Looking for needs.Teaching critical reflection in social work with the elderly


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Author list: Ghazanfareeon Karlsson, Sofie

Publication year: 2018


In recent decades, neoliberal reorganisation of the welfare state has influenced both the practices in social work and the organisation and context of social work education. This has resulted in social work emphasising managerial goals, strongly influenced by New Public Management, and social work reduced to a reified set of skills devoid of theory, context and critical analysis.

Developing pedagogical tools in order to improve students’ self-reflexivity and critical knowledge is thus crucial to social work education, if we want to live up to the crucial values of social work; promoting social change and social development and understanding vulnerability.

The focus of the current study was on uncovering and challenging power dynamics in 106 social work students’ aid assessments in elder care at a university in Sweden. How do students, with a focus on critical reflection, understand and interpret the concept of social rights and assess needs in three vignettes of senior citizens? The reflexive process was conducted in three steps, according to Schön (1987) and the results from the written and group discussions of the study were analysed by means of a content analysis by focusing on repetitions, dominant themes, similarities and differences in response.

Findings show that in the first two steps of reflection, students interpreted needs expressed in the vignettes out of prejudice and assumptions on ageing taken for granted. This resulted in a majority of the students interpreting the older persons’ expressed needs and obvious living conditions in an unintended or unnoticed way. In the third and final step of the reflection, taking part in the group discussions, where students tried to adopt an aware critical self-reflection approach, they became concerned and reflexive about their interpretations, as they used both their knowledge of intersectional approach and theories of critical social work.

This study shows the possibilities social work education has in terms of working with pedagogical exercises to increase students’ awareness, insight and critical knowledge, and how important this is, as it can help us and the people we encounter in social work reduce oppression and counteract neoliberal changes. In a time when social work is affected by neoliberal managerial solutions to social problems, working with a critical self-reflection approach in social work education is more important than ever.


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