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Issues » 2016/4 - ERIS Journal - Summer 2016 »

Martyn Higgins

Villains, Fools or Unsung Heroes? A Study of the Contradictory Narratives of Social Work Identities in Contemporary England


The aims of this paper are to identify rival stories of social work which reflect the contradictory and ambivalent attitude of society to the profession and to argue that critical pedagogy can offer a way forward beyond these contradictions. Based on a qualitative study of a qualifying undergraduate degree in social work, 48 participants were interviewed: participants included academics, students, service users and practice educators. Three stories or narratives of social work identities were identified: social workers as villains, fools, and unsung heroes. These tales can be seen as contradictory and ambivalent, reflecting the ambivalent relationship of social work to contemporary society. The key message of this study is that there are rival stories of social work, which evidence the contradictory and ambivalent attitude of society to the profession. Critical pedagogy may offer a way forward beyond these contradictions. Only by going beyond or removing these rival and dissonant narratives can social workers engage constructively and critically with the current debates on social work in England today. A critical pedagogy of hope is explored as a way forward.


narratives, professional identity, social work, contradictions, critical pedagogy

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