Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) Place in the Making: Toward a Place-Aware Social Work Research Agenda (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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(WITHDRAWN) Place in the Making: Toward a Place-Aware Social Work Research Agenda

Thursday, January 21, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Tamar Shwartz-Ziv, MSW, PhD student, University of Haifa, Israel
Roni Strier, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Background and purpose

Place and place-making processes in community settings have stimulated a great research interest in many disciplines. However, place-making research in social work is still scarce, despite the fact that from its very early foundations, social work’ engagement in community practice helped to shape the identities, meanings and collective actions of the more impoverished, excluded and fractured communities. Drawing from a qualitative, multi-site, comparative study on community organizers’ engagement in place-making processes within the complex context of Israeli Jewish-Arab mixed cities, this presentation aims to suggest a conceptual framework for a place-making aware social work research agenda.


Grounded on social constructivist perspective, the study is based on a purposive sample of 28 public community organizers in four mixed cities in Israel (Haifa, Acre, Ramla and Lod). Data were gathered through in-depth semi-structured interviews and participatory observations. The sample represents both Jews and Arabs that are involved in diverse community initiatives such as urban renewal projects and mediations between cultural groups. Participants were recruited via the municipal social services. The interviews elicited participants’ perceptions, challenges and coping-strategies that characterize their work in Israeli mixed cities. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, and coded thematically using 'MAXQDA', a qualitative software program, guided by the constructivist grounded theory approach. Data was analysed across cities as well as across Jews and Arabs.


The findings reveal that public community organizers were engaged in four main dimensions of place-making: structuring cultural-symbolic meanings of place; constructing majority-minority relations, managing the national-conflict as well as the history of place. Most of the participants aimed to create in their activity multicultural, ahistorical as well as apolitical urban space. However, the complex reality in mixed cities challenged this perception and the struggle over the urban space and its meanings was surfaced. Hence, in some cases community organizers negotiated with community members both overtly and covertly over the multidimensional meanings of urban space. Findings also show that socio-spatial processes, such as demographic changes in neighborhoods, were highly reflected in community organizers' activities and raised questions regarding integration and segregation within the community practice field.

Conclusion and implications

The study shows that community organizers are actively involved in shaping identities and meanings of mixed cities' urban space. This place-making process is shaped both "top-down" by community organizers' ethnical-national identities and their perceptions toward the cities, as well as "bottom-up" by the meanings communities ascribed to the urban space. The study provides new possibilities to understand community practice in contested cities and suggests guiding principles for place-aware critical community practice that acknowledge majority-minority relations as well as political, cultural and historical meanings of place. Such perspective, may enhance more just, embedded in place, community interventions that promote social justice and race equality.