Feminist Social Work Practice: Reflexivity

This post explores the application of postmodern and critical theory to feminist practise. After that, the module teaches the reader about critical reflection, reflexivity, knowledge creation in action, and knowledge creation from the social perspectives of many women.

Content

  1. Introduction
  2. Four Theoretical Traditions Underpinning Critical Reflection
    1. Postmodernism and Deconstruction
    2. Critical Theory and Reflective Practice
    3. Reflexivity: A Critical Approach
  3. The Process and Design of the Critical Reflection Model
    1. Key Principles for Reflexive Practice:
  4. Summary 

Introduction

This blog explores some of the main issues with practising feminist social work, theoretical frameworks that influence the social worker's transition from reflection to reflexivity, and the part critical theories play in facilitating this process. In order to effectively address the problems and issues of women, feminist practice must ensure that power and hierarchy are eliminated. To achieve this, social workers must engage in constant self-reflection and ensure an even playing field when working with women as equal participants in the process of developing agency and action.

Learning Outcomes

  • Recognize the importance of critical feminist praxis and postmodernist philosophy. 
  • Be able to comprehend the feminism notion of reflexivity 
  • Being able to integrate feminist social work with a reflexive approach 
  • Be able to create feminist social work interventions by evaluating theories of reflection utilising critical reflexivity.

Four Theoretical Traditions Underpinning Critical Reflection

Postmodernism and Deconstruction

The institutional marginalisation of particular groups, ideologies, behaviours, and sexualities gave rise to postmodernism. The postmodernist school of thought emerged as a result of a cultural revolution that stressed the importance of thought, process, and experience as ongoing interactions with the outside world and reshapings of one's identity as well as hegemonies of ideas. To put it another way, "deconstruction" and reexamining truths and ideas This encouraged and informed feminist activity, primarily in the western world. In feminist philosophy, there were two opposing currents: one that advocated techniques of rejecting dichotomies and categories as existing, and the other that introduced new categories and thus contradicted the former. The third stream, however, highlighted the variations and the necessity to avoid using general categories since they would obscure the various types of marginalisation, discrimination, and experiences that call for diverse theoretical analysis and feminist participation.

Questioning linear (progressive) and unifying (one truth) thinking is a hallmark of postmodern thought. Feminists can challenge prevailing and stereotyped beliefs about race, caste, gender, class, and society thanks to postmodern notions. An oppositional and zero-sum link across knowledge domains, such as that between policy and practise, is produced by hierarchically dichotomous thinking and is better represented by a continuous or holistic relationship. This entails shattering realities as they are perceived under systemic constructions and instead deconstructing realities in a way that examines and questions power, hegemony, and hierarchy.

Understanding how hegemonic discourses shape power and knowledge is necessary for deconstruction. Additionally, it gives the feminist social worker the opportunity to challenge binary conceptions of difference and instead emphasise the diversity of realities and power. For instance, the intersectionality of race, gender, and class has been incorporated into feminist theories of gender, and this has been further broadened to include actual lived experiences of individuals and their marginalisation in particular circumstances. When history is recorded or explained, many diverse versions are overlooked since their narratives are compiled, according to Foucault (1978). As a result, historical analysis is conducted from the viewpoints of people whose accounts were combined. This presents a skewed picture of history, frequently focusing solely on the wealthy and powerful. This silences individuals who aren't considered in the study and upholds the power structures inside any given system.

The structuralists (such as Marx, Freud, Lacan, etc.) and more recent post-structuralists like Derrida (1978), Foucault (1965), and Kristeva are sometimes viewed as the originators of postmodern philosophy (1982). The structuralist school of thought held that social phenomena could be understood by carefully examining structures and how they interact, frequently producing oppressive conditions for some while granting others power and privilege. Theorists of post-structuralism used this concept of structures in a similar way to investigate and highlight the variations in societal realities and how they affect people's lives. Theorists contend that this distinction must be made, emphasised, and documented in texts and historical analyses. Both structuralists and post-structuralists give direction to different options for change in each circumstance, bringing marginalised people's experiences to the foreground and critically examining the part that language plays in fostering oppression as well as liberation. This means that all language, including symbolism employed by the powerful and majority, frequently elevates the linguistic construct of some, giving them the upper hand over those whose language, symbols, and ideas are not used but are instead hushed, marginalised, and stigmatised. In addition to dismantling patriarchal and hierarchical systems of power and privilege, postmodernist theories post-feminist social workers a rich tapestry of frameworks that support practise. This can be accomplished by dismantling the existing reality and interacting with women, particularly those from underrepresented groups, such as Dalit and tribal women in India, Maoris in Australia, Roma in Romania, and Native Americans and African Americans in the United States. A variety of feminist practises are made possible by languages and their meanings, practises and cultures, as well as life worlds, allowing social workers to engage in reflexive feminist social work. Deconstruction and deconstructive processes must be used in order to comprehend disparities, linguistic and communicative patterns, as well as self-thought and appropriate behaviour.

