Contractual controls and pragmatic professionalism: A qualitative study on contracting social services in China

Jie LEI, Tian CAI*, Chak Kwan CHAN

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This study used the contracting projects of a district branch of the Women's Federation in Guangzhou as case examples to demonstrate both the Chinese state's contractual controls over social work organisations (SWOs) and the pragmatic response strategies of SWOs and professionals. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with seventeen participants, including local officials of the Women's Federation and social workers from contracted SWOs. It was found that with the ultimate goal of consolidating the legitimacy of the Communist Party of China, the Women's Federation's dual role in politics and service provision had led to normative, managerial, technical and relational controls over SWOs. SWOs and professionals were generally submissive to these controls, but they employed diverse coping strategies, including compliance, bargaining, transformation and investment in personal relationships. The interactions within the contractual relationship created a pragmatic professionalism that embraced dominant political ideologies, employed de-politicising techniques, and personally depended on individual officials.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-118
Number of pages22
JournalCritical Social Policy
Issue number1
Early online date25 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study received the funding from the DWF. Meanwhile, the authors are grateful for the support from Ms. Chunhuan Han, Ms. Yanling Xie, and all the research participants from the DWF and the SWOs as described in this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2022.


  • contracting social service
  • non-governmental organisation
  • social work in china
  • state control
  • women’s federation


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