Social workers as willful subjects

Hagit Sinai-Glazer*, Michal Krumer-Nevo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How does social workers' agency come about amid the structural constraints they face in their everyday practice? Based on ethnographic fieldwork at a social services department in Israel, this article offers insights into social workers' agentic performances. Fieldwork lasted four and a half months (March–August 2021) and included daily participation in the department life, multiple interviews with all staff members (n = 28), and participant observations at various professional meetings. We identified four modes of agency among social workers: challenging bureaucracy and regulations, standing up to colleagues, supervisors, and managers, pushing through austerity, and disrupting professional norms and expectations. We conclude with illustrating social workers as Willful Subjects, recognizing the limitations of social workers' agency while acknowledging its powerful effects and prime importance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-778
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • Social work
  • agency
  • ethnography
  • social work practice
  • social workers
  • willful subjects


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