VOLUME 30 • NUMBER 3 • 2018 ISSN: 2463-4131 (Online)
1 Women in social work: Practice, policy and research Liz Beddoe
4 Feminism and social work: Where next for an engaged theory and practice?
Viviene Cree 8 Original Articles
8 Creating space for a critical feminist social work pedagogy Sarah B. Epstein, Norah Hosken and Sevi Vassos
19 Mothers as active contributors to post-earthquake recovery in Christchurch Angelina Jennings, Nicky Stanley-Clarke and Polly Yeung
31 An investigation of the nature of termination of pregnancy counselling within the current system of licensed facilities Shelley Kirk, Liz Beddoe and Shirley Ann Chinnery
45 Radical women in social work: A historical perspective from North Americas
57 Surveys, social licence and the Integrated Data Infrastructure
Pauline Gulliver, Monique Jonas, Tracey McIntosh, Janet Fanslow and Debbie Waayer
72 Neoliberalism and social work with children and families in the UK:
On-going challenges and critical possibilities Steve Rogowski
84 View Point
84 Family violence – through the lens of reflective practice Amitha Krishnamurthi
90 Classic Book Reviews
90 Kris Olsson’s Kilroy was Here
93 Book Reviews
93 Blame, culture and child protection
—Jadwiga Leigh, 2017
96 Research for social workers: An introduction to methods (4th ed.)
—Margaret Alston and Wendy Bowles, 2018
AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND
Women in social work: Practice, policy and research
NEW ZEALAND SOCIAL WORK 30(3), 1–3.
This issue of Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work begins with a special section of articles on the theme of women in social work. A second selection of articles with this focus will appear in a special section in the first issue of 2019.
Stephanie Wahab, Ben Anderson-Nathe, and Christina Gringeri write, in the introduction to Feminisms in Social Work Research (2015, p. 1), that “social work as a profession and academic discipline has long concerned itself with women and issues related to women and their social conditions” citing reproductive rights, labour rights, violence and poverty among the areas of concern. In 2018, women in Aotearoa and elsewhere still face challenges to reproductive rights, disadvantage in work and income, experience of violence and sexual harassment while Māori, Pasifika and other Indigenous women experience significant health disparities. Women are disproportionately high users of social services. They also provide a significant portion of care in their families and communities.
Gendered inequities also impact in the world of work. Women in social work are particularly affected by lack of equal pay for work of equal value while many enter professional social work with personal experiences of violence, trauma and poverty.
Women also outnumber men in social work education and in the world of academia bringing with them the impacts of inequality in income, esteem and disproportionate caring responsibilities.
Social work is a profession in which women disproportionately contribute, and the concerns of women are often at the heart of social work practice—yet explicitly feminist writing has been relatively scarce
in the Aotearoa New Zealand social work literature. Many commonly used Australasian social work texts do not include chapters on feminist practice. Feminist theory and practice is never far from my mind, my first published research article (Beddoe & Weaver, 1988) examined the counselling services provides under the 1977 Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act. When writing a lecture recently I searched for new material and found one recent Australian book: Contemporary Feminisms in Social Work Practice. The editors note in their introduction that, while there is a wide acceptance of women’s right to equality, in abstract terms the lived reality of women’s experiences is not so rosy.
In both professional and personal life, social practices “continue to be framed by unspoken, even unconscious, discourses about women, their rights and their responsibilities, as qualitatively different from those of men” (Wendt & Moulding, 2016, p. 2).
These discourses surface in the treatment of rape and intimate partner abuse, in double standards in sexual life, in work- based discrimination, pay inequality and in community and workplace sexual harassment and violence. A view of women’s rights as less important than men’s rights is implicit in the denial of safe, legal abortion healthcare and the increasingly draconian attempts to push back reproductive justice seen in the current climate of misogynist populism.
The articles in this special issue address some of these issues and are hopefully the starting point for some renewed enthusiasm for feminist writing about social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. An invited commentary, “Feminism and social work: Where next for an engaged theory
and practice?”, by Viviene Cree, from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland provides a personal view of how feminism has shaped aspects of practice. Professor Cree, whose research includes feminism in social work education, asks the question: “is the decision to lay claim to feminism (or not) purely a matter of individual choice, or is there something about social work that is, or should be, fundamentally feminist?”
This commentary interrogates these
questions more fully, drawing from research on feminism and the lived experience of
“living and breathing feminism”.
Social work education is the focus of the first article in the special section. In “Creating space for a critical feminist social work pedagogy”, Sarah Epstein, Norah Hosken, and Sevi Vassos explore the challenges faced by feminist educators within contemporary universities. Drawing on literature the authors examine the processes that might develop to co-create a critical feminist pedagogical practice.
Social work research post-disaster offers new insights on the roles women take in community recovery. In “Mothers as active contributors to post-earthquake recovery in Christchurch”, Angelina Jennings, Nicky Stanley Clark, and Polly Yeung report on a study of the post-disaster experiences of mothers from the two Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The article reports on the factors which both helped and hindered mothers’ recovery. Resilience, a constructive and proactive role in their community post-disaster and a sense of belonging were found to be key to post- disaster recovery.
Reproductive health and the right to reproductive justice is an important aspect of feminist social work. A significant aspect of reproductive rights is found in access to safe legal abortion (Averitt Taylor, 2014). Abortion services are delivered within a complex system which is shaped by various philosophical, political and economic discourses. In an example of
practice-near research, Shelley Kirk and her supervisors, Liz Beddoe and Shirley Ann Chinnery, report on a study of termination of pregnancy service delivery in Aotearoa New Zealand. This research is very topical given the current proposals for abortion law reform being considered (Law Commission, 2018). This article reports on a mixed methods study of aspects of the counselling service for women seeking a termination of pregnancy. Recommendations are made for service changes to improve patient-centred care.
