Asociality and professional resocialization in the context of pandemic stress. A review of scientific literature on digital socialization and resocialization in social work

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About the project

While digital social media’s contribution to a society that is increasingly characterized by various forms of asociality is being called into question, it is still unknown whether this is something that can also influence social systems that are well known for their socialization power and their ability to maintain social forms.

This literature review focuses on asociality’s place in emerging forms of digital socialization in health care and social services professions in general, and social work in particular. The objective was to synthesize conceptual and methodological works and insights on asociality in emerging forms of digital socialization and resocialization in health care and social services professions, identify the specific characteristics of this phenomenon in social work, and conceptually distinguish what is specifically a part of asociality and identity recomposition in the resocialization process.

The review analyzed 51 studies in total, providing a broad overview of the articles, the studies’ characteristics, the concepts and theories employed, the methodologies used, and the effects of digital technology on professional socialization.

Key findings

  • Research on professional socialization issues in a digital context began to emerge in around 2011, with substantial interest observed in 2020.
  • A variety of countries are interested in the issue, but interest is especially keen in the United States.
  • The topic is a matter of ongoing interest in education.
  • 37% of the studies analyzed were qualitative and 10% were quantitative.
  • No research has explicitly looked at the concept of asociality. Most studies focus on its positive opposite, professional socialization.
  • 39% of studies mentioned both positive and negative effects of the use of digital technology on professional socialization. 25% of studies identified exclusively positive effects.
  • The study findings suggest that digital technology has resocialization effects, as well as occasional, though indirect, asociality effects.
  • The phenomenon of resocialization can be divided into two logically distinct, though interconnected, categories: factors facilitating professional resocialization and identity work (for oneself by clarifying one’s professional identity and professional development, and with and for the profession as a whole by forging social ties and developing one’s ability to learn, reflect and resist).
  • It is resistance that lets us infer a certain form of asociality, though the concept is not mentioned explicitly in the literature.
  • Within a group, asociality can contribute to marginalizing people who do not buy in to a dominant discourse. This can end up polarizing opinions.
  • Some factors that can potentially generate a form of asociality are a lack of understanding of digital technology, hyperconnectivity and information overload.
  • In the research, social work appears to be a slightly less tech-friendly environment than health care. There is a degree of mistrust about using digital technology for professional purposes and a greater focus on dangers and ethical issues. We hypothesize that this is due to the ethos of social work, which requires its professionals to exercise critical thinking. That being said, many studies in social work still presented the use of digital technology for professional socialization as having mostly positive effects.

Policy implications

There appears to be little interest in the issue of asociality for researchers in health care and social services. This general observation shows professional groups still have a very high capacity for professional resocialization. From a professional viewpoint, digital technology is a useful tool for professional development and identity work. It might be useful for decision makers in health care and social services and for leaders in professional organizations to pay closer attention to this topic in order to make use of this capacity and maintain their level of quality.

We suggest that asociality has yet to be problematized for professionals, and that much of the literature surveyed takes a sympathetic and friendly position on technology, typical of topics in areas of emerging study. More research is needed to track how the capacity for professional socialization through digital communication methods changes over time. It is also possible that professionals may be using other digital platforms outside of work as well. It might be worth focusing more attention in the coming years on how the porous boundaries between professional and general forums impact whether the capacity for professional resocialization can be maintained.

Further information

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Contact the researchers

Yves Couturier, principal investigator, full professor of social work, Université de Sherbrooke and scientific director, Réseau de connaissances sur les soins primaire

François Aubry, professor, department of social work, Université du Québec en Outaouais

Sylvie Jochems, permanent regular professor, department of social work, Université du Québec à Montréal

R. Ndjaboue, assistant professor in social gerontology, Université de Sherbrooke, and Canada Research Chair, Inclusivity and Active Ageing

Flavie Lemay, PhD student in social work, Université de Montréal

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