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Research as a Social Justice Tool: An Activist's Perspective

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Abstract

The congruence between social work activism and transformative research resonates with those who are looking to change the root causes of oppression. This article reflects the journey of integrating the identity of activist practitioner and researcher. The process of becoming a social justice researcher includes the discovery of a new set of lenses, emerging tools, and new pathways while maintaining a critical perspective rooted in antioppressive praxis. Research becomes an extension of one’s own identity as a human rights activist, which requires leveraging the skills and capacities of research as a strategy to move to a more socially just world.

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... [and] the challenges of social change in both processes and outcomes across multiple contexts by diverse women and men'' (Lazzari, Colarossi, & Collins, 2009, p. 348). This call for discourse reinforced previous calls for dialogue raised by multiple feminist social work scholars over the role and status of women in social work education (Bent-Goodley & Sarnoff, 2008;Figueira-McDonough, Netting, & Nichols-Casebolt, 2001) and the role of qualitative methods in this discourse (Brown, Western, & Pascal, 2013;Lorenzetti, 2013). ...
... We were women who were committed to the concept of education as a means to teach critical thinking and social justice. Regardless of our rank within the academy, we were known to be experiencing the tensions between what Newson (2012) referred to as feminization and feminist principles juxtaposed with the increasing corporate nature of our working environments and wished to interrogate this in the tradition of other feminist methodologies (Brown et al., 2013;Lorenzetti, 2013). ...
... And it's really what I need to survive.'' Unlike Lorenzetti (2013), politics and power, perceived or otherwise, seem to have overcome our sense of feminist solidarity. In winning our place in the academy, we wonder whether we may have lost our authentic voices and our connections in community. ...
... [and] the challenges of social change in both processes and outcomes across multiple contexts by diverse women and men'' (Lazzari, Colarossi, & Collins, 2009, p. 348). This call for discourse reinforced previous calls for dialogue raised by multiple feminist social work scholars over the role and status of women in social work education (Bent-Goodley & Sarnoff, 2008;Figueira-McDonough, Netting, & Nichols-Casebolt, 2001) and the role of qualitative methods in this discourse (Brown, Western, & Pascal, 2013;Lorenzetti, 2013). ...
... We were women who were committed to the concept of education as a means to teach critical thinking and social justice. Regardless of our rank within the academy, we were known to be experiencing the tensions between what Newson (2012) referred to as feminization and feminist principles juxtaposed with the increasing corporate nature of our working environments and wished to interrogate this in the tradition of other feminist methodologies (Brown et al., 2013;Lorenzetti, 2013). ...
... And it's really what I need to survive.'' Unlike Lorenzetti (2013), politics and power, perceived or otherwise, seem to have overcome our sense of feminist solidarity. In winning our place in the academy, we wonder whether we may have lost our authentic voices and our connections in community. ...
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This article is the story of the simultaneous feminization and corporatization of universities, themes that emerged in a test of a collective biography, a qualitative research method. Organizers brought together 12 macro social work academic women across generations and, through sampling, attempted to avoid the intergenerational splitting that seems to be leaving junior faculty to be socialized by administrators while simultaneously isolating senior faculty from their generative role. Our analysis identified several trends developed from our collective experiences including changes in faculty governance, formalized mentoring, intergenerational faculty relationships, and shifting expectations. With these changes, we sense a reduction in what we used to think of as a collegium, now in danger of becoming an historical artifact.
... Social work educators aiming to incorporate critical pedagogy (CP) and anticolonial discourse in their teaching and learning face unique challenges, given that neoliberalism encompasses every aspect of the educational system (Harkavy, 2006;Sewpaul, 2010). Within the profession, charity has been elevated at the expense of equity (Lorenzetti, 2013), and pervasive managerialism (Harlow, 2003) and the privatization of social and health services have increasingly consumed teaching and practice (Benn, 2006). These environments create barriers for students and practitioners seeking to uphold their ethical codes of conduct. ...
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... She has laughed, cried, shouted and despaired while reading personal accounts from clients and therapists and has developed a deeper understanding of how marginalised those with dementia are in society. This has taught her about herself as a therapist and as a granddaughter to someone with dementia, causing her to question her attitudes and actions both professionally and personally and consider how to change them for the better, thus social justice became integral to this study through the anti-oppressive stance taken by the researcher (Lorenzetti, 2013) in response to what she discovered as it progressed, which McLeod (2015) cites as a guiding principle of research: ...
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Literature review on ethics & the law in counselling clients with dementia
... Social justice research, then, would be organised to examine how a participant's full potential is identified and actualised or how best to identify barriers and to clear the pathways to such achievement. Lorenzetti (2013) argues that the research activity itself is an important tool and site for social justice. When the framing of the research inquiry shifts out of the hands of individual participants or service consumers, the risk is that their most relevant question is not asked. ...
