clients, etc. Another option was to ride the waves of fashion, make sure that User Service was hot news in welfare; but this clearly contradicted the long-term growth processes of local culture projects. A third option was to intensify efforts to engage welfare officials in developing projects in "weak" city areas - to attract new prospective assistants, and at the same time communicate a more steady image of User Service as a community project agent. What they did was in fact a combination of the three. They suffered a period of economic cutbacks, during which two staff members were fired, and then, unpredictably, they were saved by changes in economic transactions between central and local welfare offices that effected a loosening in the local officials' criteria for granting rehabilitation for clients. These events certainly prove no direct relation between analysis, course of actions, and outcome, but the analyses were used to evaluate the effects of the strategies chosen, and thus gradually informed actions.

12. Project Making and Social Work

Analysis of the "functional relation" to state development agencies showed a contradiction between ideological claims to contribute to general reforms in social policy, and its atomization of efforts and responsibilities into self-sustained projects. Projects with general developmental aspirations are placed between two long-term alternatives: fusing into the established welfare system or jumping from one fashionable ideological account to another. When this survival problem became acute with User Service's financial crisis, we discovered new pieces to the puzzle of dichotomization. We had decided that one way to beat the problem was to improve staff and assistant routines for evaluation and reflection. Concerning the former, the idea was to establish routines that overcame divisions between staff members (e.g., the leader was sole responsible for administration and negotiations with welfare offices; some staff members were very actively developing new project ideas; others were "just" social workers). Doing regular evaluation with all present would perhaps bring together these different aspects of User Service activities. But when hard times came, the firing of one social worker proved that there were limits to how democratic things could be run. The leader felt that she could not trust the staff's willingness to take economic responsibility; some staff members concluded that in the final account, there was no question of "collectivity". Later, it was decided that User Service could no longer afford to invest most of two employees' time in preparing a school for ecological project initiators. Instead of accepting a change to other assignments, however, the two tossed a coin about which one of them were to be fired and continue working with the project, on the dole, while looking to other sources for finances. This demonstrated two quite different ways of being an employee. On the one hand was the social worker: basically a laborer, with separate work and leisure hours, insisting on workers' rights, accepting the leader's right to define the job - but also with some possibilities of doing career by developing therapeutic or administrative qualifications. And on the other hand was the project maker: basically identifying with the project, he comes close to the life of a farmer or a shopkeeper - spends nearly all his time with the project, reproduces his private economy by getting finances for the project, takes part in a social network that exchanges services in the form of ideas and contacts, but also thereby developing qualifications that will eventually enable him to shift to an administrative or ideological job in a social work organization . Thus, even if qualifying discussions were overlapping interests, the staff engaged in development and reflection for different reasons. The social workers would want clear formulations of goals to define their jobs, and specifications of methods applicable in definite contexts. The project makers wanted inspiring ideas to bring their ideological orientation up to date, or wished to promote their own. These perspectives would only combine to a certain extent. Aside from the "public" discussions, project makers would develop their "own" projects, and relate to User Service as a co-partner, tactically assessing its value as such. Social workers would disapprove of the project makers' lack of solidarity, and feel it unfair that they were given special opportunities because of how indispensable they were to User Service, with their autonomy, contacts, ideas, and responsibility. The logic of dichotomy not only structured the "employee function", it also framed most of the activity related to evaluation. Two ways to conceptualize experience were dominant because of their functional importance. On the one hand, reports to welfare offices in individual cases or supporting general cooperation; these were done in the traditional rehabilitation language. On the other hand, ideas and plans for new projects, framed in words to suit likely "sponsors". So, even as a simple matter of time priorities, there was quite little left of a possible reflection space between "project riding" and "traditional social work". This both explains how weighty our intervention as researchers could become, and why it was hard to "pull" this particular "project" to "run" and "let go".