Many of the challenges that confront contemporary social workers today are not new—over the past century, social workers have addressed poverty, unemployment, threats to peace and the challenges of refugee resettlement. It is useful to revisit our
history of women activists in social work.
Therese Jennissen and Colleen Lundy, in
“Radical women in social work: A historical perspective from North America”, explore the issues faced and strategies employed by five radical female social workers. These social workers were explicitly interested in social change that centred on social justice, women’s rights, anti-racism, international peace, and they worked closely alongside other progressive groups.
In a viewpoint article, “Family Violence—
through the lens of reflective practice”, Amitha Krishnamurthi shares a practice reflection. Utilising a case study and her own reflections, she explores family violence work and, in particular, the phenomenon of victim blaming which, she contends, operates as a defence against institutional anxieties. Krishnamurthi explores this work through her personal lens as a migrant woman from the Global South.
In this issue’s Classic Book Review, Michele Jarldorn reviews Kris Olsson’s “Kilroy was here”. Jarldorn writes that this biography of an Australian woman, Debbie Kilroy, a former prisoner who survived the system and who is now a passionate advocate for prison reform. Jarldorn feels this book
helped her consolidate the connections between theory, practice and experience.
Wendt and Moulding (2017) argue that feminism provides social workers with a sophisticated knowledge base from which to launch efforts for rights and recognition.
As battles are being fought for adequate reproductive health care and freedom from abuse and violence, I must agree that “feminism has perhaps never been so relevant and necessary as it is right now”
(Wendt & Moulding, 2017, p. 262).
We will continue to explore the themes developed in this issue, in part two of this special issue to be published in 2019. The editors of Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work would be very pleased to receive more submissions on the concerns of women in social work, in particular policy and practice research of importance to Māori and Pasifika women, to migrants and resettled asylum seekers.
In “Surveys, social licence and the Integrated Data Infrastructure” Pauline Gulliver, Monique Jonas, Tracey McIntosh, Janet Fanslow, and Debbie Waayer examine the social licence for including survey data in Statistics New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) which is a central repository for researchers to access multiple government agency data. The authors recruited two convenience samples: first, participants in one of 10 focus groups; and second, respondents to pilot surveys for the 2018 Aotearoa New Zealand census or a population-based survey on violence experience. Whilst little prior awareness of the IDI existed, participants identified concerns and suggested safeguards that would address concerns. In particular, the authors note that active engagement with Māori is essential given the over- representation of Māori within government agency data, to reduce risks of further stigmatisation and marginalisation.
Steve Rogowski’s article, “Neoliberalism and social work with children and families in the UK: On-going challenges and critical possibilities”, discusses how the welfare state has gradually been dismantled and become more punitive and market driven, and on the way social work has been “de- professionalised and transformed into a narrower, more restricted, role” at the expense of relationship-based practice.
Rogowski, a former children’s social worker, argues that critical practice is ever more necessary and provides examples of what this might encompass.
Averitt Taylor, J. (2014). Reproductive health policy affecting low-income women: Historical precedents and current need for social work action. Social Work in Public Health, 29(2), 132–140. doi:10.1080/19371918.2013.775872 Beddoe, L., & Weaver, A. (1988). Ten years on: Abortion
counselling services in New Zealand. New Zealand Social Work, 12(3/4), 23–28.
Law Commission. (2018). Alternative approaches to abortion law: Ministerial briefing paper. October 26 2018.
Wellington, New Zealand: Author. Retrieved from https://www.lawcom.govt.nz/abortion
Wahab, S., Anderson-Nathe, B., Gringeri, C. E., Taylor, Francis, & Gringeri, C. E. (2015). Feminisms in social work research: Promise and possibilities for justice- based knowledge. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Wendt, S., & Moulding, N. (Eds.). (2016). Contemporary feminisms in social work practice. Abingdon, Oxon, UK:
Wendt, S., & Moulding, N. (2017). The current state of feminism and social work. Australian Social Work, 70(3), 261–262. doi:10.1080/0312407X.2017.1314752
Feminism and social work: Where next for an engaged theory and practice?
Feminism has never been far from the public eye over the last 10 years or so. Love it or loathe it, it has been out there, fighting to be heard, challenging and, some would argue, reinforcing long-held stereotypes about what it is to be human and live in the world. But what does all this mean for social work and social workers? Is the decision to lay claim to feminism (or not) purely a matter of individual choice, or is there something about social work that is, or should be, fundamentally feminist? This article will interrogate these questions more fully, drawing on research undertaken on feminism and social work over a number of years and also my experience of living and breathing feminism for almost the whole of my life. I start, as all feminists surely must, with my personal story.
The personal is political
I grew up, the middle one of three girls, in an aspiring middle-class family in Scotland’s fourth-largest city, Dundee. When we were small, my parents made the momentous decision to emigrate to New Zealand – to leave behind the none-too-warm climate and hopefully make a better life in a new land. But then my granny became ill, and they were not willing to leave her, so I never knew the highs and lows of emigration. My world remained firmly small-town, East coast Scotland, until I left home to go to university, with fees paid and a maximum grant, the first in my family to enjoy such a privilege.
There is so much that can be unpicked about this story…I could reflect on what it was like to grow up in the 1950s in a family of three girls, close in age, with all the delights of closeness and competition that were inevitably part-and-parcel of that childhood.
I could think about my parents’ decision not to leave, and what that was about, for my grandparents and for themselves. What were the repercussions of this decision, at the time and then years later? And I could consider the intersections of social class and gender and ethnicity in my story. However
I try to make sense of my upbringing, the fact remains. Thanks to my parents, I grew up believing that we—as girls—should not be dependent on a man for our happiness. We should stand on our own feet and make our own successes in life, whatever they might be. We should also care for others—family, friends, community—we had a duty to each other (Christian teaching came to the fore here). And these values were demonstrated and, at the same time, undermined, in all the small and large contradictions and complexities that are inevitably part of growing up.
