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Critical Possibilities: Engaging and Nurturing Feminist Perspectives in Social Care and Social Work Education

McCusker, Geraldine (2020) Critical Possibilities: Engaging and Nurturing Feminist Perspectives in Social Care and Social Work Education. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis reports a qualitative study that employed feminist research methodologies to explore the value of engaging with, and nurturing feminist perspectives in a social care/work education context. Undergraduate students were recruited to engage in a piece of feminist action research whereby a feminist classroom was established. This space attempted to enact feminist pedagogical strategies, and engage the students acting as participants with a range of feminist debates and concepts. Feminism was chosen as the focus for a number of reasons, not least because of my allegiance to it as both a researcher and a teacher. More specifically, it was regarded as a critical perspective and praxis that could support social care/work students to more fully understand and apply the social justice and human rights mandates that guide these areas of work. Anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practices are regarded as essential for effective practice in work with users of care services, and it is my contention that feminism can make an important contribution to this. Neoliberal agendas operating in public services and education settings are diluting understanding of these vital topics. Therefore, a further aim of the research was to resist this and reclaim critical spaces in social care/work education. Data collection methods were focus groups, interviews and reflective journals. Data analysis was via use of the Listening Guide. Three overarching narratives emerged from this analysis; these were labelled as ‘Awakenings and Transformations’, ‘Care and Nurture’ and ‘Resistance and Defiance’. All three support my claim that the aims of the project have been achieved as they indicate participants’ growing awareness of feminism, and willingness to identify with it as a means to support better care practices, and challenge oppressive and unjust perspectives. The work has contributed knowledge about feminist pedagogy in general, and its relevance to social care/work education in particular. Contributions to feminist theory and feminist research methodologies have been made as I offer a new authorial voice to these bodies of work. Additionally, strategies to resist neoliberalism both inside and outside the academy have been offered.

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