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Heather Lynch

Master of Social Work 2013

Graduated: 2013

My varied experienced of work and life led me to undertake the social work post-graduate course in Edinburgh. My experience working as an artist with a range of individuals and groups marginalised due to disability, ethnicity, mental health and economic status deepened my desire to contribute to the making of a more just and equal society. Despite the significant interest and impact of creative work by public institutions I was always conscious that this work was easily side lined by legislative structures which have no frame of reference for the, perceived soft work of creative practice. I knew only to well of the multiple benefits for those who collaborated with me as well as myself of the real differences which creative making precipitates. Many of the people with whom I worked called into presence expressions of the dynamic complexity of their experience that could not be articulated in the formal assessment processes of statutory procedures. This view led me to undertake a PhD in fine art that explored collaborative practice within the field of disability studies. I found that even this academic contribution could not sufficiently open the conversations with policy makers and public bodies. I therefore decided that in order to fully understand the statutory world that assessed, supported and constrained many of my collaborators I must, to some extent, participate in it. This led me to apply to undertake a social work qualification. Edinburgh was particularly attractive due to its research status and critical interests of staff members. Here I hoped that I would be able to engage in critical dialogue.

The course offered a wide array of intellectual and experiential stimulus. Ethics, legislation, social, educational and psychological theory intersect with the need for clear and direct communication with people who are in the midst of significant life challenges. My placement in a statutory criminal justice social work team gave me insight into the multiple perspectives and practices which impact on the possibilities and limitations of statutory social work. The desire by most colleagues to play a part in the improvement of some of the most disadvantaged people’s lives heartened me. However the ridged machinery of legislative process, frequently misaligned even within the logic of its own intentions left me bewildered.  I was aghast at the suffering that some people endure, dismayed by the ignorance of systems which too frequently are incapable of recognising the role of prior suffering, and buoyed by the persistent desire to live evident in people at the hard end of our unequal society.  I was never more struck by the huge significance of the quiet subtlety of relations between people in professional and service user roles. The value of simply being spoken to with dignity and interest was not missed by the people with whom I worked. Placement offered me the possibility of working from a statutory position with people whose lives are deeply immersed in legislative systems. The vast majority of these people had endured persistent material hardship and struggled in social and cultural systems within which they are constituted as deficient. I frequently found myself entangled in situations where policies and practices became complicit with the problems they aimed to ameliorate. This insight fuelled my desire to make a critical contribution to the knowledge that informs political processes which aim to promote social order and flourishing.

After a period in criminal justice social work I am currently extending my interest in social order through research in community. I am fascinated by the policy interest in community which, in Scotland, spans such diverse fields as criminal justice, adult care and land reform. I am particularly interested in the overarching question of how we live together where ‘we’ is not just human life but the material and virtual environments within which humans create lives. This interest approaches questions of social cohesion in the midst of increased migration and a backlash against the liberal values and neoliberal economics which have underpinned ‘western’ governance of the past 40 years. My experience of studying social work at Edinburgh University has enabled me to develop not just the practical experience but an understanding of the intellectual, legislative and policy landscape within which these questions are formed.

Looking ahead… Social work practice often microscopes the troubled lives of individuals negotiating the challenges precipitated by economic and political systems that generate inequality. It is all too easy to lose sight of this bigger picture, all to easy to seek to opt for a pragmatic simplification of complexity. Social work has the potential to articulate and make visible the complex relations between real life experience and political abstraction and in doing so frustrate simplistic solutions whih are incapable of responding the issues they seek to address. It seems to me that this has never been more important at a point in human history where we are faced by, fast paced change and global uncertainties.  Social work offers privileged insights into the lives of individuals in the context of a political and intellectual debate. My experience leads me to believe that social work education should pursue more space for this critical debate that works through uncertainty.

Source: own contribution (26.1.2017)