Enacting entangled practice : interagency collaboration in domestic and family violence work

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This study contributes to the field of domestic and family violence (DFV) research. It also adds to practice-based research within scholarship on professional practices. Specifically, it examines the complexities of working together when diverse practitioners collaborate, across organisational and disciplinary boundaries, to address the ‘wicked’ problem of DFV. Much of the existing literature treats interagency collaboration uncritically, assuming it is inherently worthwhile, regardless of the outcomes. There has been limited research attention focused on the enactment in practice of interagency work, and on the effects of these enactments in relation to the victim/survivors. This research employs an innovative methodology, combining key conceptual resources of actor-network theory with new material feminist thinking. This approach enables three significant moves. First, it shifts understandings of collaboration away from a continuum approach and towards a conceptualisation of interagency work as enacted by dynamic networks. Second, it directs attention away from the factors that are deemed critical for success and focuses instead on the range of ‘actors’ that are involved in the doing of this work, paying heed not only to the practitioners, but also to the various objects that matter in their collaborative work. Third, it approaches the question of effectiveness by tracing the effects of enactments of interagency work. This ethnographic study of practice examines an integrated DFV initiative in one local area, in outer metropolitan Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. It unravels entanglements of people and things, meanings and matter, discourses and technology, and knits them back together again. The investigation shows how the various practices that make up ‘working together’ shape each other, producing material effects for the victim/survivors. A key outcome of this research is a new conceptualisation of interagency DFV work as two distinctive, yet entangled, modes of working together that co-exist in the textured fabric of service provision. ‘Multiple practices’, involve practitioners with separate foci for action. ‘Practice multiple’ involves practitioners working together with a singular victim-centred focus. It is argued that responses are only properly ‘integrated’ when ‘practice multiple’ occurs, that is, when victim/survivors’ interests are integrated into practice. This conceptualisation accommodates complexity and acknowledges that interagency work unfolds in an imperfect world, riddled with tensions and ambivalences. The conclusions have important implications for interagency DFV practice and policy, as well as for collaborative professional practice and learning generally.
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