Leaving home, I found a language for the feelings of injustice that I experienced as a Scottish, grant-aided, female student now living and studying at an ancient university. The women’s movement and the
“broad Left” became my twin passions, and although my academic grades were never great, I learned a huge amount about life, love and the world. I went on to become a community worker and later social worker, taking with me into adult life all the mélange that had been my life to date. As the popular feminist slogan reminds us: the personal is political.1
Feminism and social work
Social work has had an uneasy relationship with feminism. In some ways, it has always been feminist, in that since its beginnings, it has been concerned with social justice and Viviene Cree University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Viviene Cree [email protected] AOTEAROA
NEW ZEALAND SOCIAL WORK 30(3), 4–7.
with the well-being and living conditions of those who have lacked power—and this has often meant women and children. So, in the late 19th century when social workers began to set up settlement houses at universities, housing projects in poor parts of cities, and visiting charities for the sick and elderly, their clients were often women, or women and children. And many of the early social workers were also women—upper- and middle-class women who found adventure in charity work, escaping the confines of their constrained lifestyles by engaging in
“good deeds”. But early social work was, in reality, far from feminist in its aspirations or value-base. The upper- and middle-class social workers saw no contradiction in exploiting the working-class women who looked after their households and children while they engaged in “good works”. They also had no qualms about removing children from women who could not afford to look after them in order to give them what they judged to be a “better life”. 2
This story is a familiar one across the developed world, but it is the UK history I know best.As social work became institutionalised through government legislation designed to offer a measure of protection and welfare to individuals and families, so social workers became increasingly employed within local
government agencies. At the same time, new voluntary agencies sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s, some, like Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, with an overtly feminist orientation.
It is not surprising that, at this time, social work and social workers came under attack, accused by feminist sociologists and psychologists alike of neglecting the needs and rights of women. This was demonstrated in no uncertain terms by the sociologist Mary Maynard’s (1985) analysis of social work case-files; she identified that social workers routinely minimised harm, encouraging women to remain in home situations that were often difficult and dangerous.
While social work was being accused by some in the 1980s of being anti-woman
and anti-feminist, there were also many social workers at the time who were openly feminist; radical social workers and community workers who sought to bring about change, not only in their work with women, but also in social work with men. Much of the really innovative work happened in projects designed to support women. But criminal justice social work also sought to challenge and change men’s negative behaviours, in group work settings especially. Meanwhile across the world, women got together to fight for women’s rights, taking on issues such as rape, women’s education and, more recently, female genital mutilation.3
Student social workers and feminism
I conducted research on social work students’ views of feminism in Edinburgh, Sydney and Auckland in 2008 and 2009, and then again at six universities across the UK in 2013, with the help of my PhD student, Janan Dean. The research showed two prevailing attitudes towards feminism amongst students:
“I’m not a feminist but ...” (“I support women’s rights and believe that women should be treated fairly etc.”) and “I am a feminist but ...” (“I am not anti-men, segregationalist etc.”). (Cree & Dean, 2015, p. 907)
In reality, there was very little distance between the two sets of opinions; on the contrary, there was a lot of agreement about the issues (which included the importance of women’s rights, equality of opportunity, challenging gender-based violence, etc.). The feminism which students identified with was a feminism that was very different to the
“bra-burning” stereotypes of “second-wave”
Women’s Liberation; instead, it was diverse, contradictory, and allowed for individual choice. As one 25-year-old woman said:
“There are as many feminisms as there are women. It’s a really difficult concept to pin down” (Cree & Dean, 2015, p. 907).
Reflecting on this in a journal article published in 2015, Janan and I acknowledged that students and faculty members’ experience of feminism may be very different, not least because of differences in age and background.
We concluded that there was no single way of being a feminist, just as there was no single way of being a woman. We therefore needed to find ways of opening up conversations about feminism, exploring what a feminist understanding might bring to social work theory, policy and practice. We suggested that feminism offered opportunities to interrogate the everyday and to ground knowledge in experience (Harding, 1987); to question the taken-for-granted and disrupt “settled ways of thinking”, to borrow a phrase from Connell (1989, p. xii) (Cree & Dean, 2015 p. 918).4 Recent challenges to feminism Ruth Phillips from the University of Sydney and I have written about feminism more recently, firstly in a journal article published in 2014 and then again in a book chapter that will come out in 2019. In the first publication, we considered the place of “fourth wave”
feminism in teaching social work, and did so, firstly, by locating the discussion in our herstories—our own autobiographies. These highlighted that, in spite of the geographical distance between us, our paths were very similar. We were, without any shadow of doubt, “typical” feminists: white, middle- class, middle-aged, colonising nation, Western women. We were (so we wrote), illustrative of “the hegemonic danger of the dominant second wave” (Phillips & Cree, 2014, p. 936). And yet, we had both lived our lives trying to challenge and change both ourselves and feminism. We had brought up sons to be pro-feminist men, we had sought opportunities to work with men and with women, we had conducted research with disadvantaged groups wherever they were located. And in all of this, we had sought to challenge essentialising discourses (which tell us that “women are x” and “men are y”).
Our current book chapter takes this analysis even further. Here we argue that the global
North may have lost its way in a deluge of identity politics; it has lost sight of what was, and is, important about feminism. We point out that real and persistent inequalities remain, but these can sometimes be obscured by a policy and practice agenda that seems to have embraced feminism—when male politicians from both the political Right and Left are willing to wear t-shirts that declare themselves to be feminists, what hope is there for feminism as a revolutionary force? We argue that feminism has been co-opted and commodified, at least in Western democratic contexts. Meanwhile, debates within feminism (often expressed through social media) threaten to fracture it completely; quarrels within feminism about emancipation, intersectionality, free speech, sex work, pornography, trans people’s rights etc., etc., show no sign of abating. The
#metoo movement which came to public attention in October 2017 and has remained viral ever since is one such manifestation, as women (and some men) highlight sexual harassment and assault while others argue that this campaign distracts from wider issues of power and inequality, and encourages ideas of women’s vulnerability and lack of agency.
