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Social Workers, Disabled Children and Organisations of Disabled People: A Cycle of Practice Transformation Towards Desirable Ways of Living

Tillie Curran, University of West of England


This paper sets out a cycle of practice transformation designed to promote listening to disabled children. A Foucauldian framework was used to produce stories from an action research project undertaken in a social work team for disabled children in England. The stories highlight links between knowledge/power relations and forms of subjectivity of social workers and disabled children. Agency conditions of pressure or support appear to be pivotal; sustaining medical discourse or producing more social understandings of disability. It is argued that these 'discourse dynamics' are significant beyond the practice encounter operating as systems of inclusion and exclusion that limit or transform opportunities for disabled children. Social workers' lack of engagement with organisations of disabled people was produced through systems of prioritisation and limit disabled children's 'voice' and protection. The conditions of pressure and medical categories used in relation to disabled children considered most vulnerable, arguably constitute risk to disabled children. In order to address these conditions and relations, the paper draws on Foucault's work on 'ethical practices' to develop a cycle of practice transformation.

The cycle of transformation presented in the second section seeks to generate 'desirable ways of living' for disabled children. The supported process of peer dialogue and practice engagement proposed begins with identification of barriers disabled children encounter in being listened to and formation of explicitly generative questions to focus the inquiry. The second stage is to share existing possibilities for change. Group members' analysis of practice experience in the third stage identifies enduring and alternative dynamics. The latter inform practice towards generating desirable ways of living in the fourth stage. This cycle of 'discourse rehearsal'; 'discourse action'; 'discourse dynamics'; and 'discourse performance' is also offered as a cycle of 'discourse action research'.

The paper ends by asking what alternative dynamics between practitioners and organisations of disabled people might be generated in work with disabled children if the purpose of welfare is to generate more desirable ways of living?

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