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Alfredo J. M. Carballeda
Doctor en Servicio Social, Profesor Titular Universidad Nacional de La Plata

Speaking, Looking and Listening during the Professional Education Process. The Interview as a Meeting Place in Social Work Intervention.


Today's social work schools face a major challenge of reflecting upon the type of social workers they are training, the theoretical and methodological knowledge being taught, as well as the type of professional intervention developed in the different areas of intervention in many regions and countries. Hence, this article will analyse the role of professional training in social work, its impact on the professional practice of social workers, as well as examining their professional performance in light of this training and of the subjectivity that permeates this intervention.

Social work interview

The term interview comes from Latin, inter (between) and videre (to see). Therefore, it refers to observing closely, i.e., as a way of recognising, finding points of agreement, where looking, speaking and listening are all interwoven. It is also a way of investigating and building dynamic knowledge, where information arising from the narrative not only communicates something known or suffered, it is also puts it into words, moving from the subjective to the objective.

An interview can be understood as a place where speaking, looking and listening meet and a place to tell stories, through looking, through the body, through the tone of voice. It has a special narrative structure, recognised through its social impact from the perspective of the person telling the story, in its territorial expression and its relationship with others, but also from the listener’s perspective, from a professional, ideological and conceptual profile. In other words, a Social Work interview has a unique type of narrative that provides the keys to understand and interpret it.

An interview involves speaking, looking, and listening, but also the meaning social intervention conveys to the other person. It is also a narrative with a series of meanings that may be revealed provided there is knowledge about what is required.

It also implies a direct relationship between two or more people, who need a symbolic means of communication, sometimes with, known and unknown, predefined goals, both for the interviewer and the interviewee, that appear and develop during the communication process.

It will create expectations in the Other Person, even in oneself. In Social Work, an interview is a relationship, but marked by intervention. The relationship established during an interview involves questions regarding the impact of social issues. It can also be a type of analysis of stories told from a diachronic modality, not in chronological order, but creating an alternative to linear time. It expresses a search, acting in different ways, to the extent of the topic, problem or concern that develops, the need becomes language. This permits to review the historical aspects, both present and future, creating approaches to potentially understand and explain what is happening. It is also a path towards the event, because it allows you to see and be seen. Thereby building a process that gives it meaning and the ultimate goal of intervention is to make the Other Person see, without any additions or subtractions.

An interview as a discursive genre organises an event and it is developed through a series of statements, organising often while listening, the expression of suffering. …” Lucía’s story helped me understand why Matías had never had an ID Card or a birth certificate. Lucía said that her mother never registered her children at the civil register office after their births. In other words, she was not registered either. Because of the military dictatorship (Matías was born in 1977 and her sister in 1982), her mother would leave the hospital as she was scared they would take her children away.

Despite this, Lucía does have an ID card. When she was 8 years old, she had to have an ID card if she wanted to continue going to school, so she obtained one on her own, she asked a social worker to help her.

This probably explains why Matías only went to primary school until third year”… thus, the story resulting from this interview is shown as a complex procedure where different types of relationships and means of communication are built, but essentially, it could be understood as an instrument operating beyond the information it produces. In an interview, the ephemeral becomes long lasting.

What is narrated is located in another place, it enters into the space of what has been said, but it is also a task, movement, prompting action, not just words, memories or situations flowing towards the simple truth of the information arising from the interview, but also from its meanings. In other words, enabling the flow of information based on meanings, implications and the social imaginary expressed in the interview.

While Social Intervention interviews implies a combination of data, indicators, and variables, where quantitative aspects interact and intertwine with qualitative aspects, building new and more ways of organising and systematising knowledge, except it is performed with the Other Person, within the same process.

The use of the concept of variable differs from its meaning in Sociology; in Social Intervention it may refer to the dimension of the phenomenon being listened to, analysed, its meanings, its historical and social characteristics, creating a multiple relationship built upon a series of questions arising out of the intervention process.

In other words, it returns to social work questions; what do we want to know? And what do we need to know? In this context an interview interacts with an intervention process in different orders; the impact of social issues, the social fabric surrounding the intervention subject and his/her relationship with the Social Welfare System.

…”During the first interviews with Matías I wanted to know what was happening to him, listen to what he could tell me, which was not much, but it was what he could tell me about himself. Here he gradually begins to tell me he did not finish primary school, that he only finished third year; that his mother died when he was very young, that he has a father who never looked after him; that since childhood until now he has been moving around from various homes and institutions (children’s homes, therapeutic communities)…

A Social Intervention interview also entails trying to understand, building a different relationship with the Other Person in order to access his/her inner world, his/her suffering, help the Other Person say what has been silenced, hidden, denied by inequality, oppression or pain. However, an interview also includes stories, expressions, gestures that refer to other things, such as skills, moments of fulfilment, happiness, solitude or companionship, collective projects, dreams and possibilities. On this point, apparently contradictory, the different narrative levels of the Social Intervention are combined. While in this mutual exchange of information or interrogation a particular type of communication develops. …”Several home interviews were conducted over several long months, with some agreements and disagreements, conversations with mate tea, with the children running around, days of intense heat at Maria’s house, the heat was worse because she did not have any fans, nor trees to keep the summer away. And days of intense cold where the situation would be the same, but the other way around, the house had rudimentary heating, an improvised salamander stove and they did not have any firewood at the time. I became aware of “a broad range” of needs and, hence, the violated rights of that family”…

An interview, in terms of describing an action, builds the story, so it can be named, understood and transmuted. While the verbal and non-verbal communication process facilitates, during the Social Intervention process, the intertwining of emotions, affections, thoughts and reflection.

A key component of the analysis process of Social Intervention, by applying his/her analytical and interpretative skills, he/she develops conceptual approaches, where, based on questions derived from practice, meanings and possible explanations are developed that interact with different possibilities of empirical contrast and produce unique categories of analyses strongly related to the empirical aspects.

Furthermore, the performative character provides a framework and gives meaning to the intervention. In the relationship established between the interview and the construction of subjectivity.

…I’m not just a petty thief and you will continue to be what they call you each time you go to court…. Hence, it is possible to see how the construction of subjectivity is registered by the Other Person. The latter is based on a narrative, with different logic, times, sequences, without empirical contrast, derived from evocations, where you remember what you allegedly remember. It is built upon what it means to the interviewee. It is also a discursive structure where two or more social actors are interwoven.

In summary, a Social Intervention interview provides the possibility to know, based on inferences, correlations and empirical contrasts, building unique knowledge and its goal is to transform circumstances, situation and not just knowledge. It has a different purpose than an investigation interview.

  1. Fullone, Laura (BA in Social Work) Yo No Estoy Preso.” Relato de una Internación en la Sala de Hombres in Revista Margen No. 73.2014 www.margen.org
  2. Fullone, Laura (BA in Social Work) “Yo No Estoy Preso”.Relato de una Internación en la Sala de Hombres por Lic. En T.S. Fullone, Laura en Revista Margen N°73.2014 www.margen.org
  3. Celina de Paula (BA in Social Work) “Pasaba a saludar”. Recorrido de una intervención en la complejidad desde el Trabajo Social. In Revista Margen.2016 www.margen.org
  4. César Gonzálezof Ana Cacoppardo Interview on Canal Encuentro https://youtu.be/SOsHH5_Ye0M