Ruth and I conclude that it is the global South that reminds us why feminism remains a vital force today. It is here that feminists are engaging on a daily basis with the consequences of the history of colonisation; here racism and sexism go hand-in-hand and here too we can see the emergence of intersectional, anti-racist and decolonising practices that are, we argue, indicative of good social work. We end by quoting the work of Saba Mahmood, who suggests that our scholarly practice should depart “not from a position of certainty but one of risk, critical engagement and a willingness to reevaluate one’s own views in light of the Other’s” (2001, p. 225).5
Finally, looking ahead
And so we come full circle. I hope I have demonstrated throughout this short article
that, to grasp the potential for a feminist social work theory and practice in social work, we must first think about why we think this is a good idea, and for whom.
What is it that we seek to challenge and change, and why? What is it about us—our personal biographies and backgrounds, our historical moment in time, our class, gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality—that leads us to embrace feminism, whatever we take this to mean? And while we are pursuing a feminist agenda, what are we not seeing? Whose stories are ignored or undermined by our analyses?
Looking ahead, I believe that we must all use the potential that feminism has to speak truth to power—to campaign for social justice and equality, to fight for the human rights of oppressed peoples, and this inevitably means for the rights of women and children.
But in doing so, we must also always ask questions about things that we take for granted. In social work terms, this means we must interrogate the very ideas and practices that our profession holds dear, and challenge assumptions, both our own and those of others. This is a great place to start if we are to co-create a truly feminist social work theory and practice in the future.
1 Another version of this story is told in an online blog posted in 2013.
2 For a fuller account of the various waves of feminism, see Phillips and Cree (2014).
3 The bibliography includes publications that demonstrate the interest in feminism in social work in the 1980s and 1990s.
4 Both research studies are discussed in Cree and Dean (2015).
5 Our chapter will be published in Webb’s edited collection in 2019.
Brook, E., & Davis A. (Eds.). (1985). Women: The family and social work. London, UK: Tavistock.
Cavanagh, K., & Cree, V. E. (Eds.). (1996). Working with men. Feminism and social work. London, UK: Routledge.
Connell, R. W. (1989). Cool guys, wimps and swots, the interplay of masculinity and education, Oxford Review of Education, 15(3), 291–303.
Cree, V. E. (2013). “I’ve always been a feminist but …” [Blog post], ESRC Moral Panic Seminar Series, 2012–2014.
Retrieved from https://moralpanicseminarseries.wordpress.
Cree, V. E., & Dean, J. S. (2015). Exploring social work students’ attitudes to feminism: Opening up conversations. Social Work Education:
The International Journal, 34(8), 903–920.
Cree, V. E., & Phillips, R. (forthcoming 2019). Feminist contributions to critical social work. In S. A. Webb (Ed.), Routledge handbook of critical social work. London, UK:
Dale, J., & Foster, P. (1986). Feminists and state welfare.
London, UK: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Dobash, R. E., & Dobash, R. P. (1979). Violence against wives: A case against the patriarchy. New York, NY: Free Press.
Dobash, R. E., & Dobash, R. P. (1992). Women, violence and social change. London, UK: Routledge.
Dominelli, L., & McLeod, E. (1989). Feminist social work.
Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.
Hanmer, J., & Statham, D. (1988). Women and social work:
Towards a woman centred practice. London, UK:
Harding, S. (1987). Feminism and methodology. Social science issues. Bloomington IN: Indiana University Press.
Kelly, L. (1987). Surviving sexual violence. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Langan, M., & Day, L. (1992). Women, oppression and social work: Issues in anti-discriminatory practice. London, UK: Routledge.
Mahmood, S. (2001). Feminist theory, embodiment and the docile agent: Some reflections on the Egyptian Islamic revival. Cultural Anthropology, 16(2), 202–236.
Maynard, M. (1985). The response of social workers to domestic violence. In J. Pahl (Ed.), Private violence and public policy: The needs of battered women and the response of the public services. London, UK: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Phillips, R., & Cree, V. E. (2014). What does the “fourth wave” mean for teaching feminism in 21st century social work? Social Work Education: The International Journal, 33(7), 930–943. doi:10.1080/02615479.2014.885007 Phillipson, J. (1992). Practising equality: Women, men and
social work. London, UK: Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.
Wilson, E. (1977). Women and the welfare state. London, UK: Tavistock.
Creating space for a critical feminist social work pedagogy
INTRODUCTION: The practice and teaching of western social work is shaped within the
institutional context of a predominately managerial higher education sector and neoliberal societal context that valorises the individual. Critical feminist social work educators face constraints and challenges when trying to imagine, co-construct, enact and improve ways to engage in the communal relationality of critical feminist pedagogy.
APPROACH: In this article, the authors draw upon the literature and use a reflective, inductive approach to explore and analyse observations made about efforts to engage with a subversive pedagogy whilst surviving in the neoliberal academy.
CONCLUSION: While the article draws on experiences of social work teaching and research in a regional Australian university, the matters explored are likely to have resonance for social work education in other parts of the world. A tentative outline for thinking about the processes involved in co-creating a critical feminist pedagogical practice is offered.
KEYWORDS: critical feminist pedagogy; intersectionality; social work education; critical hope;
Sarah B. Epstein sarah.epstein@
NEW ZEALAND SOCIAL WORK 30(3), 8–18.
Sarah B. Epstein, Norah HoskenandSevi Vassos, School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Australia.
