Abstract: Identity and Alienation at the Frontlines of Community Practice: A Qualitative Analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

550P Identity and Alienation at the Frontlines of Community Practice: A Qualitative Analysis

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Guy Feldman, PhD, Lecturer, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Carmit Katz, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Tel Aviv University School of Social Work, Israel
Ruth Frankenburg, MSW, Instructor and Practitioner, Tel Aviv University School of Social Work, Israel
Rama Bdeer, Student, Tel Aviv University School of Social Work, Israel
Idit Weiss-Gal, PhD, Professor, Tel Aviv University School of Social Work
Background: Over the past few decades, powerful political, economic and cultural forces (e.g., growing inequality and extreme political polarization) have shaped the welfare state and the social work profession in different countries. In response to these forces, there have been calls in the profession to deepen understanding and increase awareness of macro practice interventions. One of the major fields in macro practice is community organizing, which involves a set of values, strategies and skills designed to assist people influence their environment through collective action. Prior research has explored the history of community organizing, various models of community practice, case studies of community-based campaigns, how to train students to engage in community practice, and the characteristics and motivations of community activists. What seems to be missing in the literature is an empirical analysis of social workers’ actual involvement in community practice in today’s complex environment. The current research fills this lacuna by examining how community practitioners portray and experience their practice.

Methods: Qualitative design and methods were utilized to investigate the research question. Data come from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with frontline community organizers. The sample included 26 participants and purposive sampling was used to recruit them. All participants were social workers who worked as community organizers in the public social services in Israel and had at least one year of experience. Both Jews and Arabs were represented in the sample. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and a grounded approach was used to capture emergent themes from them. To ensure reliability, the research team coded and categorized the interview transcripts separately, identified areas of convergence and divergence, and agreed on final themes.

Findings: Findings highlight two interrelated aspects of community organizers’ daily practice. First, findings show that their practice is elusive and boundless: workers have no daily routine and their working hours constantly change, they work with a wide range of populations and employ a variety of skills, the boundaries between their personal and professional life are blurred, and they raise doubts about the relevance and necessity of community practice as currently implement by them. Second, findings indicate that community organizers navigate complex relations with a host of critical actors: family caseworkers, supervisors, the Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Association of Social Workers, and community members. Findings show that community workers often feel alienated from these actors and express frustration that their practice is misunderstood and not recognized by them.

Conclusion and Implications: Findings highlight the fluid professional identity of community organizers and how, in turn, it shapes the lack of professional recognition that they experience in their encounters with other actors. Findings suggest that training and supervision should support the development of a clearer, more stable, professional identity among community organizers. Findings also inform efforts by community organizers to advance changes in their encounters with other actors that may lead to more recognition of their practice.