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The interlopers as disruptors: A constructivist grounded theory of Australian Social Work education

posted on 2022-06-17, 01:41 authored by Shirley LedgerShirley Ledger, Janice PascalJanice Pascal, Wendy HillmanWendy Hillman
Background: Field education has been given signature pedagogy status by the profession, yet there is a crisis of injustice, burdening narratives, competition and diminishing standards being experienced. Social work academics are concurrently experiencing similar challenges and pressures. Despite the extensive commentary on the topic, little is known about what is happening in Australian social work education preparation and socialisation processes and pedagogical decision making. The study aimed to answer the research question, “How are social work academics teaching and preparing social work students for professional practice?”. Method: A constructivist grounded theory method (CGTM) was selected for this qualitative study to explore social work education, particularly field education as signature pedagogy for the profession. Semi-structured interviews, informed by a relational approach, were conducted with 17 Australian social work and field education academics from different universities over a one-year period. The in-depth interviews sought to elicit self-reporting of experiences within social work education. Data was generated from interviews, key accreditation and education standards documents, literature-generated sensitising concepts. Concepts included: neoliberalism; habits of heart, head and hands; a history of Australian social work education; 21st Century trends in higher education; and relationships and all were analysed to construct the emerging grounded theory. Results: The Interlopers as Disruptors theory emerged as the explanatory grounded theory in this study underpinned by three contributory categories: The Broken Model, The Architecture of Uncertainty and The Field. A model of social work teaching was developed to illustrate pedagogical practices currently employed. These emerge along a continuum from teaching for the profession to teaching for the field and are influenced by the co-constructors. The Interlopers as Disruptors theory conceptualises the pedagogies of uncertainty, formation, and engagement where field education emerges as a disruptive pedagogy and becomes influential capital in response to perceived” interloper” and thus “othered” status within the field and higher education contexts. Conclusions: The emergence of field education as a disruptive pedagogy in response to neoliberal blockages resulting in a sense of crisis, was a significant theoretical result of this study. Intentional pedagogical, curriculum and accreditation standards could be redesigned to support the formalisation of the disruptive signature pedagogy for social work. This would realign social work education and professional practice by responsively shaping student professional socialisation in field education consistent with the emancipatory goals of the profession.


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SNMSS Research School



Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Qld.

Peer Reviewed

  • Yes

Open Access

  • No

Era Eligible

  • No

Name of Conference

SNMSS 2021 Research Symposium

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