Constructions of Social work: The Writing Stories Project

Published on Jan 1, 2013
Social work is a complex phenomenon. At a time when individualistic models of practice dominate the profession, it becomes difficult for students, practitioners and educators to link the problems of the service-users to wider perspectives of gendered, racialised and classed structures. My interest in this comes as a practitioner of social work education. It has grown out of teaching social policy to social work students. Social policy as a discipline tends to take explicit political positions and is concerned with the practicalities of politics. Making sense of the politics of social work is a challenging task (Powell, 2001). The role of social policy within social work education is to enhance the delivery of social justice in part through an understanding of structures and policy upon service-users. This thesis starts by setting the context for social work and social policy teaching within social work education. It then moves onto discuss the search for a methodology and approach to analysis that could support the central aim of the thesis, bridging the gap between experience and learning to improve the engagement of social work students with social policy. This became the Writing Stories Project in which, following the example of Haug et. al.’s (1987) feminist project of Memory Work, social work students on a BA in Social Work were asked to write personal stories expressed as third person accounts to a series of cues relating to social policy within social work. Words such as need, protection, risk, etc. were used to provoke memories which could then be interrogated by the groups and myself for their relevance to social work education. This work took place over the academic year 2008 – 2009 and involved 34 students, who produced 94 stories. The thesis then examines the stories produced by the student cohort and uncovers the subject(s) of social policy discourse in relation to social work and social welfare. Analysis uncovers a subject who is primarily a consumer, with few mutual bonds, tasked with the surveillance rather than support of others. However, this subject can also resist attempts to be categorised and reduced. Gender and nation in particular are both policed and resisted within the texts. In concluding my focus is on my practice as an educator in social work and methods and content for social policy teaching. However, I am also concerned with the epistemological limitations of social policy as a discipline and how the project can add to current debates around methodological approaches and knowledge production and development.
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