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Broadly, social work epistemology—what we know and how we know what we know—in child and adolescent mental health is dominated by professional discourses about the merits of evidence-based practice (EBP). As an approach to client-work and professional decision making, EBP is promoted as ‘the’ standard for an effective, efficient and ethical practice. Yet, as a discipline, have we failed to consider the ways our adoption of EBP may inadvertently contribute to potentially harmful social constructions of young people and their experiences of distress? Particular to mental health work, have we failed to consider the ways EBP may contribute to young people’s psychiatrisation and the stigma of mental illness? Towards answering these questions, the purpose of this paper is to explore social work’s epistemology and adoption of EBP in children’s mental health against the backdrop of psychiatrisation and stigma. In two parts, first, we review the principles of EBP and the application to children’s mental health. Second, we examine the particular social constructions to emerge about young people and their experiences of distress and how they relate to psychiatrisation and stigma. We conclude with a call for social justice research to inform social work practice.
... Social work's structural analysis when addressing individual need makes explicit the link between social justice, human rights, and the environmental crisis (Noble, 2016). Social work research is an expanding tool for activists seeking to leverage movement toward greater social justice (Lorenzetti, 2013). The profession's concern with human wellbeing, when connected to global well-being, requires what Reisch and Jani (2012) identify as a revitalized political perspective. ...
Article
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... Academic institutions also sometimes do not recognize work outside of the limited confines of peer-reviewed articles, books, dissertations, and conference presentations. Until academia as a whole recognizes and values different forms of knowledge production as a necessary means for social justice, there will always remain the danger of an unproductive separation and relationship of inaccessibility between researchers and the communities with which they work (Hale, 2008;Frey, 1998;Lorenzetti, 2013;Burnett, 2003). ...
Article
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Criminological literature outlines various roles for public criminologists and reflects on both the form and purpose of public criminology. This article reviews this literature and considers institutional and political activist ethnography as methods through which criminologists can address critique, and better combine social justice research and advocacy work. Such methodological considerations demonstrate that, for some, ‘doing’ public criminology means actively engaging in advocacy work alongside research participants and other activists. Examples and reflections from the author's own work with the criminal justice voluntary sector (CJVS) in Canada demonstrate that a public criminology informed by institutional and political activist ethnography is especially important if we want to: (i) better understand the role of the sector in supporting people with criminal records; and (ii) strengthen the relationship between academics, policymakers, advocates, practitioners, and people with lived experience of criminalisation and punishment.
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In contemporary societies, the value and importance of knowledge are increasingly tied to their potential to generate profit. This raises questions about whether and how knowledge can, at the same time, be harnessed and valued for its capacity to advance social justice. In this paper, we consider these questions in relation to social work knowledge and academic research utilisation, setting our analysis in the context of broader debates on these themes. As well as highlighting the risks that the ‘knowledge economy’ poses to certain currents of knowledge (currents within social work and analogous currents in other fields), we ask what might be done to protect and realise the value of these currents. We suggest that the example of social work usefully illuminates both the potential and challenges of knowledge utilisation for social justice more broadly.
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Injustice is at odds with social work's mandate to promote social justice, human rights and ethical responsibility. In nations such as the UK, Australia and the USA, ideologies of the far right exert strong influences on social policy. In this critical commentary, we argue that shifts from welfare states to privatisation, the return of the deserving and undeserving as ‘strivers’ and ‘shrivers’, ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’, and policies that violate the human rights of refugees and other disenfranchised groups have activated moral outrage within the social work profession. Moral distress, ethical responsibilities and, for some, fears of complicity when unjust policies become practice, suggest that a moral response is required. A new form of online activism in a Third Space has emerged that juxtaposes traditional social work activism in ways that are responsive to social work's moral imperatives, and is a panacea for moral outrage within a global context. Such actions pose ethical complexities and are not without risk. Stéphane Hessel offers a framework to understand how peaceful civil disobedience and radical approaches are legitimate expressions of moral outrage that transcend indifference and despair. We explore the new social work activism emerging in the Third Space drawing from Hessel's philosophies.
