Abstract: Problematizing the Resilience Discourse with a Poststructuralist Lens: A Critical Review of the Conceptualizations of Resilience in Social Work (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

573P Problematizing the Resilience Discourse with a Poststructuralist Lens: A Critical Review of the Conceptualizations of Resilience in Social Work

Saturday, January 19, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Ashley Prowell, LCSW, Doctoral Student, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Background/Purpose: Since the 1970s, the construct of resilience has become detached from its original context of trauma and reassembled as a ‘normal behavior,’ patterned after the dominant group (i.e. white, middle class). A decade after becoming a focus of academic attention, resilience began to influence the advocacy community through the strengths-based approach commonly employed by social workers. While some still utilize resilience within the context of trauma, mainstream society has marketed a construct of resilience with dangerous, underlying assumptions. Applied with caution, resilience work can certainly be helpful to marginalized groups.  Post-structuralism provides a lens to a) better understand the conceptualizations of risk and resilience regarding marginalized groups and b) problematize the construct of resilience often employed by social workers.  By systematically, examining the current resilience discourse, we can understand the implications the current resilience literature has for marginalized groups and work to produce a more culturally responsive account for how social workers might conceptualize risk and resilience.

Methods: The present review was restricted to 43, social work, peer-reviewed articles focused on resilience and its processes in marginalized groups. This critical review specifically examined the discourse authors choose to utilize regarding resilience within their methodology and how they conceptualize risk and resilience. Utilizing Foucault’s suggested method of analysis, I identify and analyze the discourse of risk and resilience commonly employed as well as the dangers of this discourse and its influence within the field of social work.

Preliminary Results: Preliminary findings indicate a bias towards racially ethnic and low SES groups when measuring risk. Resilience is also operationalized in short-term snapshots of academic achievement and personal success. These findings were not surprising, given the narrative resilience has taken since its inception. Underlying the methodologies employed by the sample, are the problematic assumptions that 1) there is a perception of trauma simply due to being a member of the non-dominant group; and 2) that positively deviant groups can be deemed ‘resilient’ or ‘not resilient’ by measuring short-term snapshots of personal success.

Conclusion/Implications: This work is important in that it urges social workers to question whose voices are being silenced within the resilience discourse and how they can better advocate for those marginalized groups. Although still in process, this critical review demonstrates wide-ranging practice, policy and research implications. For social work education, this work encourages upcoming social workers to be more vigilant and connected, implementing resilience work that is within the context of what is most appropriate for the clients they aim to serve. Within policy, this work provides understanding for how to develop and reconstruct our policies to promote resilience in the lives of children and families without being intrusive to the non-dominant worldview and way of life. Lastly, this work provides direction for future research as well as methodological and theoretical positioning for researchers. Researchers will understand how to employ responsible and sound methodologies regarding resilience, ensuring that they have a responsible influence on the greater society.