Social work is a profession with a stated commitment to the principles and goals of social justice and human rights. Critical social workers take up these principles by casting a lens on the way that power is constructed, used and reproduced. Critical feminist social workers foreground women’s diverse experiences of personal, cultural and structural injustice, aiming to make visible women’s diverse lived experiences to form the core knowledge base from which to work towards socially just practice. Critical feminist social work pedagogy, shaped by these ideas of what social work is, commits to circulating knowledge about the effects of power. The goal is to enable an ongoing, mutual (re)construction and sharing of the knowledge and skills required to imagine
and enact socially just practice. However, the practice and teaching of social work is not context-free, therefore, the profession at large is conditioned by the “social structures, discourses and systems in which it is placed”
(Macfarlane, 2016, p. 326). As such, the current and dominant context in which social work education is conditioned are the standardising outcome-based measures of the neoliberal university system. The neoliberal paradigm regulates difference (Burke, 2015), obscures the particular and devalues process. These impacts leave social work education at risk of being complicit in a system that is not capable of accounting for the multiplicity of knowledge and diversity of lived experience, let alone the nuances of the pedagogical process. This article
represents an attempt at non-compliance with neoliberal hegemony. We (the authors) choose to highlight the particulars of a critical feminist social work pedagogy that aims to make visible the relations of power that condition the lived experiences of educators, students and service users.
Based on an examination of relevant literature and use of a reflective, inductive approach, we explore and analyse
observations made about efforts to engage with a subversive pedagogy whilst surviving in the neoliberal academy. The aim is to provide a way of thinking about the processes involved in co-creating a community of learning and practice situated in critical feminist social work pedagogy.
The article is structured as follows. First, we introduce and locate ourselves as the collaborative authors of this article. Second, we situate the aims of this article within Australian and international critical feminist social work pedagogy and the ideology and practices of neoliberalism within the higher education context. We draw on anecdotal and structured observations from our learning and practice throughout the article to elucidate understandings of the constraints and challenges we have routinely faced in imagining, co-constructing, enacting and improving ways to engage in the communal relationality of critical feminist pedagogy.
Acknowledging and exploring the benefits of intersectionality
In positivist, scientific epistemology there is an emphasis on the importance of a neutral, objective stance as a method to eliminate subjective interpretations from the pursuit of knowledge. In contrast, feminist researchers, writers and academics generally contest the assumption that an objectivity free of social context is possible. Further, feminists assert this claim to objectivity often serves to conceal a privileged, dominant, white masculine bias (Smith, 1987). In line with other feminists, rather than striving for objectivity in this article and our work,
we commit to practise ongoing critical reflexivity aiming to recognise, examine and understand how our own social locations can influence the construction of knowledge (Hesse-Biber, 2014).
As the three authors of this article, we locate ourselves within our contexts to provide the reader with this information in order to consider its relevance to our discussion and the arguments we make. We share some similarities: being non-Indigenous, Euro settler-background, middle-aged, mothers and social work educators who are living, teaching and learning on the lands of the first nation peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Following significant periods of direct service work, we each completed PhDs as mature-aged students and became social work educators. An interest in critical social work, feminisms, difference, collaboration, situatedness, relationality, complementarity, and survival in the university system, brought us together. We are curious and constantly seek to learn more about our differences across lived experiences of religion, spirituality, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, health, socialisation, personality, knowledge and skill sets.
In the next section, we situate the purpose of this article, developing a tentative outline for thinking about the processes involved in co-creating a critical feminist pedagogical practice within an examination of relevant national and international literature. Following Wickramasinghe (2009, p. 112), the engagement with the literature is presented as a “distinctly epistemic project … a subjective process of knowledge production and meaning-making
… reliant on the [authors’] …subjectivity and standpoint”, rather than an account of all available scholarly research on the topics.
Each discussion of a section of the literature is followed by reflective observations explaining how we engage with, and try to enact, the ideas from the literature.
Social work education within the neoliberal context
Academic life in the neoliberal university is fast paced and every move the academic makes must be tracked, measured and capable of fitting into standardised data sets and the allocated fields of numerous forms (Clegg & David, 2006; David, 2015; Hosken, 2017; Kovacs, Hutchison, Collins, & Linde, 2013; McKusker, 2017; Mountz et al., 2015).
The neoliberal paradigm of competency- based outcomes focuses on measuring individual (teacher and student) outputs and standardising teaching outcomes (Clegg &
David, 2006). The pedagogical relationship between teacher and student, as well as the learning relationships between and among class cohorts, are devalued and diminished (McKusker, 2017; Mountz et al., 2015).
Within this context, it is increasingly difficult to make visible a pedagogical process grounded in the way that lived experiences (of teacher, student and service user) reflect the multiple systems of oppression and privilege. This is particularly important for the social work pedagogue who tries to embody socially just social work practice.
Feminist social work pedagogues argue that the current neoliberal paradigm represents the antithesis of critical pedagogies, including feminism. Critical pedagogies place priority on recognising the role that social locations and processes play in the ongoing production of knowledge and relations of oppression and privilege (Luke, 1996; Macfarlane, 2016; McKusker, 2017; Mountz et al., 2015). This matters to the teaching of social work practice because the focus of social work, whether it be traditional, radical, progressive, case management focused or grounded in critical theory, is that the client must be considered in light of the social, cultural, political, economic context in which they are positioned (Fook, 2012).
Without the ability or incentive to work with context, the joint social work and feminist goal of transforming society is replaced
with the reproduction of “oppressive social arrangements” (Kovacs et al., 2013, p. 234).
Feminist pedagogy aims to destabilise the status quo (Crabtree & Sapp, 2003) in order to work towards social change. This positions both the feminist educator and, potentially, her students in opposition to dominant and powerful structures and practices. Therefore, it is not in the best interests of the neoliberal university to support feminist pedagogical goals (Crabtree &
Sapp, 2003). However, the authors of this article believe it is the responsibility of feminist social work pedagogy to work out ways to do so. Asserting the production of knowledges as the core business of university education, this article reveals the privileging of lived experiences as a core critical feminist social work pedagogy.
Lived experience pays attention to who determines which knowledges shape understanding and response in social work practice, and whose knowledges are reflected in the laws, policies and practices that restrict the lives of non-dominant groups including social work service users.
