A Sociomaterial Account of Partnership, Signatures and Accountability in Practice
Professional work is often heralded as undergoing radical transformation. This paper focuses on partnership between health professionals and families as a specific instance of changes aimed at delivering shared responsibility and joint knowledge work. An ethnographic study of a residential child and family health services provides the empirical basis for a detailed examination of what is signed, by whom, and with what effects. I show how signing and signatures provide fertile starting points for sociomaterial analysis, a rich empirical reference point for what Nicolini calls “zooming in” on particular instances, and “zooming out” to understand their connections to other practices. Schatzki’s practice theory is used as a theoretical basis, drawing also on Kemmis’ notions of practice architectures and ecologies of practices to elaborate such connections. I trace how acts of signing and signatures as artefacts are produced through and reflect partnership, indeed pointing to significant changes in professional work. However I also show that wider ecologies of practices present architectures that challenge diffuse accountability and shared epistemic work.
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