13. Reflecting the Psycho-Social Dimension

Combining local culture activities with rehabilitation and therapy was surely not just a problem for the staff. However eager to escape stigma and engage in meaningful activity, assistants never forgot how this was all organized on the basis of welfare economy, a contingent one-year grant to be accountably administered by User Service staff, and how their own experienced psycho-social problems could endanger their participation. Quite early in our discussions, I was told of one assistant, Jim, who had severe psychological problems that were just too much for the sub-project to cope with. As an exception to the principles, he was assigned to a nearby counseling facility, and the staff ran into a dilemma: they tried to "close the shutters" to this "treatment facility" in order to protect Jim's privacy and not to have their own activities organized around a "therapy" scheme. But as Jim repeatedly ran into new difficulties, these would - precisely for these same reasons - have to be dealt with in private assistant-to-staff-encounters. Jim's fellow assistants in the project were thus encouraged to feel no responsibility for him, and some of them, safely past their own initial reorientation crisis, reproached staff for degenerating the project into traditional "pedagogical", that is, non-goal-oriented and unqualified activities. Further elaboration of the case showed that Jim was sent to User Service as a "last chance" before pension on the grounds of chronic psycho-social disability. This procedure contained a "double bind" : The measure was supposed to help him with his problems, and at the same time he had to gather his strength to prove worthy for help. Jim became deeply and constructively engaged in the activities, and as he was otherwise very isolated, the project soon became existentially vital for him. Consequently, this became the social context in which Jim and the people around him had to cope with his anxieties and idiosyncrasies in dealing with relationships. In part, it was possible to deal with these as practical matters, integrated in the flow of reorganizations of activities; but the essential meaning of these to Jim, as a kind of existential trial, lay outside the local culture references, and related to the psycho-social problems and the problem-based services which User Service wanted to escape. User Service staff, assistants, and local culture people had avoided "therapy" - and Jim was left to cope with how to connect and synthesize all of these contexts. Stories such as this illustrated how the "implicit pedagogy" of User Service could easily turn into a "taboo" mechanism that encouraged segregation dynamics. Drawing on experience from another project, I recommended that User Service began to organize activities in which assistants and local culture volunteers could work on a political and personal level with the facts of their societal position, interpreting and confronting them on the basis of the local culture references. The User Service staff were quite skeptical about the idea. As our later "concerns analysis" demonstrated, it was not altogether and simply so that this "explicit pedagogy" could develop logically from local culture projects. In some cases, these were based on quite loose and limited participation of volunteers, or suffered from bureaucratic tendencies, and cooperation would not always be as reciprocal as User Service hoped for. There were pressures to limit relations to (inexpensive) commodified services or just to treat User Service projects as nice and useful, but essentially isolated, resources. Correspondingly, many assistants were very hostile to any form of "therapy" and made up a counter-factor against discussing psycho-social problems in the projects. But the general idea of finding new ways to deal with the "individual dimension" was supported, and instead of a general "project reform", we launched a "pilot project" with organized evaluation/reflection activities in the civic canteen project, as a development of the research joint venture itself. We researchers entered as active partners in the experiment because it matched our wish to investigate user perspective and influence. This way, doing empirical "user evaluation" became a development of the project practice itself, instead of an artificial research context, even if research motives co-determined the activity.

