Session: "...the Point Is to Change It": The Limits of Critique and the Development of Emancipatory Social Work Praxis (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

11 "...the Point Is to Change It": The Limits of Critique and the Development of Emancipatory Social Work Praxis

Wednesday, January 20, 2021: 1:30 PM-2:30 PM
Cluster: Social Work Practice
Josh Lown, MSW, Boston College, Smitha Rao, MSc, Boston College, Cameron Rasmussen, MSW, CUNY Graduate Center, Diana Melendez, LCSW, The Graduate Center, City University of New York and Dale Maglalang, Boston College
Critical theory has long been critiqued for its lack of engagement with a theory of social and institutional change. Its lack of praxis, the process by which theory is realized in the action directed at oppressive structures, has made it vulnerable to the rhetorical trap of simply offering a critique of how systems of power operate without offering a path to action. Although offering much to the field by challenging how social workers are situated within dominant power structures of market-driven care, it should be argued that critical social work has fallen into the same trap of "critique without praxis". As social workers and researchers, our task needs must go beyond providing a critique of social structures, but towards providing real, material changes in the conditions in which the most vulnerable in our society are forced to live. Perhaps it is time to admit the necessity in moving beyond critical research, and moving towards a new research paradigm. Such a paradigm would no longer focus on the critique of power structures, but on actively overturning such institutions and creating new, emancipatory structures in their place. As the world continues to face pressing global crises, and particularly during a time where such a crisis has laid bare the inability of our current systems of power to provide even the most basic needs to its citizens, critique of neoliberal hegemony alone is no longer adequate.

This roundtable discussion will consist of early career researchers and will center on the responsibility of social workers to engage in praxis oriented work and research, with a focus on the strategies researchers can use to better engage in emancipatory work. For example, one presenter will focus on community-engaged capacity building that is centered on members of the community as the main agents of change, with the concept of mutual aid as a framework for creating neighborhood-level interventions. Another presenter will explore the developing concept of abolition social work as a framework for working outside of, against, and within oppressive systems to abolish the harmful institutions, practices and policies of criminalization, policing, surveillance, incarceration and punishment, and working to build life-affirming institutions, practices and policies. A fourth presenter will discuss the need for ecological rights as an alternative to the anthropogenic worldview that Social Work has traditionally focused on, including insights from the 'degrowth' movement to imagine transformative changes in society not confined to economic growth models. The final two presenters will focus on social work curriculum's neoliberal tendencies, how it prepares social workers to maintain oppressive practices and structures, and how it responds to student activism and student justice work. The goal is to provide a discussion offering frameworks and practices rooted in radical, liberatory pedagogy, and the implications for social work research.

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