Session: Implicit Epistemological Privileging: Structures of Knowledge (re)Production in the Social Work Academy (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

200 Implicit Epistemological Privileging: Structures of Knowledge (re)Production in the Social Work Academy

Saturday, January 18, 2020: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Liberty Ballroom I, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
Cluster: Research on Social Work Education (RSWE)
Matthew Bakko, MSW, MA, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Kathryn Berringer, AM, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Yun Chen, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Nina Jackson Levin, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and Karen Staller, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Social work research has long been an arena of competition between divergent epistemologies and their associated methodologies. Often, these contests take place explicitly, involving struggles over terminology and definition. For example, epistemological debates in social work have been articulated as contests between post-positivism, social constructionism, and hermeneutics, while methodological debates, articulated as tensions between qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods research, also proliferate. However, these explicit debates often obscure that which takes place implicitly and unconsciously in the epistemological privileging of everyday practices and institutional mandates in social work education and scholarship. This roundtable interrogates this implicit epistemological privileging, critically examining the academic structures that shape, and are shaped by, implicit assumptions about which kinds of knowledge and which ways of knowing are legitimate. Recent expansions and transformations in social work doctoral education make the question of how social work scholarship is (re)produced particularly relevant. Current trends in doctoral education pressure students to meet productivity expectations of the academy. These include an increase in dissertations based on quantitative analysis of secondary data sets, three-paper dissertation models in place of monographs, and academic and professional pressure to increase publication quantity and limit time-to-degree. As students' overall success - and, by extension, the future of academic social work - is often framed around students' own in/ability to take up this task, it is crucial to examine these expectations carefully, with attention to the particular academic structures from which they emerge. Contributors to this roundtable argue that these developments are neither politically nor epistemologically neutral. Instead, these trends, and the academic structures in which they are embedded, ought to be examined in relationship to the emergence and consolidation of particular epistemological paradigms. To examine the entanglements between epistemological privileging and knowledge (re)production in the social work academy, our roundtable focuses on specific structures and mechanisms of producing social work scholarship and scholars. One presenter will discuss how the material and organizational structures such as the "lab," reliance on secondary datasets, "least publishable units," and team-science have reinforced a post-positivist paradigm of legitimate evidence and knowledge, and will suggest possible alternatives. One presenter will examine how research institutions' reliance on specific funding sources has privileged certain criteria, such as generalizability and replicability, as the apogee of knowledge production, and has instrumentalized academic notions of "rigor" in the process. Another two presenters will consider how doctoral education pedagogy and mentorship align with and reproduce epistemological privileging in social work research, and how they mold the experiences and aspirations of students. A final presenter will review the epistemological debates in social work and elaborate upon their connections to the broader corporatization of the academy. Our goal is to engender critical discussions on how social work knowledge is implicitly (re)produced, ways to support emerging scholars with diverse epistemological approaches, and areas for further investigation.

Key words: epistemology, methodology, social work scholarship, pedagogy, academic structures.

See more of: Roundtables