A landscape of intersecting discourses: Navigating professional identity as a newly qualified social worker

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Abstract

This paper discusses the social contexts that influence lived experience of professional identity for newly qualified social workers during the first twelve months post-qualification. It is argued that the human services sector is impacted by competing discourses that influence ideas about the nature of problems and social service delivery, which do not always sit comfortably with social work values such as social justice and human rights that are reflected in professional identity. There is little understanding of how newly qualified social workers construct and navigate professional identity within these social contexts. An in-depth study underpinned by hermeneutic phenomenology and critical social work theory was undertaken with 17 newly qualified social workers in Australia. From a series of interviews, the participants’ descriptions revealed several intersecting discourses that influenced perceptions of social work, as well as tensions between the participants’ job-role and professional identity. Participants identified strategies to consciously navigate and resist aspects of these discourses to strengthen and make a social work identity more visible in the workplace. Implications for social work educators, supervisors, and professional associations concerned about professional identity are outlined to emphasize preparing and supporting practitioners for identity challenges.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Pages (from-to)22-37
Number of pages16
JournalCritical Social Work
Volume19
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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social worker
discourse
social work
professional association
phenomenology
hermeneutics
tertiary sector
mobile social services
social justice
qualification
human rights
workplace
educator
interview
experience

Cite this

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title = "A landscape of intersecting discourses: Navigating professional identity as a newly qualified social worker",
abstract = "This paper discusses the social contexts that influence lived experience of professional identity for newly qualified social workers during the first twelve months post-qualification. It is argued that the human services sector is impacted by competing discourses that influence ideas about the nature of problems and social service delivery, which do not always sit comfortably with social work values such as social justice and human rights that are reflected in professional identity. There is little understanding of how newly qualified social workers construct and navigate professional identity within these social contexts. An in-depth study underpinned by hermeneutic phenomenology and critical social work theory was undertaken with 17 newly qualified social workers in Australia. From a series of interviews, the participants’ descriptions revealed several intersecting discourses that influenced perceptions of social work, as well as tensions between the participants’ job-role and professional identity. Participants identified strategies to consciously navigate and resist aspects of these discourses to strengthen and make a social work identity more visible in the workplace. Implications for social work educators, supervisors, and professional associations concerned about professional identity are outlined to emphasize preparing and supporting practitioners for identity challenges.",
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AB - This paper discusses the social contexts that influence lived experience of professional identity for newly qualified social workers during the first twelve months post-qualification. It is argued that the human services sector is impacted by competing discourses that influence ideas about the nature of problems and social service delivery, which do not always sit comfortably with social work values such as social justice and human rights that are reflected in professional identity. There is little understanding of how newly qualified social workers construct and navigate professional identity within these social contexts. An in-depth study underpinned by hermeneutic phenomenology and critical social work theory was undertaken with 17 newly qualified social workers in Australia. From a series of interviews, the participants’ descriptions revealed several intersecting discourses that influenced perceptions of social work, as well as tensions between the participants’ job-role and professional identity. Participants identified strategies to consciously navigate and resist aspects of these discourses to strengthen and make a social work identity more visible in the workplace. Implications for social work educators, supervisors, and professional associations concerned about professional identity are outlined to emphasize preparing and supporting practitioners for identity challenges.

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