Jacqueline McNamara (Charles Sturt University )
Topic: Toward a disruptive feminist standpoint in social work: Experiences of Australian women social workers engaged in feminist research
While social work consists largely of women, our knowledge base, and thus professional identity has been dominated by Western androcentric approaches. The legacy of these approaches continues to impact contemporary research and practice by reinforcing the patriarchal sexual division of labour, privileging Eurocentric knowledge paradigms, and supporting the neoliberal socio-political influence in social work service delivery. This paper seeks to contribute toward addressing the gap of women-centric knowledge in social work, by reporting on data related to participant experiences of a feminist research process. The study sought to explore the lived experience of professional identity of women social workers. An innovative theoretical framework was developed consisting of a radical feminist, de-colonising ontology and post-conventional phenomenology, with disruptive and transformative aims. Complementing the framework, a feminist participatory action research methodology was employed, using a focus group method informed by collectivist and democratic values. Eight women social workers participated in the group over a 9-month period. Participants were asked about their experiences of the research process at the end of each meeting, with the final meeting focussing on evaluation. Data was analysed utilising a thematic analysis method guided by a phenomenological interpretive approach. The findings revealed 6 themes related to the participant experiences of the research process: 1) feminist camaraderie, 2) solidarity, 3) consciousness-raising, 4) collectivity, 5) acts of resistance, and 6) have meaningful discussions. The findings indicate that a research design encompassing a woman-centric focus and feminist standpoint can elicit meaningful discussions around participants’ diverse knowledges as women, with the potential for these to contribute to transforming the wider discourses informing social work professional identity. The consciousness-raising element of this project has proven powerful, as seen through the participants’ narratives of resistance, and the potential these have in subverting the dominant discourses and knowledges of the profession.