The views from these standpoints of lived experience are not considered as pure windows to truth or reality but rather a place to start investigation (Smith, 1987). Smith’s (2005) and Sprague’s (2005, p. 52) reading of standpoint theory is adopted in this article as that “which builds strategically on contrasting social locations” to explore the implications of both material realities and fluidities. We aim to take up Collin’s (2009, p. xi) challenge to “place the social structural and interpretative/narrative approaches to social reality in dialogue with one another”.
Feminist and Indigenist perspectives recognise that, by actively including, indeed centring or foregrounding, the experiences and knowledges of those who have been marginalised, we generate fuller accounts of knowledge. The greater the involvement of peoples who have been discriminated against, the higher the possibility that pedagogy and curriculum can include lived experiences, and other forms of knowledge.
Pedagogy and curriculum that are inclusive
of diverse experiences and knowledges improve how social work students engage in critical self-reflection, learn to work with others and contribute to democratising the generation of knowledge (Finn & Jacobsen, 2003).
Reflection: The need for imagina- tion and community
Collectively our experience in the university has taught us that the measure of success in the neo-liberal academy is not determined by deeply thought through pedagogical decision making and practices of the academic. Nor is success measured by including diverse and collaborative co-constructions of knowledge. How well a teaching team talks to each other about what it is they do in the classroom and why they have chosen to do it has no subject line in a course review.
Instead, success in the academic system is determined via individual metrics of performance and achievement of standardised and universal outcomes.
Attached to this are timelines for handing in cohort statistics and tracking percentages that require us to think about our students and ourselves as measurable units. In the meantime, using a calculator and spreadsheet to account for a whole term of teaching steals time from us.
The entirety of neoliberal policy,
procedure and social relations conditions our work selves and our work lives closing down space for discussion and critique of the university (Blackmore, 2007; Hil, 2012; Hosken, 2017). Formal attempts to speak out about the impacts of neoliberalism that preclude the provision of considered, quality teaching have, as elsewhere (Bessant, 2014), been met with disregard, reprimand and ridicule.
We have been working together for over three years now and as the pressure built, we began talking, at first informally, off campus, over food and wine and by the
sea. We needed the space to think deeply, to test ideas, to argue about feminism, about social work, about the best ways to reflect socially just social work practice inside the academy. We needed time to identify the social, cultural, political and economic context of the workplace, of the world in which our students lived and where their future clients come from. We met to make visible the particularities of who we felt we were and who we thought we wanted to become. We needed an environment where we could test out our own transformative potential before we could justify making these demands of our students. If we were to teach students to respect the similarities and differences in the lived experiences of clients’ lives, we needed to immerse ourselves in a space where we bore witness to, and validated, each other’s lives.
These informal meetings solidified the impetus to create a space where we could be immersed in context in order to work out how to change it, to work in ways that foster “critical hope”
(Leonard, 1979, cited in Pease, Goldingay, Hosken, & Nipperess, 2016) and where we could imagine what collaboration looked like. Paying attention to each other’s lived experiences of working in the university made us aware of the criticality of working out ways to do this not only with ourselves but also with our students and so we decided to come in from the margins. This mutual, critical sociological imagination (Mills, 1959) is subversive in countering the ideological rhetoric discourse of “there is no other alternative” to the individualism inherent in neoliberalism. Now, formally we meet, discuss, share, and develop teaching and research ideas and we have made ourselves visible as Critical Edge Women (CrEW).
Understanding what feminist pedagogy means in the higher education teaching
and learning context starts with identifying what feminism means in the 21st century.
Contemporary feminist analysis recognises that gender cannot be the sole analytical category if we are to truly recognise and understand the multiple social locations in which women are positioned (Gray &
Boddy, 2010). However, the personal is political feminist statement remains as salient and useful as ever. This is because feminist analysis seeks to understand the complex cultural discourses and multiple structural systems that women interact with and through which women’s lived experiences are shaped (Clegg & David, 2006).
The feminist cause is also about identifying opportunities for agency and equality at both the individual but also the social and collective levels (Dore, 1994; Clegg & David, 2006; Gray & Boddy, 2010). This is a key reason why feminist academics consider the learning and teaching context as a viable, legitimate and important location for activism. The integration of activism in pedagogical activity affords students opportunities to engage experientially with the practice of socially just social work with service users.
Reflection: CrEW as a space for feminist activism
As Critical Edge Women (CrEW) we meet formally on a regular basis in the university workplace. While gender is not the sole analytic category we employ to make sense of our lived experiences in the teaching and learning space, the personal as political is the starting point for identifying the complex discourses and structural systems that condition our academic selves. Ensuring that there are regular and substantial amounts of time allocated for critical collective discussion provides reprieve from the isolated siloing that is a function of the neoliberal paradigm. In this space, we are not sole practitioners making teaching and learning choices. Instead, we assume
relational positions as critical friends in discussion with a view to supporting each other to sharpen our thinking and improve the depth and quality of our work.
Collectively we occupy different cultural, class and religious social locations. We have arrived at academia via different theoretical and feminist avenues. Our social work practice experiences come from health systems, community organisations, feminist collectives and the violence against women sector. Some of us work full time and one works part time. We live regionally and in urban environments. We are all carers with differently aged children in fluid stages of love, resentment and hope for the world, our partners, our children and our lives. We argue, and we rage, and we rely on our differences to hold each other accountable to our assumptions, partial understandings and biases. These discussions carry through into our wider interactions, the questions we ask, the curriculum choices we make and the shape of our interactions with students.
As a social and collective space, CrEW creates opportunities for us to identify potential for agentic activity; that is, what do we want to change, how are we positioned in ways to be able to enact change and what would this activity look like? The first step was to legitimate collective, formal space to take time back and create opportunity for understanding and co-construction of knowledge.
Primarily, CrEW is an attempt to work out all of the ways the university as a teaching and learning space can be a location for our feminist activism.
