Proletarian or promethean?: Impacts of automation and program integration on social service workers and their clients

This article addresses a controversy regarding the extent to which an information technology system may marginalize social service workers and their clients. The Indiana Client Eligibility System (ICES) software was designed to maintain, distribute, and streamline that state’s Aid for Families with Dependent Children, Food Stamp, and Medicaid programs while also setting the stage for a welfare-to-workfare policy transition. One Indiana county’s welfare staff and clients are analyzed after adoption of ICES. Observation, interviews, and a perspective informed by Giddens’s 1979 notions of structuration and DeSanctis and Poole’s 1994 Adaptive Structuration Theory reveal ICES’s structural features and “spirit,” its dependence and impact on organizational structure, and its effects on the perceived roles and relationships of caseworkers (i.e., “disenchanted” and “distanced”), supervisors (i.e., “disempowered”), clients (i.e., “disenfranchised”), and clerks (i.e., “disbursing” and “distinctive”). (Author)

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Journal of Contemporary Ethnography