Critical approaches to racism and colonialism in Social Work Education: a response to sceneries of exception?
The symposium unravels the entangled debates of critical approaches to racism and diversity in Social Work education (SWE). The solidarity with "Black lives matter" and "Rhodes must fall" movements as well as responses to the political crisis, which forces people into displacement, refugee status and precarious living conditions in Europe, have extensively put critical approaches to racism and diversity on the agenda of SWE. For educators, these examples leave little question that the normative view of acknowledgement of diversity and oppression is a key attitude for Social Workers. Our symposium aims at delivering a balanced assessment of the merits and shortcomings of this normative view. How far can the discussion on the deconstruction of racialized power hierarchies within SWE go and to what extent can its key insights be translated into curricula and classroom practices?
The contributions in this session combine a theoretical discussion of anti-racist approaches, a semantic analysis of its broader conceptual landscape, and an empirical analysis on how critical perspectives on racism are addressed and studied in the frame of a research seminar in Social Work. Together they assess the potentials that critical approaches to racism offer Social Workers to respond to the crises of worsening social and historical injustices of our time; question current 'global' debates on the approaches and their impact on the design of Social Work study programs; and explore practical ways, challenges and opportunities when implementing the approaches in teaching.
Lisa Mends will discuss the relevance of critical perspectives on racism for the social work profession responding to current crises and the possibilities of integrating these approaches in SWE. Sandra Holtgreve will map out the semantic landscape of decolonization in the IFSW discussions on the Global Agenda and argue for a more nuanced discussion. Nina Westerholt uses the research seminar “An anti-racist analysis of SWE in Germany”, to reflect on the process of teaching and researching about racism with a critical mindset. She provides empirical examples from teachers' and students’ experiences of the course.
Presentations of the Symposium
The relevance of anti-racist perspectives in Social Work and Social Work Education
This paper is to explore the need for anti-racist perspectives in social work in times of crisis, it analyses its implications for the profession and social work education.
Crises of our times have in common that their existential character jeopardizes social justice and poses the risk of exacerbating existing social inequalities and injustices (e.g. Beltrán et al. 2016; Ioakimidis et al. 2014; Zavirsek 2017). In today’s world with postcolonial and post-migrant societies, the question who has to suffer from inequality and injustice is still determined by racial lines and power dynamics, therefore it is important to examine root causes, forms and consequences of crises with a critical perspective on racism. The “migrant crisis“, e.g., being political, humanitarian and social crisis combined, can be seen as “an unresolved racial crisis“ in postcolonial Europe (De Genova 2017). The principle and aim of achieving social justice and challenging discrimination being a core identity of Social Work (ISFW 2018; ISFW/ IASSW 2014), calls the profession to live up to the ambition of deconstructing racialized power hierarchies and empowering marginalized groups most affected by the consequences of a crisis.
In this talk, I will outline the various interconnections between racism and social work. I will give an overview of possibilities how to put critical approaches on racism into practice within the SWE context, from lecturers and students to curricula and universities infrastructure. Racial discrimination is a crucial life experience of clients in social work and is therefore a topic of concern for the profession. However, social work itself, with its institutions, actors, history, theories and practice, is embedded in societal structures affected by racialized power hierarchies, discourses and actions. Social Workers, being part of society and structure, can display internalized racist ideas, communications and practices within the professional context too (Melter 2015, 2018). Anti-racist perspectives and attitudes must therefore be a substantial part of the training and role of future social workers (Hunner-Kreisel/ Wetzel 2018; Prasad 2020). It is needed to implement and expand self-reflexive approaches and critical perspectives on racism and its implications, targeting the involved actors and institutional structures (Gutiérrez-Rodríguez et al. 2016).
Semantic landscapes of ‘decolonization’ in the Global Agenda 2020-2030
In this presentation I will outline how post- and decolonial approaches are embedded in the discussions of the Global Agenda 2020-2030 and how this debate may affect social work education in the coming years. In July 2020 social workers from all over the world discussed the new Global Agenda of the profession at the conference of the International Federation of Social Workers. In these discussions, the colonial dimension of social work came to the fore: they highlighted how historical injustices permeated the profession and accepted decolonization as an undeniable goal. At the same time, the narratives remain vague about what this normative standpoint on decolonization of social work implies and how educators can prepare social workers for this task. A corpus driven lexicographic analysis of the IFSW2020 conference program, the new Global Standards for Training in Social Work and the five regional live panels on the Global Agenda will reveal recurrent semantic patterns of how post- and decolonial approaches are addressed and interpreted in the discussion of the Global Agenda. By tracing this semantic landscape, it becomes clear that the narratives of decolonization in the Global Agenda overlap disproportionately with the idea of knowledge plurality in social work. The lecture invites to promote a more nuanced discussion on the tasks and competences that future social workers will need in order to promote decolonization across the many potential fields of vocational training and show the variety of potential fields of application of post- and decolonial thought that is underrepresented in the discussion of the Global Agenda.
Teaching and researching about racism in BA courses of Social Work: a teacher’s and students’ analysis
Continuous and dynamic processes of migration (Destatis 2020) have drawn attention to critical and sensitive approaches to differentiation and racism in German Social Work education. Social work re-produces differences and power structures through its practice and research (Schramkowski/Ihring 2018; Mecheril/Melter 2010). Therefore, a critical approach in SWE towards migration and racism is needed (Hunner-Kreisel/Wetzel 2018: 6). Many scholars consider this debate highly relevant (Blank/Gögercin et al. 2018). Yet, the discussion about sensitivity to racism in higher education institutions in Germany is just beginning (Karakaşoğlu 2018: 1). So far higher education research focusses on a deficit-oriented perspective on the “Other”. Institutional and structural mechanisms, racist power structures and the privileges of people, who benefit from racism, remain mostly unmentioned. By this a systematic analysis of racism and whiteness is missing within the current higher education research (van Lück 2020: 194 f.). There is a gap in research studying universities as a place of (re-)production of white knowledge archives and white realities of life (Aslan 2017: 753).
In my talk, I will present the results of the research seminar “Anti-racist analysis of SWE in Germany” for BA social work students. Moreover, I will discuss the process of teaching and researching about racism with a critical mindset, both from my perspective as a “white“ teacher but also from the students’ perspective based on their written reflections.
In the research project the students will perform a discourse analysis of course descriptions (syllabi) of courses about racism in German BA programmes of Social Work. Furthermore, the students are asked to reflect on their own role and position within the research process. During the teaching and research, we will discuss questions of power asymmetries. The theoretical framework of the course is inspired by aspects from educational migration research, othering and hegemonic white knowledge production.
Afterwards, there will be room to discuss the challenges and opportunities of critical approaches to racism in SWE with colleagues from international, interdisciplinary, theoretical and practical perspectives.