Transforming welfare service system from the standpoint of women in vulnerable life situations

Funder: Academy of Finland
Principal Investicator: Marjo Kuronen
Project duration: 1.9.2016 - 31.8.2020


The research project focuses on women in vulnerable life situations in the Finnish welfare service system in an era in which the system is undergoing major transformations.

The aim is to study what is common and shared between women in different vulnerable life situations, regarding substance abuse, poverty, single motherhood and being released from prison, and in their relations to the service system. By using the concept of vulnerable life situations instead of vulnerable individuals or groups, we will turn the attention towards social conditions and institutions generating vulnerability, including the welfare service system. 

Our research strategy is institutional ethnography (IE) developed by the Canadian feminist sociologist Dorothy E. Smith. It means a commitment to the standpoint of women, and analysing how experiences and actualities of their everyday world are organised by social relations, structures and institutions. The project is searching for new ways to connect two rather separate fields of research concerning experiences of women/service users and structural analysis of the welfare service systems and policies.

The research questions are:

  • How is vulnerability experienced in the everyday world of women? 
  • How do women in vulnerable life situations wander around in the welfare service system, and how does the system works from their standpoint? 
  • How does the transforming welfare service system meet or fail to meet the needs of these women and recognise their specific life situations?

Carrying out the research project

Empirically the project will develop at three stages: Data collection has begun with three groups of women from three institutional sites: women drug abusers from a project run by the A-Clinic Foundation; poor single mothers from social work offices; and women released from prison from the Kris association. Data is collected using participatory methods: qualitative open interviews individually and in groups, combined with observation and photograph ethnography.

At the second stage, data consists of qualitative expert interviews with front-line professionals, managers and policy actors, and textual analysis of national and local policy documents. At the final stage of the project, the analysis and findings from the two previous stages will be connected and contrasted with each other to answer how the everyday world of women is organised by the welfare service system.