Author: Zhang, Yangyong
Title: Survival in an emerging profession : narratives of social workers in mainland China
Advisors: Sim, Boo Wee Timothy (APSS)
Leung, Chuen Suen Zeno (APSS)
Tsui, Ming-sum (APSS)
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2020
Subject: Social workers -- China
Social service -- China
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Department of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: xv, 179 pages : illustrations
Language: English
Abstract: Since national licensure in 2008, Chinese social workers have encountered challenges arising from changes in social structures and personal daily practices. Consequently, many of them have left this emerging profession after only a few years. Survival in the social work profession is fragile and a concern for both academics and practitioners in mainland China. The major question guiding this research was: "What do Chinese social workers do to ensure their professional survival?" Three sub-questions related to this were: (a) What challenges do Chinese social workers face in the context of changing social structures, and what coping strategies do they utilize to cope with these challenges? (b) What challenges do Chinese social workers encounter in their personal daily practices and what specific survival strategies do they use? and (c) What are the survival coping processes of social workers in mainland China? This dissertation employed the Theory of Practice (ToP) and a social constructionist paradigm to explore the survival code utilized by social workers in the context of an emerging Chinese profession. This qualitative research employed in-depth interviews as the primary method of data collection and the use of focus groups as a means of conducting participant reviews of the major findings. Forty-nine participants from Shenzhen, Shanghai and Xiamen were interviewed. The inclusion criteria for both the interviews and the focus groups were as follows: participants were licensed social workers holding a social work diploma and with more than five years' experience in social work. Various service areas and categories of social workers were represented and gender and marital status were also considered. NVivo 12 Plus software was used to assist in coding, searching, defining, and naming themes, and in producing the final report. Thematic analysis was the primary method used to analyze the data. This research comprised three interrelated studies. Study 1 was entitled "Survival in Changing and Challenging Institutional and Professional Contexts in China: Narratives of Social Workers" and sought to answer the first research question. Two essential themes emerged relating to the aforementioned challenges: (a) constraining social structures; and (b) immature professionalization. These challenges varied in terms of social workers operating at three different professional stages: the frontline social worker, program manager or officer, and organizational manager. Three coping strategies were identified with regard to the aforementioned challenges: (a) building a partnership and integrating resources; (b) utilizing a professional and personal social support network; (c) improving organizational governance and strategic management.
Study 2, entitled "Coping Strategies with Survival Practice Challenges: Chinese Social Workers' Narratives in a Fledging Profession", answered the second research question. Four themes emerged relating to the challenges associated with personal practice: (a) excessive workload; (b) economic pressure; (c) inadequate competence; and (d) values and ethical dilemmas. These themes present distinct characteristics in terms of social workers at three professional stages. Four coping strategies were identified to deal with the above challenges: (a) improving and utilizing personal agency through the adoption of learning by doing approach; (b) utilizing social and symbolic capital; (c) using cultural capital in a work-life balance and commitment to the social work mission; and (d) using personal agency to improve economic capital. The findings show that intrinsic motivations such as a belief in, and commitment to, the social work mission are not enough to empower Chinese social workers to remain in the profession; however, the satisfaction of extrinsic realistic needs drives their professional survival in the long-term. The final study, entitled "Coping Processes in an Emerging Profession: Mainland Chinese Social Workers' Survival Narratives", explored the professional survival coping processes employed by Chinese social workers. The findings showed that survival as a social worker involved an ongoing coping process that reconciled social structures and individual agency during daily practices. Chinese social workers combined the two interrelated processes of "inside-out" and "outside-in" to cope with the range of challenges they encountered. Specifically, "inside-out" was an internalized strength-oriented survival coping process, while "outside-in" was a resource-based survival coping process. Four interconnected processes were identified as elaborating these two processes: a) initial survival motivation internalized from previous experience and social structures; b) improvement of professional capacities through the "learning by doing" approach; c) utilizing personal agency (inside-out) while performing the outside-in process; and d) utilizing personal agencies to reshape the way they survived as social workers and reproduce social structures. This study also showed that Chinese social workers preferred the inside-out process as a survival mode. Furthermore, the strength-oriented coping process was more influential than the resource-based coping process. This dissertation advances the ToP through an examination of structure, field, position, capital, agency, and habitus based on Chinese social workers' narratives of coping and surviving in terms of structural contexts and daily practices. Implications for the newly developing social work profession in China and in other developing countries include understanding social structures and concentrating on promoting personal capacities during the survival coping processes employed by social workers. Implications for governments, non-profit organizations, and tertiary education in working with multi-faceted social structures are also discussed.
Rights: All rights reserved
Access: open access

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