Liberal feminism is predominantly the realm of white, heterosexual, middle-class women, and postmodernist feminists have acknowledged how constricting this is. Postmodernist and third-world feminists both emphasise the importance of diversity and debunk the idea that all women are the same. They include lesbians, women from the developing world, women of colour, and other groups. The most important post of postmodernist thought is how feminism empowers women to band together for a common cause while still embracing their individuality, depending on the circumstances surrounding the problems they face and the politics of their positionality. Feminists may now overcome hurdles created by oppressive structures, interact with power and privilege, and plan collectively from a variety of angles for change in these hegemonies thanks to postmodernist ideas. Deconstruction entails examining one's own thoughts and ideas that are hegemonic and that might reflect our own identities while also unravelling one's self as a feminist worker. Postmodernism gives all kinds of categorisation the room they need. Moving away from conventional and accepted classification, the idea of dichotomies, certainty, objectivity, worldviews, and grand narratives is part of this process.

Deconstruction is useful in critical reflection in helping unearth how we participate in constructing power by participating in dominant discourses: 
  • Constructions (and categorizations) of our own identities and how we make difference in others 
  • Constructions of binary ‘dilemmas’ in practice 
  • What perspectives do we leave out?

Critical Theory and Reflective Practice

The first papers on reflective practice are attributed to Argyris and Schon (1976), and they draw on Dewey's works in particular (1933). Dewey's concept of reflection involved evaluating how one's views are formed, along with any underlying presuppositions that may exist. The practice of critical reflection is influenced by a number of theorists, including Paulo Freire (1972), Habermas (1971), Shulamith (1970), and postmodernist theorists.

There are  key points which inform critical reflection, these are:
  1. Involvement with oneself as a practitioner, analysis of theories, and intervention techniques with both individuals and groups. According to Fook (2006)'s thorough explanation
    “Critical reflection, from the standpoint of this type of critical perspective, is reflection which enables an understanding of the way (socially dominant) assumptions may be socially restrictive, and thus enables new, more empowering ideas and practices. Critical reflection thus enables social change beginning at individual levels. Once individuals become aware of the hidden power of ideas they have absorbed unwittingly from their social contexts, they are then freed to make choices on their own terms. In this sense they are freed to change the operation of the social at the level of their personal experience.”
  2. The understanding that dominance of ideas can be both personal and systemic, and that practitioners contribute just as much to this dominance as the people they work with. Therefore, critical theories like Giddens' (1991) focus on how people construct their identities and make sense of their social environments, how they interpret their experiences and take appropriate action, how they interact with social structures and relations such as class, caste, race, gender, disability, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and how language is used to reinforce certain communication hegemonies that marginalise certain groups of people. These are what a practitioner needs to consider, and in light of that, professional workplace techniques need to be examined.
  3. Due to societal oppressive institutions that have developed through decades of denial and cultural deprivation, individuals and collective groupings frequently imbibe their secondary and marginalised status. Thus, as explained by Fook (2006), critical reflection incorporates the broader social contexts of professional practise, such as workplaces as well as professional cultures and social, political, and cultural contexts.
  4. The move away from victim and system blame and toward an understanding that the self and the organisation or system are co-constructed opens up possibilities for change for both. This is significant to critical reflection. To accomplish this, it is essential to use reflectivity to identify the authority and functions that frequently exist in organisations but are not formally located but rather operate at covert and covert levels. Therefore, it is important to examine power systems wherever social work practice is applied and work for change on both a personal and collective level.
For useful critical reflective practice its important that:
  1. Use of an eclectic mix of critical theories as frameworks for understanding power dynamics, structures and cultures of oppression and liberation, privileges and marginalisation, socio-political processes and opportunities of possible engagement for social change. 
  2. Defining how hegemonies operate in people's lives and analysing and work with the same with people to unearth, converse, unpack and develop transformative strategies for change. 
  3. To do so linking personal and collective processes for change is the key for transformation. 
  4. This would mean the need to interrogate and unsettle dominant assumptions and their operation in everyday practice by both the social work practitioner and individual and collective, hence dialogue, conversation and an equal and safe process is required. 
  5. Provision of a space, skills and capacity of both practitioner and individual to free themselves from restrictions of dominant thinking, providing choice of thinking and actions.
This serves as a model for directly reflecting on experience to improve practise. Using a "bottom-up" methodology, theory and practise are combined to inform the interventions with particular women. The theory is continually being investigated as the process progresses, revealing serious gaps between advocated and practised theory. This is analogous to continually comparing theory to practise and attempting to close the gap that results from intuition. This empowers the feminist social work practitioner to push past the predetermined bounds and encourages original expressions and methods of practise. As a result, it incorporates both the practitioner and the practised in a contextual, holistic, and experiencing process.

