A Foucauldian Analysis of ‘Troubled Families’

Prof Doc Thesis

MacLehose, Anna 2014. A Foucauldian Analysis of ‘Troubled Families’. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.3964
AuthorsMacLehose, Anna
TypeProf Doc Thesis

The ‘Troubled Families Agenda’ (TFA), a national initiative launched by the UK
Government in 2011, aimed to identify and work with families defined by the
Government as ‘troubled’, in order to decrease their ‘anti-social behaviour’, help
children back into school and support parents into employment. This research,
undertaken from a social constructionist critical realist epistemological position,
attempted to gain an understanding of the Government’s construction of ‘troubled
families’, and to consider what ways of thinking about, and working with, families
these constructions might have enabled and silenced. The dataset consisted of: the
seven policy and guidance documents available on the Government’s TFA website;
five speeches concerning the TFA made by leading politicians; and four
parliamentary debate and Commons’ Select Committee report extracts. The dataset
inclusion criteria required government policy documents and texts of speeches and
debates to have been published between 6th March 2010 and 31st March 2013, and
to refer to ‘troubled families’ more than twice. The analysis of this dataset was
conducted using a discourse analytic approach, drawing on the work of Michel
Foucault. Seven analytic steps were followed, which included repeated readings and
coding of the texts. Four dominant governmental constructions of ‘troubled families’
were identified, that of: ‘violent’; ‘workless’; ‘helpless’ families that are ultimately a
‘costly waste of human productivity’.
The Government seems to have presented the TFA as an innovative, benevolent
social care agenda. However, at its root, the TFA appears to be driven by neo-liberal
economic forces, intent on reducing the cost of families that may have a range of
difficulties. The Government seems to have taken a reductive approach towards
their construction of ‘troubled families’, allowing families to be produced as
homogenous and less complex discursive objects. This has allowed the
Government to set simple material outcomes for services to achieve with families
that may have a range of complex difficulties. These outcomes neatly connect to the
financial models underpinning the TFA, enabling the introduction of financial
products, such as social impact bonds, which might allow private investors to exert
influence upon the TFA services. The Government appears to be using families who
may have a range of difficulties as vehicles to grow the social investment market. It

is argued that this is likely to negatively impact the design of services, which might
hinder social and health care professionals’ ability to work in a manner that will meet
the complex needs of families.
This research calls for the financial models that underpin services to be designed in
the best interest of the service users, rather than that of investors and Government.
This research also echoes calls for the perspectives and experiences of families
with complex needs to be more effectively incorporated into the development of
family initiatives, such as the TFA. Finally, this study encourages frontline workers
and clinical psychologists to be more aware of the political forces and neo-liberal
assumptions that are shaping the services in which they work, if effective forms of
resistance are to be made possible.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.3964
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Deposited01 Dec 2014
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