University Of Tasmania
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Exploring the organisation of social injustice in Australian social work education

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posted on 2023-05-27, 11:31 authored by Hosken, NE
Australian and international professional codes of ethics ostensibly require the work of social workers be underpinned by principles of social justice and include actions to reduce injustice. However, many social workers in western countries experience the goals of social justice or reducing injustice, and choice of approaches for their achievement, as nebulous or aspirational. This five-year study of Australian social work education in the public university setting draws on and develops Dorothy E. Smith's (2005) feminist sociological method of institutional ethnography. This enabled understanding of how the everyday work of social work students and academics in the Australian context are shaped within organisational, institutional and larger translocal relations and processes such as neoliberalism, whiteness, colonialism and patriarchies. The thesis is based on qualitative empirical research. The location and analysis of the study includes two key related organisations, public universities and the professional association representing social work, the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW). The data, consisting of interviews, a research journal and texts are the result of five-years of fieldwork. Drawing on these, the thesis explores how social injustice occurs through systems of privilege and oppression. These systems are inter-connected by layerings of discourses, ideologies, texts and ruling relations, mediated through standardised notions of quality assurance and accreditation practices to produce the ideological codes, the standardised ideal images, of the 'good social work student', the 'good social work lecturer', the 'good social work professor' and the 'good social worker'. The thesis reveals the racialised, gendered and classed social organisation of social justice, equity and diversity, professionalism, excellence, competition and merit as constructed around university intentions of becoming world-class, and AASW goals of being a credible profession. The thesis highlights how the ability to activate or approximate the ideological codes relies on doing race, class and gender. It shows how doing particular forms and constellations of white-Euro, middle-classed, professional, transnational, enterprise, corporate masculinity enters the social relations of doing the work of a social work student or social work academic in Australia. The thesis demonstrates that the adoption of policies, quality assurance and accreditation regimes, and practices by the university and the AASW to align with the neoliberal, white, colonial and patriarchal economic and cultural framing of education and social work serve to instrumentalise social work, social work education and social justice.


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