The use of a reflective method highlights the inconsistencies between implicit and explicit assumptions, which are subsequently tested in practise and provide a basis for evaluating feminist social work practise. Reflective practise ensures that research is conducted on indistinguishable constructs that are difficult to detect in practise and, in the end, it fosters the creation of practise knowledge and practise theory.

Reflexivity: A Critical Approach

Reflexivity is the capacity to acknowledge how our contexts as a whole shape how we do research, produce knowledge, or address issues of inequality and deprivation. The focus is on acknowledging and affirming the fact that all communication, including discussions, involves the development of knowledge, which is embodied, social, reactive, and interactive. Reflexivity has been influenced by social researchers (Humphries and Truman, 1994) and feminist sociologists as a notion that acknowledges the complex interactions between power and knowledge and, as a result, as a way to reframe emancipatory goals in social work practise (Stanley and Wise, 1993). Instead of centralising the process by which knowledge is formed, as socially constructed by researchers, informants, and other relevant players, feminist scholars from the field of sociology have disputed knowledge as an output generated by research as impartial approaches (e.g. gatekeepers). Reflexivity by researchers is therefore proposed as an alternative to concepts about 'objectivity' in order to conduct morally and intellectually good study. In other words, the researcher's personal involvement in the design of the study, methodology selection, analysis, and documentation are all subject to scrutiny as knowledge construction processes in power relations.

Self-critical sympathetic introspection and the self-conscious analytical examination of one's self as a social worker or researcher are both examples of reflexivity. Reflexivity is essential to fieldwork because it encourages self-discovery and can generate new insights and suggestions for interventions and interactions. The social worker can be more receptive to any theoretical issues that fieldwork almost invariably brings by taking a more reflective and adaptable approach to fieldwork and research.

Reflexivity is useful in critical reflection for:

  • Awareness of ourselves as practitioners and researchers creating knowledge directly from practice experience
  • Focus on assumptions about knowledge and its creation and moving towards transformative practice.

The Process and Design of the Critical Reflection Model

The earlier sections have dealt with the theoretical perspectives informing reflective practice and reflexivity on part of feminist social workers. Some of key steps required for practice can be as follows: 
  • Working with women in small groups where each participant's common ground is clearly established based on their experiences
  • Within the groups various participatory methodologies can be used which are creative and interactive like story writing, poetry, group work wherein individual expressions are encouraged but social worker also consistently locates individual differences and standpoints, including her/his own.
  • Critical reflective questioning is used to get participants involved and make it possible to explore and create new possibilities.
  • Working through the underlying assumptions that are embedded in their setting and are a part of the hegemonic world with the participants to unsettle them.
  • constructing concepts from past instances of precise and concrete activity successful outcomes f. Developing collaborative action and change processes from group and individual work

Key Principles for Reflexive Practice:

  • The importance of dialogue and a communicative process for learning 
  • Participatory and democratic values 
  • A focus on the interactions between individual and society – individual reflection in the social context, as well as reflection that includes both individual and social responsibility 
  • The importance of context, culture and climate in supporting reflection – tools and techniques are seen as a way to create the appropriate cultures, not necessarily as the main defining features of critical reflection 
  • Process and outcome are intertwined 
  • The importance of developing a culture that supports a process that allows open-ended outcomes 
  • The importance of making and maintaining direct connections between theory and practice 
  • An inclusive approach to outcomes and theories – a recognition of the importance of multiple and diverse perspectives 
  •  A commitment to focusing on the hidden and the taken for granted 
  • The importance in learning of personal experience – direct, specific and concrete – taken from one’s own perspective 
  • The importance of the individual participant’s perspective – in presenting the initial account of practice, in focusing on meaningful assumptions and changed practices and approaches

Summary

This blog has a detailed post about the postmodernist and critical reflection theoretical frameworks. These are the basic viewpoints that guide feminist social work practise and form the basis of the technique and praxis. The process of reflexivity starts with the social worker, who becomes aware of the context in which she or he is starting to work and intervene. A significant component of reflexivity is the ability to look within oneself, be aware of one's own social situation, and acknowledge that the same influences knowledge development. Reflective practise facilitates the process of becoming reflexive as post-modern theories break down the binary of all understandings of the social phenomenon and open up the notions of various realities. This makes it possible to take the first step toward realising that social realities go beyond what is represented in "my" reality and include others that are embodied in a variety of other ways. As a result, working with the marginalised requires realising this. The key to opening up potential pathways for changing the mechanisms of disempowerment is to interrogate power and hegemony within patriarchal systems as well as unequal social connections. The next step is reflexivity, where this comprehension is translated into strategy and action for working with a feminist approach, which is unique and essential to enabling change in the oppressive situations that women, men, and people with gender non-normative behaviours and sexualities may find themselves in. With a thoughtful perspective and reflexivity, this blog aims to share these characteristics with the reader in order to inform social work interventions.

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