University of Tasmania
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Whiteness and social work : critical reflections on the practice of white social workers who work with people of refugee background

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posted on 2023-05-28, 12:02 authored by Kate VincentKate Vincent
This study sought to contribute to the scholarship on Whiteness and social work. It engaged with White social workers who work with people of refugee background to learn how it is that Whiteness is experienced, manifested and operationalised in social work practice. The research methodology was informed by relationality, a dialogical framework, critical reflection and decolonisation. Over a period of seven months, eight Tasmanian social workers who identified as White and had experienced working with people of refugee background participated in two semi-structured interviews, a focus group, engaged with resources relating to Whiteness and provided evaluation data about their involvement in the study. The data were then analysed using narrative analysis. The findings demonstrate that the operationalisation of Whiteness within Australia was visible to participants in this study. Furthermore, participants interpreted Whiteness as manifesting and operating within the organisations working with people of refugee background. Whilst the majority of participants reported feeling discomfort about these interpretations, many had chosen not to speak up or challenge these manifestations of Whiteness within organisations, thus affirming and perpetuating Whiteness in practice. The findings also demonstrate how participants interpreted Whiteness as manifesting and operating through the social work professions' collusion with oppressive government interventions and also through social work's prioritisation of professionalism. In response to these interpretations, many participants still felt hopeful they could make change to disrupt Whiteness and also saw learning about Whiteness as an important tool for social workers invested in change. The findings also demonstrated how Whiteness was enacted by participants in their own personal practices. This included in their discussions about Whiteness, through desires to be 'safe' in their discussions about Whiteness, and in their relationships with both clients of refugee background and bicultural workers. However, there were also examples reported by participants that explored how they had attempted to disrupt Whiteness within their personal practices by challenging and changing organisational practices. This study confirms that Australia social work is a White profession. This exploration of the dominant White social work ways of doing, being and knowing highlights the urgent need for social workers to be actively working to resist complicity and collusion with Whiteness and to be working to unsettle and disrupt Whiteness if we are truly invested in change.


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