Thesis
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Refugees, asylum seekers, and survivors of torture and cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment (persons of concern (PoC)) in Hong Kong are extremely resilient people. Many however, are challenged with conflict displacement traumas that often go unaddressed. To compound matters, they have little livelihood options and live in an uncertain state while their protection claims are slowly processed; there is little chance of success. On a daily basis, their bio-psycho-social-spiritual wellbeing intertwines with and is impacted by services and policy within the ecological system in Hong Kong. This doctoral dissertation study uses an ecological systems framework, critical paradigm and social justice perspective to explore how PoC mental health and psychosocial (MHPS) wellbeing are interconnected to systemic and environmental forces. Three phases of narrative inquiry with PoC participants and service providers illuminate PoC lived experiences and provider insight and suggestions at the micro, mezzo and macrosystem of the ecological environment. Inductive and deductive interpretive thematic analysis generates theoretical contributions. The deterioration of mental and overall health were linked to oppressive policy and services such as protection screening retraumatization, inadequate healthcare and inability to work. Traumatic uncertainty negatively affected their lives and was primary linked to their overall deterioration. All systems presented different levels of boundary openness and permeability across ecological interactions. Ultimately, there was systemic empathic failure within the sub-systems of the ecological environment. An array of physical, mental and behavioral health issues have manifested for PoC and often become prolonged due to several systemic barriers. While there is empathic failure in some of the sub-systems, there is also systemic empathic attunement in other areas. Human interaction through empathy could enable more openness in the whole system. Empathic growth pathways to multi-level, trauma-informed services and care are provided and based on the research findings and global MHPSS recommendations. Empathic growth can transform empathic failure into empathic attunement. As the ecological system in Hong Kong enhances its empathy for PoC, positive holistic health and wellbeing for PoC can be realized. While being confronted with extreme levels of gross human rights violations and severe social injustice created by oppressive systems and structures, social work is in a prime position to advocate for change and for the betterment of this resilient yet vulnerable community. Awareness of the ecological connection is essential in work with conflict-induced forced migrants. Also, using an integrated approach can be useful in therapeutic work. Overall strengths based services informed by community, tailored to the context, using advocacy lens can be essential for community empowerment and holistic and trauma-informed health promotion. There is a valuable place for the social work profession to be at the forefront of advocacy, multi-level services, healing and therapy, and research and education within this rapidly evolving practice area.
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In this article, the authors clarify a framework for qualitative research, in particular for evaluating its quality, founded on epistemology, methodology, and method. They define these elements and discuss their respective contributions and interrelationships. Epistemology determines and is made visible through method, particularly in the participant- researcher relationship, measures of research quality, and form, voice, and representation in analysis and writing. Epistemology guides methodological choices and is axiological. Methodology shapes and is shaped by research objectives, questions, and study design. Methodologies can prescribe choices of method, resonate with particular academic disciplines, and encourage or discourage the use and/or development of theory. Method is constrained by and makes visible methodological and epistemic choices. If we define good quality qualitative research as research that attends to all three elements and demonstrates internal consistency between them, standardized checklists can be transcended and innovation and diversity in qualitative research practice facilitated.
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This article critically examines the “hand in glove” assertion regarding qualitative research and social work practice. Distinctions are discussed across several domains: paradigm assumptions, goals, education and training, the clinical versus research relationship, and criteria for success. Although the parallels between qualitative research and practice are compelling, the demands of the clinical mandate conflict with the basic goals of qualitative research. Several caveats are offered for practitioners who seek to become qualitative researchers. For those willing and able, qualitative methods afford an opportunity for rigorous scholarship at its best.
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Presents feminist standpoint theory (FST) as an epistemology to move social work (SW) research and practice toward a synthesis of relevance and rigor. FST provides an alternative approach to knowledge justification and "good science." The article discusses 3 assumptions of positivist approaches to science and research and highlights some of the conflicts between those assumptions and the professional commitments of SW. Specific areas of conflict include claims of value-free scientific activity, subject–object separation, and scientific objectivity. FST is an approach to research that is more consonant with the professional values and goals of SW. The theory places the life experiences of marginalized groups at the center of the research project and then directs the view of the researcher toward the social structures that shape the lives of the group members. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Contenido: Parte I.Cuestiones conceptuales en la investigación cualitativa: Naturaleza de la investigación cualitativa; Temas estratégicos en la investigación cualitativa; Diversidad en la investigación cualitativa: orientaciones teóricas; Aplicaciones cualitativas particulares. Parte II. Diseños cualitativos y recolección de datos: Estudios de diseños cualitativos; Estrategias de trabajo de campo y métodos de observación; Entrevistas cualitativas. Parte III. Análisis, interpretación e informe: Análisis cualitativo e interpretación; Incrementar la calidad y la credibilidad del análisis cualitativo.
Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples
  • Tuhiwai Smith
Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. London, England: Zed Books.
Family violence and war: The dual impact of war trauma and domestic violence on refugee women in calgary (Unpublished Master's thesis)
  • L Lorenzetti
Lorenzetti, L. (2006). Family violence and war: The dual impact of war trauma and domestic violence on refugee women in calgary (Unpublished Master's thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.
Definition of Social Work
International Association of Schools of Social Work/International Federation of Social Workers. (2001). Definition of Social Work, 1–3. Retrieved from http://www.ifsw.org/f38000138.html