Semiotic Analysis in the Study of Social Work


  • Terhi Laine Diaconia University of Applied Sciences
  • Erja Saurama University of Helsinki


Research and professional practices have the joint aim of re-structuring the preconceived notions of reality. They both want to gain the understanding about social reality. Social workers use their professional competence in order to grasp the reality of their clients, while researchers’ pursuit is to open the secrecies of the research material. Development and research are now so intertwined and inherent in almost all professional practices that making distinctions between practising, developing and researching has become difficult and in many aspects irrelevant. Moving towards research-based practices is possible and it is easily applied within the framework of the qualitative research approach (Dominelli 2005, 235; Humphries 2005, 280).

Social work can be understood as acts and speech acts crisscrossing between social workers and clients. When trying to catch the verbal and non-verbal hints of each others’ behaviour, the actors have to do a lot of interpretations in a more or less uncertain mental landscape. Our point of departure is the idea that the study of social work practices requires tools which effectively reveal the internal complexity of social work (see, for example, Adams & Dominelli & Payne 2005, 294 – 295).