The paper investigates the role of information asymmetries and sensegiving processes of citizens claiming for social services. The purpose of this paper is to highlight the relevance of applicants’ agency, since it has been generally neglected in the analysis of social services provision. On the contrary, the paper proposes an alternative view, considering applicants as actors who are able to develop dialectic strategies for claiming specific forms of social assistance.
The paper is based on a qualitative research, conducted following an inductive approach. The data have been collected in three different Italian municipalities, where the researcher has been the opportunity to perform a period of observation of the interviews between the social workers of the local social services department and the citizens applying for social assistance.
The findings of the research point out that informational asymmetries play an ambivalent role in the definition of applicant’s strategies, since they represent an ambivalent and dynamic factor, rather than a mere source of disadvantage for the user. From this viewpoint, the citizens’ possibilities to access to social assistance are shaped by both institutional and dialectic factors: on the one hand, access to social assistance relies on specific criteria of eligibility (institutionally defined), but on the other hand the access is the outcome of situated sensegiving processes, performed by both the applicants and the gatekeepers of social services during their encounters.
The research is based on the analysis of a small number of cases, within a context that is characterized by a high level of organizational and professional discretion in the regulation of the provision of social assistance.
The findings of the research urge policy maker to re-consider applicants as strategic actors and opens the space for the development of new options of regulation of the delivery of social services.
The paper suggests to consider the applicants for social services as people who, although in a condition of need, are capable to identify specific forms of assistance. From this point of view, informational asymmetries are not be considered as a stigmatic issue, but as a space which calls for further and less superficial investigation.
The paper challenges some of the most taken-for-granted theoretical assumptions in the analysis of the regulation of the access to social assistance. First, it proposes a dynamic interpretation of the notion of informational asymmetries, considering them as a space for action, rather than a binding factor; second, it emphasizes the relevance of user’s agency in the access to welfare services, that is generally neglected since most analyses focus on professional discretion disregarding the hypothesis of the user as a strategic actor.
Rossi, P. (2016), "Looking for an emergency door: The access to social services between informational asymmetries and sensegiving processes", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 36 No. 1/2, pp. 102-118. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSSP-12-2014-0121Download as .RIS
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