Re-conceptualising agency in social work as socio-material, relational entanglements


  • Raewyn Tudor University of Canterbury
  • Shanee Barraclough University of Canterbury


school social work, agential realism, vignettes, post-qualitative inquiry, agency


Post-humanism and feminist new materialism offer insights for social work to engage with the mutually entangled relations of the material-social world. Although taking up these alternate knowledges challenges concepts such as human agency, long-held as fundamental within social work. In this paper, we engage with Karen Barad’s agential realist framework and the concepts of intra-action and response-ability to re-think agency in social work, not as a human-centred endeavour, but a dynamic, dispersed force which arises across human, nonhuman and more- than-human relations. Drawing on interview data from a study that explores school social work in the aftermath of earthquakes in Aotearoa New Zealand where concerns for children’s vulnerability were pervasive, we produce three vignettes which foreground the spaces, places, objects and bodies that emerge as agential enactments within these practice encounters. This performative analysis engages with the productive qualities of these material-discursive entanglements offering possibilities for invoking ‘response-able’, just social work practices within institutional power relations.






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