14. Assistant Evaluation in the Civic Canteen

When we planned the experiment, the civic canteen was situated in local culture activities in two ways: organizationally, it formed part of a general community center that borrowed canteen facilities from a neighboring adult education center (these were also used on other week days by an Iranians' club and a political organization of unemployed). It was also part of a loose, but growing ecological network, including contacts with farmers, wholesale shops, etc. The canteen received money from a government fund for ecological initiatives. The User Service employee was one of the "project makers" engaged in planning the school for ecological project initiators, and the idea was to develop connections to this prospective activity center. However, this situation changed just before we started our involvement. Several of the assistants left the project for various reasons, and with them the few volunteers who had been in the kitchen, and the employee, too, left to concentrate on the ecological school. Thus, we began with a group where only one assistant was experienced, and with an employee who had just been hired. In this group, we worked out the ideas and principles for the pilot project. The weekly 90 minutes meetings were to serve three main purposes: 1) ongoing evaluation and development of the canteen project at a general level, that is, on top of routine planning meetings; 2) "collectivization" of the individual, rehabilitational dimension; 3) experimenting with assistant evaluation of User Service. The meetings were to be regularly evaluated and controlled by all involved. The initiative suited the assistants well - they felt a need for a forum in which they could formalize general discussions and so better take part in the planning and development process; they agreed that the "rehabilitation dimension" had been neglected, and were willing to try to engage in it in a "non-therapeutic" form. They were also sympathetic with the idea of such a "user's perspective" evaluation of User Service, because a good project is worth taking seriously. The employee, on the other hand, wasn't quite sure of our background and intentions, but he thought it an interesting experiment, and he was happy to be relieved of the supervisory responsibility once a week. In total, we had 23 of these meetings, over a period of 7 months, parallel with the above described all-staff meetings beginning with the "concerns analysis". In the following, I will provide a glimpse of one type of discussion we had, and then discuss the general direction it took.

15. Negotiating Authorities

One Friday morning, Brian, a competent assistant with a long "grass-root" history, wants to discuss the way Michael, the employee, functions as a project leader. He complains that the standard of the food is declining, sometimes canned fruit has been served for desert, the vegetarians get second-class meals, and more and more exceptions are made regarding the project's ecological principles. Michael has taken over most of the purchase, and in such an illogical way that it becomes impossible to influence. Michael delegates detailed assignments and responsibilities, and even then doesn't seem to trust the assistants. Michael is either irresponsive to arguments, or suddenly gives in. I ask if this is a general opinion, and Brian is backed up, particularly by Lisa, who reports that there has been a miserable atmosphere and the assistants have discussed it heatedly. Brian adds that they have become a good working team, but not given the responsibility they need. John and Ida remain almost silent, but express their consent. Michael argues that being over-responsible has always been his problem, but he is working on it, and lately he has become much more relaxed. And as for how much responsibility the assistants need: Brian is at the point where he needs to move on, this kitchen no longer gives him sufficient challenges; and with John, we also look for new opportunities. Lisa is a problem, it is difficult to find out what she wants; she says she doesn't want to be responsible for cooking, but then she often complains, as she does now. Lisa tries to explain her position, but without much success, even though we try to help her. She gives up, and claims that this was not what the discussion was about! Michael doesn't understand. Then I state the distinction between problematic leadership, power relations, and individual authority, and assert that Michael assumes power by assessing each assistants' needs. Michael restates that he has "let go" a lot more than before, but that it has not been unproblematic, because it was uncertain what each of the assistants were ready to take over. This touches on a discussion we have had before: the problem that Brian is most often "the chef", and the others remain with subordinate responsibilities. Lisa now complains that Michael doesn't back up the others in taking over because he needs Brian in charge when he is absent himself, and on these conditions, she prefers not to take over; the uncertainty is on the part of Michael. Brian says that when Michael lets go, it only makes things worse, because he leaves a vacuum, and before the assistants can react to it, he suddenly intervenes and makes questionable decisions so that one looses initiative. There has been lengthy debates about uniforms, and then suddenly Michael turns up with cheap plastic cloaks, ecologically disastrous and unhealthy to wear. "If you want to let go, do it all the way!" "-Hygiene is my responsibility!", Michael returns, "and I'm not so sure we can go on with the ecology policy".