Feminisms and social work
There is a strong argument for the place of feminism in social work education that is about more than the disproportionate over- representation of women in the profession and the service user populations (Morley,
2009; Payne, 2014). Feminist practice in Australian social work was first articulated in the 1970s and was an attempt to address the gender blindness of social work (Morley, 2009). Feminism and social work share fundamental principles and indeed reflect shared philosophies and goals (Dore, 1994).
Both the Australian Association of Social Workers and the International Federation of Social Workers identify human rights and social justice as core values and objectives.
Violence against women and girls, economic disadvantage and patriarchal culture and politics all pose a significant threat to women’s human rights and obstruct social justice. Gender equity issues that impact on the lives of service users who identify as female is consequently core business for social work. Further, in the recent compilation of Contemporary Feminism in Social Work Practice, the editors assert that feminism is indeed fundamental to both social work ethics and values but also professional identity and practice (Wendt &
Reflection: Collective nourishment to imagine, hope and be imperfect In the CrEW discussions and space, we provided and felt the healing protection of loyalty and care in a community. This provided safety, nourishment and the
“capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist” (Lederach, 2005, p.
ix). Inspired by Audre Lorde (2007), we longed for something different:
The possible shapes of what has not been before exist only in that back place where we keep those unnamed, untamed longings for something different and beyond what is now called possible, and to which our understanding can only build roads.
(Lorde, 2007, p. 121)
As we learned and explored more about each other’s social locations we felt more
knowledgeable. Ideas were shared for creating relational spaces with students where their lived experiences and diverse social locations become part of creating the pedagogy and content of the subjects we taught. Often, straight after the excitement of sharing ideas, we came up against the realisation that enacting this relational space with students would be invisible, unvalued and unpaid work in the academy; work that often stole time away from us and our families. We would oscillate between feeling hopeless and feeling critical hope (Leonard, 1979, cited in Pease et al., 2016). Encouragement and strength was gained from reading and sharing the works of other feminist academics about their efforts to resist neoliberalism, particularly by the calls for “collectivity”
and “slow scholarship” (Mountz et al., 2015). Discussions about the inevitable imperfection of trying to embody the values and beliefs of feminist social work within the worst of neoliberal times made us sad, but also enabled us to be less judgemental about others and ourselves. Openness about our strategic, or just exhausted, complicity in neoliberal organisational values and practices allowed us to consider the material reality of the dominance of neoliberalism.
Rather than setting ourselves up as heroic feminist social work activists, we allowed ourselves to imagine and imperfectly try to resist or transform, often in small ways. Humility came from awareness of the privilege of aspects of our own situations. This privilege included having a relatively high wage generating disposable income and good housing as compared to the lives of many of our female identifying students, and the service users they worked with on placement, as they lived in poverty, juggled demands of caring, and faced discrimination and micro-aggressions without the protections afforded by a secure income. These disadvantages we framed as human rights concerns and in the CrEW space we began to map out
the gender equity issues and intersecting systems of oppression that faced both our students and their social work clients.
Critical feminist social work
Critical social work sits within the tradition of progressive social work and is informed by critical theory. Macfarlane (2016, p. 327) defines critical social work as:
…A social work lens that acknowledges and addresses: structural inequalities and inequitable power dynamics; the impact of discourse on lived experience;
the importance of diverse knowledge systems, social work values and ethics;
and critical reflection for progressive practice.
In essence, this means that critical social work seeks to understand the way that power is constructed, used and reproduced.
Some of the ways that critical social workers do this include: questioning assumptions about truth and knowledge that are taken for granted; seeking information from multiple sources to deepen understandings of lived experiences; recognising that the personal is political and our everyday actions are political in nature; and
acknowledging that language is powerful in both reflecting and reproducing discourse as well as capable of introducing alternative discourses.
Critical social workers have a longstanding interest in the emancipation of the
oppressed as well as an interest in the ways in which oppressed groups exercise agency and personal power. More
recently, critical social work has turned the focus on relations of power towards the machinations of privilege in order to redress and understand the marginalising and othering effects of objectifying oppressed groups, communities, cultures and people (Pease et al., 2016). This attention to the behaviours of those who benefit from discrimination aims to re-distribute responsibility for change.
Critical social work has been influenced by feminist principles and goals (Allan et al., 2009). Many critical social workers argue that enacting critical social work practice demands consideration of gender inequality and the intersections at which clients who identify as women are positioned in ongoing ways (Allan, Briskman, &
Pease, 2009; Fook, 2012; Pease et al., 2016).
Critical feminist social work seeks to understand how women’s experiences engage with other systems of oppression in order to understand discrimination and disadvantage at the intersections of race, class, culture, age, ability and sexuality (Briskin & Coulter, 1992; Shrewsbury, 1998;
Webber, 2006). Critical feminist social work takes stock of what gender equality and social justice look like and considers the role that social work can play in achieving them.
A critical feminist social work approach suggests there are some unifying principles that are used to co-create a critical feminist pedagogy and practice which is informed by, and suited to, the local context. In Australia, critical feminist pedagogy has to be informed by the history and ongoing realities of colonisation, invasion and whiteness, and the need to foreground the works of Aboriginal social work academics.
Reflection: Interrogating the white- ness of Australian social work and foregrounding the works of Abo- riginal social work academics.
Drawing on the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars and their allies (Bennett, 2013, 2015;
Bennett, Green, Gilbert, & Bessarab, 2013;
Bennett, Redfern, & Zubrzycki, 2017;
Green & Baldry, 2008, 2013; Land, 2012, 2015; Zubrzycki et al., 2014), we aimed to learn and prioritise the processes of problematising and decolonising ourselves and our teaching. Examples of this included contributing to efforts to increase the diversity of the social work teaching team to better reflect the
demographic of social work students and service users. Another example is situating the works of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars in positions of prominence in curriculum alerting students to the cutting-edge nature of this knowledge for social work, rather than Indigenous content being a discrete add-on topic at the end of units of study.
