“Without Losing What We Know”: Dissenting social work in the context of epochal crises
Keywords:Decolonization, Anti-oppressive practice and theory, Critical Reflection, Critical social work, Social work and the state, Nancy Fraser
INTRODUCTION: This article builds on Fraser’s (2021, 2019) argument that the overlapping crises of social reproduction, climate, economy, and public health have resulted in a splintering of the hegemony of dominant groups. This generates a “wilding of the public sphere” in which groups urgently seek counter-hegemonic storylines and alternative solutions to interwoven crises (Fraser, 2021, n.p.). This article further theorises consent and dissent in social work practice and workplaces.
METHODS: Data were collected using qualitative interviews and a convenience sample of ten executive directors and managers of social services in a large city in Canada. Data were analysed using a constant comparison method involving multiple readings of the field notes and transcripts, until patterns and themes could be discerned.
FINDINGS: The article analyses three themes, namely, dissent as: 1) working on the edges of the state; 2) working on decolonisation including what it means to be a settler; and 3) critical reflection. The themes are then discussed together under a final interwoven theme that is argued to reflect new hegemonies, in particular political world-making, building new emancipatory knowledges, theory, practice and hegemonies.
CONCLUSION: Social-justice-engaged practices can emerge within systems hostile to social solidarity, suggesting that dissent is resilient to neoliberalism though it may sometimes operate quietly and at the level of individual practice. This resistance and the nascent, shared, dissenting narratives can contribute to the de-legitimatisation of oppressive social structures as social workers search for, and build, more emancipatory approaches.
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