16. The Development of the User Evaluation Meetings

This discussion represents a moment in a crucial turn of the process. The distribution of authorities is never clearly settled, but implicitly, Michael establishes himself as leader, and he changes a negotiation of competencies into a pedagogical discussion of the individual assistant and a psychological theme about his own dealing with responsibility. Brian and Lisa try to oppose these changes, but when Michael doesn't yield, they tactically settle for an attack on his unclear leadership. The general development of the project continued in this direction. They took over the day canteen servicing of the adult education center, and moved towards more professional cooking and professional kitchen training. With this development, there was less room for volunteers, especially since the ecological aspects gradually faded - when the government ecological initiative grant ceased, it became costly and hard to combine with the policy of cheap meals for poor people, and no new initiatives had been taken in the area since the former employee and some assistants had left with most of the ecological "know-how". Michael related very much to his job in a "social worker mode", especially since he, an experienced counselor, personally acquainted with the project leader, was only hired to fill a temporary vacancy. He constantly needed to check out what was expected of him from above, and this way discouraged much initiative from below, and made it difficult for assistants to take part in leadership. Michael monopolized negotiations with the community center, and the assistants' community relations in the project were reduced to service delivery. With the day canteen function, User Service could present this project to welfare offices as a well-structured activity suited for "problem clients", and in addition, it made some money for itself. So even if the project leader was worried about how things turned out, she chose to trust her friend and welcome the financial benefits. The assistants, for their part, only resisted this development half-heartedly. Kitchen work spontaneously organized clear gaps in authority, and as they were unable to alter this pattern, it matched relatively stable ways to engage in the project. Some, like Brian, could assume responsibility and try to use it as a stepping stone to a real job. Others, like Lisa, could resign themselves to a minimal engagement, to invest their energy in other life spheres, or just settle for having a temporary "job". Still others filled the roles of "clowns" or "clients". Every time the frequent controversies lead them to challenge the power structure, they were quick to step or easy to push back into these roles. And with every failure to achieve changes, the roles seemed more realistic. With the development of professionalization, discussions of assistants' premises were split up: As the dominant theme, they were interpreted in a uni-dimensional "kitchen carrier" scheme. And besides this, psycho-social problems came popping up in connection with interpersonal conflicts. So, as hierarchy was established and the meetings lost their decision-making function, it became a place for using the "group" as a therapeutic resource in working with the individual. The assistants reacted against this with a tactical reservation that rendered attempts to "de-center" the discussions by widening our scope to their background daily lives both ambiguous and problematic. This way, even if it was apparent from seeing how the group worked that the assistants thrived on taking part in meaningful activity, this topic could not be explicitly discussed in connection with psycho-social problems. As these meetings remained our dominant empirical access to the civic canteen project, we researchers could only hope to influence the process by raising general issues of power, asking for the rationale of staff decisions, or provoking assistants to take initiative. But it was largely in vain, and for a time, we too fell back to just watching what happened . By the time when we finally returned this analysis to the canteen project and to User Service, the canteen project was disintegrating. Conflicts with the education center made them give up the day canteen, Michael was preparing a new project of "his own", and many of the assistants left for other projects because of unresolvable conflicts. It has now returned to being a small-scale civic canteen arrangement.

17. Contingencies of User Influence

The "user evaluation" project provided much more in terms of experience about problems to be dealt with to achieve user influence, than in terms of pointing to a solution. Probably, though, different lessons could have been learned form other sub-projects. To some extent, one can say that our (relative) failure to reach the research aims of this experiment is identical to the relative failure of the practical innovation (to build an integrated "explicit pedagogy"), though not necessarily to a failure of practice. The knowledge gained about contingencies and obstacles to user influence is valuable, however, to a sober, critical understanding of this catchword, and as tools for renewed development efforts, it functions in quite different ways and settings in research and in practice. There are time limits to research projects, and for me, it is time to reflect theoretically on the contextuality of "psycho-social health" actions, to look once again into the material for clues to the subtle implicit regulations that were left out in the reflection processes reported here, and to write-up. As for User Service, they struggle with new experiments and run into new (and some old) problems. Presently, they have launched a restructuring of job counseling in the direction of engaging assistants collectively in the activities and building it into the sub-projects; the employee responsible finds it hard to "pull" it to start, there is a lack of back-up routines, and frequent staff changes re-accentuate the problem of how to transfer principles and experience. One assistant is trying hard, and so far without much success, to organize assistants in a union club which, to gain credibility as a negotiating agent, needs to take a stance on the psycho-social issues of the work.


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