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Unqualified social work: “a positive caring approach” for the Scottish private rented sector

Benjamin Bridgman (Department of Social Anthropology, University of Saint Andrews, Saint Andrews, UK)

Journal of Organizational Ethnography

ISSN: 2046-6749

Article publication date: 28 August 2019

Issue publication date: 2 March 2020



The purpose of this paper is to explore the emic theme of “unqualified social work” as part of the process of property management in a self-described “letting agency with a difference” in Edinburgh, set in the context of the rapid expansion of the private rented sector.


The paper is based upon ethnographic data from participant observation in a letting agency and unstructured interviews with their employees.


The paper suggests that the shift in Scotland in terms of the provision of housing and housing-related services from the public sector to the private rented sector in recent decades has engendered new social and economic relations in which property managers become “unqualified social workers”.

Practical implications

The paper aims to exemplify how anthropology and ethnographic research may contribute to the understanding of the private rented sector and of property management.


The paper aims to contribute to the wider literature on the private rented sector by foregrounding the role of the property manager. The paper also brings an analysis derived from the anthropology of ethics to an ethnographic understanding of property management and the private rented sector.



The research for this paper was partially funded through a grant from the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews.


Bridgman, B. (2020), "Unqualified social work: “a positive caring approach” for the Scottish private rented sector", Journal of Organizational Ethnography, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 17-29.



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