Institutional ethnography; institutional relations; documentary practices; social services; youth


Drawing on 14 interviews with services providers and over 80 hours of participant observations, I examine what happens when young people enter into Employment Service, a program of Employment Ontario and the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities. This program is delivered through an organization operating in two sites in Ontario, Canada that I refer as the Urban Youth Centre and the Rural Branch. On paper, it looks like service providers are doing the same work across these sites because the organization as a whole uses the same intake texts to deliver this program and documents the same institutionally imposed outcomes. However, in practice people who work in these sites employ different interpretive schemas to map young people’s actual needs onto the pre-determined service outcomes. This occurs because of an unequal distribution and availability of social services within these organizational sites and the communities where they are located. In practice, these work processes obscure the identification and response to rural youths’ diverse needs. This article argues that the conditions under which the delivery of Employment Service unfolds are embedded in relations that differentially shape disadvantaged youths' access to social resources.

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