We have built on the work of others to adapt and develop ways to engage with students in a process of exploring the intersectionality of oppression and privilege in our lives and social work practice.
Critical feminist social work pedagogy
The teaching of women’s studies, the advent of self-identified feminist academics and the articulation of feminist pedagogy is approximately 50 years young (David, 2015).
Despite this, feminist academics have been prolific contributors to both research and the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Feminist pedagogy has come to be a priority for feminists in the academy (Baiada &
Jensen-Moulton, 2006). However, there is not one singular approach as feminist pedagogy also reflects the diversity of the feminist academic cohort (Webber, 2006).
The feminist scholarship of teaching and learning offers a critique of traditional pedagogy (Cuesta & Witt, 2014). Overall, the feminist pedagogical project focuses on resistance to phallocentric knowledges (Luke, 1996; Ylostalo & Brunila, 2017) understanding gendered relations of power and making these power arrangements visible (Briskin & Coulter, 1992; Webber, 2006). Feminist pedagogues argue that traditional pedagogy and phallocentric knowledges obscure women’s lived experiences, histories, achievements, concerns and entitlements. Feminist pedagogy is a driving force that shifts the focus of study towards understanding the lived experiences of women (Borshuk, 2017;
Cuesta & Witt, 2014; David, 2015; Dore, 1994;
Forrest & Rosenberg, 1997; Kovacs et al., 2013; McCusker, 2017; Shrewsbury, 1993;
Chung, 2016). Gender and its intersections with race, class, culture, age, ability and sexuality, is the core analytic category that distinguishes feminist pedagogy from other forms of critical pedagogical theories (Briskin & Coulter, 1992).
Feminist pedagogy is complex because it is informed by, and interacts with, theory and practice connected to broader feminist struggle, therefore the pedagogical goal is concerned with contributing to change in gender relations on a societal level. Critical feminist social work pedagogy also bears in mind the service users’ own gendered positioning. Further, it looks at pedagogical strategies for ensuring accountability to the client for the production of knowledge and descriptions of her experience that reproduce problematic categories of identity. In so doing, feminist critical social work pedagogy works with knowledges that reveal the personal, cultural and structural contexts within which the service user is positioned. It also privileges lived experience in efforts to bring her in from the margins and promote social work practice that does not other her. Critical feminist social work pedagogy aligns with the centrality of women’s lived experiences in “understanding and the development of knowledge” (David, 2004, p. 103). This is the hallmark of feminist pedagogy.
Reflection: Bridging the gap through collective action
As early career academics, we have often felt overwhelmed by the publish-or-perish culture that permeates the neoliberal academy. Our ideal is to contribute well to social work scholarship in ways that align coherently with our critical feminist social work ethos. Our practical reality is the institutional push to continually demonstrate our value in terms of the number and impact of our research publications. The credibility gap between our ideal and our reality was often the main theme in our early discussions as
the CrEW. Through these discussions, we started to become aware of how we had actively committed to a process of mutual engagement, at a level that was deeper than the professional relationships we had established in our work in other groups within the neoliberal academy.
Most importantly, in line with our critical feminist values, we were continually negotiating issues of power, collegiality, competition and trust as part of our mutual engagement. We were starting to build a shared repertoire of practices, language and history that enabled a collective approach to meaning making.
Ultimately, we were carving out a space within which we could start visualising different ways to respond to the neoliberal metrics defining our expected work outputs, whilst simultaneously resisting neoliberal ways of working.
The next step was to join up our individual work goals and position ourselves to capitalise on the power of collectivity. More specifically, we committed to joining as the CrEW in our research and advocacy work around women and social work pedagogy. At the time of making this commitment, we were all working on different research and writing projects individually. Although we each had a basic understanding of each other’s work, it was not until the decision to join up around some of this work that we started to more fully appreciate the differences in our thinking models and approaches to the work in this space. We discovered that homogeneity of individual work goals is not a precondition for achieving a joined up approach to our work.
Rather, we experience our differences as a productive force. It is the ongoing process of collective negotiation around these differences that propels our shared accountability and coherence as a community of learning.
We currently have three projects that we are working on. The first project is our
reflection on the development of CrEW as a community of learning situated within a critical feminist social work pedagogy.
The second draws together reflections on how we use critical hope and knowledge co-creation as pedagogical strategies to resist and disrupt the neoliberal discourses and regimes of the higher education system. The third is a mixed methods study that seeks to deepen understandings of the lived experience of social work students with caring responsibilities on placement. Our aim is to co-author all articles and co-lead the advocacy activities emerging from this joint work.
Social workers are in a privileged and unique position to bear witness to women’s storied lives. Feminist social work pedagogues therefore have the opportunity to learn with and teach each other, and students, about the importance of these stories in order to understand the conditions in which women live. In this article, we have engaged with the literature and our own observations to sketch out some of the principles and process we are using to co-create practices situated in critical feminist social work pedagogy, from our social locations in the Australian context. Our work started with conversations that sought to place social structural and interpretative/narrative approaches to social reality whilst also acknowledging and exploring the benefits of intersectionality.
These conversations fuelled the desire to create a space for community and collective nourishment to imagine, hope and be imperfect. During our conversations we continually acknowledged the normality of oscillation between feeling hopeless and feeling critical hope in the imperfect process of trying to resist the metrics of individualism within neoliberalism. We also interrogated the whiteness of Australian social work and foregrounded the works of Aboriginal social work academics. The work continued by joining up our work goals, collaborating and sharing our work efforts
ultimately for the benefit of the students and service users we work with. The next step for us will be explicitly exploring with students how to improve our attempts at feminist pedagogical practice. We share these experiences, processes and principles as part of contribution to a conversation and, in the hope they may have relevance for others to adapt for other social locations and contexts.
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