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Given the quintessentially collaborative nature of social work practice research, many researchers have explored the utility of participatory action research for promoting collaborative learning and knowledge production in social work. As a response to this call for participatory practice research methodology, we developed and piloted ‘collaborative practice research in social work’ in the project, ‘Empowering Social Workers in Challenging Times: Learning from Best Practice during COVID-19’. ‘Collaborative practice research in social work’ is a networked approach to social work participatory practice research, designed to integrate practice wisdom and research evidence to produce useful knowledge for social workers to practise ethically and effectively during COVID-19. This article will present some findings from the evaluation of ‘collaborative practice research in social work’, showing how the reversed sequence of involvement (practitioner researchers first and then academics) in research can enable practitioner-led learning, democratise knowledge production and help validate different types of knowledge in social work practice research. ‘Collaborative practice research in social work’ has demonstrated the need to address alienating academic practices that are not sensitive to the needs of practice or see practice as an afterthought. Findings further suggest the need to better prepare academic researchers to engage with participatory practice research, which can be an emotionally unsettling and unfamiliar research environment.

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This article builds on a scoping review of the international literature of community–academy partnerships in social work and is illustrated with a narrative case study reflecting on experiences of managing transitions between research, practice and policy in the context of partnership work with care leavers in Italy. Arising from the literature and case material, we conclude by identifying four areas for further consideration: the constituents of ‘meaningful’ outcomes; the personal and political nature of power; the temporal characteristics of partnership practice; and the complex challenges of inclusivity.

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Digital features like virtual reality have hardly been used in the framework of data collection in qualitative social work research. Virtual reality holds specific promise because it allows the immersion of participants in a situation and has the potential to strengthen the ecological validity of data. In this light, we examined the use of a virtual reality serious game in qualitative in-person interviews in the framework of a prevention-oriented HIV social research project. We designed and developed an immersive virtual reality serious game, and integrated it into 24 problem-centred in-person interviews. The integration was feasible, and the virtual reality serious game was well accepted. It prompted participants to elaborate their lived experiences more extensively and in depth. Participants subsequently recalled episodes they had not mentioned before, complemented their narratives and brought up new topics. The atmosphere became less formal, and participants were even more communicative. The use of virtual reality seems to have the potential to open up new perspectives, broaden epistemic possibilities and complement the qualitative methods used to investigate, in particular, verbal and non-verbal communication and interaction processes. From an ethical perspective, the use of virtual reality should be well reflected upon regarding possible after-effects for the participants.

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This article presents initial findings from an ongoing participatory action research project and aims to understand the problem of why, despite attempts to address this through, for example, social work practice research, practitioners still experience research anxiety. One way to understand this is through Bourdieu’s field theory: social work students, practitioners and educators have essential research skills and knowledge but do not possess the symbolic capital to reframe these in the field of social work research and are habituated into research anxiety. The participatory action research approach taken asked the question: how can we bridge the gap between social work research and practice? Through collaboration with a local charity, an empowerment model was developed and tested as a potential solution: facilitated practice-based research. This is a research programme conducted in practice, about practice and using practice terminology. Findings from two focus groups participating in this approach suggest that practitioners do habituate research anxiety: they can conduct research but name it differently, and their research confidence needs development through recognising it and beginning to name their work as research. It is concluded that if research anxiety in practitioners is not addressed by reframing their capital, opportunities could be missed for embedding research into social work practice.

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This article is premised on the belief that the social work community needs to recognise that collaborative research – nationally or internationally – will take diverse forms. Setting up a standard model for such collaboration is likely to constrain too narrowly opportunities for good research. I begin by considering how ‘collaboration’ has been – and might be – understood within social work and research. I spend the main part teasing out the various senses in which I have sought, and encouraged others, to collaborate. These include developing homes for rigorous social work research, collaborative research and writing, crossing disciplinary boundaries, challenging national myopia, questioning conventional goods and ills, and doing the history of research.

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Social work has developed unevenly within Europe and globally, with differences in terms of its recognition, training, professionalisation and academisation. This is mirrored in an unbalance in reciprocal influence, particularly vis-a-vis knowledge production, and the origin of tensions between importing/exporting ‘ready-made’ ideas from stronger social work communities and efforts towards indigenisation and locally rooted knowledge production. Structurally embedded in these tensions, we consider the role of international associations and attendant events in promoting internationalisation processes that reflect cultural dominance or, conversely, balance tensions between universalism and localism. To develop a reflection on these issues, we analysed materials used for launching the European Conference for Social Work Research conferences. Two meaningful aspects emerged: efforts at maintaining an all-embracing profile without privileging specific approaches; and the identification of shared open themes to enable mutual understanding of differences. Social work professional identity, the socio-political dimensions of social work and comparing research methodologies constituted starting points for international conversations. Arguably, nurturing such dialogues can have a significant, if indirect, function in the development of an international language and shared conceptualisations, or, at least, an awareness of different conceptualisations vis-a-vis practices of knowledge co-construction.

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Policy engagement by social workers that seeks to impact public policies that advance social justice and human rights has, and continues to be, a core component of the social work profession. This has also led to a growing volume of research focusing upon the routes that social workers can take to be part of the policy formulation process. The aim of this article is to provide a research overview of five policy routes, which include two civic routes, specifically voluntary political participation and holding elected office, and three professional routes, specifically policy practice, academic policy engagement and policy participation through professional organisations. The overview expands our knowledge on contemporary research trends regarding the level of engagement in each route, the form that this takes and the factors that explain it. The factors that have been identified in the research literature as impacting social workers’ policy engagement will draw upon the policy engagement conceptual framework. The methodologies employed in the studies are discussed. Finally, the article concludes by identifying under-researched facets of social workers’ policy engagement and suggesting a research agenda for the field.

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Since the conception of post-war national welfare states and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the notions of citizenship and of civic, political and social rights were institutionalised in European welfare states. In that vein, a social work workforce acquired a professional and public mandate to implement social policies. During recent decades, however, welfare state arrangements seem to have moved in another direction. The premise that the welfare state is responsible for social protection and the redistribution of resources has subtly shifted into one of an active welfare state, with a stronger focus on individual responsibility and conditionality. In addition, welfare state arrangements have been based on the premise of a territorial logic of the nation state, making it more difficult for migrants to access services. In this article, we first discuss the transformation of welfare state arrangements. We then make use of an exemplary case, namely, the emergence of new social work practices during the COVID-19 pandemic, to illustrate the current positioning of social work practice. In the final part, we critically tease out the changing role of social work and social work research in these circumstances.

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We live within institutional arrangements which influence our ways of thinking and responding to the world around us. Those institutions often seem part of the natural order of things – necessary and immovable, defining particular social artefacts as problems and predefining the range of possible responses, reforms, and solutions. The institution of policing is no exception, and its historical weight carries us along well-trodden paths. Instrumental arguments by policymakers, politicians, and police administrators reconfirm the necessity of the police to control crime and to uphold the law, even as a wealth of evidence throws into question the basic claims of these assertions. Indeed, the problems of police violence, ineffectiveness and corruption are as old as the institution of policing itself. It is important to recognise that policing is a socio-historical process that maintains itself for reasons other than controlling crime. The history of policing tells us much about the control and maintenance of social divisions including class, race, gender, disability, and their intersections and about the economic exploitation of labour and political control. The history of policing also alerts us to the use of power, both at the local level and more broadly through macro socio-historical movements of colonialism and imperialism. The history of colonial policing is important to understanding contemporary calls to Defund the Police.

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