Living on a knife's edge: Temporal conflicts in welfare service work

Helena Hirvonen, Marita Husso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


This article considers the temporal variations of agency from the point of view of social and health care workers’ experiences and the social structures and practices of the contemporary public service sector. It is based on an interview study of 24 Finnish welfare service workers. The results show that the public service sector increasingly operates according to market principles and an economic-rationalistic framing of time, contrary to the relational understanding of time in care practices. To maintain their sense of self as skilled professionals, workers actively reassess and adjust their identities according to the exigencies of working life, but not without difficulties. The results reflect the intuitive, habitual and innovative nature of temporality in care practices, but also the constraints posed by the economic-rationalistic temporal structures of public service work that produce the experience of working on a knife's edge. The results suggest that the temporal aspect of professional agency is rather poorly understood in terms of managing and organizing welfare service work. Hence, the article points to the importance of temporality as a viewpoint for studies of agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)351-370
Number of pages20
JournalTime & Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Agency
  • practices
  • temporality
  • welfare service work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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