Posts By / Sara Ashencaen Crabtree

Shaping European Social Work: BU Hosts Erasmus SOCNET 98

Sara Ashencaen Crabtree & Jill Davey

 

For the first time in April 2013 BU hosted the SOCNET International University Week (IUW). This is a high profile international event held rotationally at host European universities drawn from across the 19 Higher Education Institution (HEI) members of the SOCNET community. This important annual event brings together a wide range of European academics and students with an interest in social work and social welfare.

It also provides an opportunity for HSC Social Work and Sociology & Social Policy students to interact with international academics and accompanying European students with educational, cultural and social aims in mind. During the IUW a busy series of workshops and lectures are offered based on a particular chosen theme, to which both academics and students contribute as pedagogic peers. Learning through active scholarly participation is the pedagogic approach that has proved very popular and successful over the years.

The theme of each IUW, alongside other organisational business vital to the continuation and the expansion of Erasmus SOCNET initiative, is managed at each host university in the month of October.  Consequently, the Centre of Social Work, Sociology & Social Policy was proud to host this year’s organisational event, represented by HSC Erasmus Coordinator, Jill Davey, and Sara Ashencaen Crabtree, Deputy Director of the Centre.

Attendees included academic representatives from across the SocNet-work at St. Pölten University of Applied Sciences, Austria; School of Social Work, Leuven, Belgium; University College Lillebaelt, Denmark; Hochschule Bremen – University of Applied Sciences, School of Social Work, Germany; Ernst-Abbe Fachhochschule University of Applied Sciences Jena, Germany; Department of Social Science and Care Social Work and Nursing Management, University of South Bohemia, Czech Republic; Faculty of Social and Health Studies, Telemark, Denmark;  University College, Department of Social Studies, Faculty of Health and Social Studies, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, Netherlands; Humak University of applied sciences, Finland; University of Malaga, and finally, Bournemouth University.

A highly productive and sociable set of meetings took place over the course of several days, where, alongside discussing the European Masters in Social Work (where a UK partner is currently being identified for collaboration), the issues of venue and theme for this year’s International University Week were discussed. Since then invitations from the following four universities have been issued to academics and their students across the SOCNET community to attend the IUW (April 20th – 24th 2015) hosted by four international HEIs:

  • University College Lillebaelt – Department of Social Work. Theme: Trends in social work in the year 2015.
  • Ernst-Abbe Hochschule, University of Applied Sciences Jena. Theme:  Diversity and Innovation in European Social Work and Welfare States.
  • Telemark University College – Department of Social Studies. Theme: Diversity in Social Work.
  • Hochschule Bremen. Theme: Methods and Methodologies of Social Work – Reflecting Professional Interventions.

While the IUW clearly emphasises teaching and learning initiatives, together with internationalisation, the research element has been less publicly evident; although scholarship has always fed into the programme through the synergies between education and research.

However, over the past few years BU has altered the SOCNET landscape and is influencing the development of future trends here; where BU academics advocated for the need for high quality publications to be developed from the important lectures and workshops being annually produced in the IUW events.

Accordingly BU input has been instrumental towards developing robust academic output, which also serves to meet the BU Fusion agenda and KPIs. Thus, from the 2012 IUW at the University of Malaga, which carried the theme of ‘Active Ageing’, Professor Maria Luisa Gómez Jiménez and Professor Jonathan Parker developed the first edited SOCNET publication under London publishers, Whiting & Birch’s innovative social science monograph series, ‘Critical Studies in Socio-cultural Diversity’.

Following fast on the heels of this success, in 2013 Dr Sara Ashencaen Crabtree, proposed and developed the second edited volume from the BU event.  Moreover, in Volume II, and in keeping with the sprit of SOCNET, strong chapter contributions have featured from students from Bremen and BU (Samineh Richardson neé Hall, BA Sociology & Social Policy and PhD candidate, David Galley).

The next SOCNET publication will be forthcoming from the IUW held at Hochschule Bremen under our esteemed colleague, Professor Christian Spatscheck and colleagues. This will continue an exciting precedence, first initiated and supported to-date by BU under the Centre for Social Work, Sociology & Social Policy; a fact that we are quietly very proud of.

Stripping Back the Layers: Women’s spiritual quest for religious authenticity

Having failed to get it externally funded, I decided to hell with it! I would do the project anyway. It was too important a topic to abort on such flimsy grounds; and anyway in the social sciences funding has never been a precursor to undertaking excellent and original scholarship, and this promised to be that.

 

I have long been fascinated by religion and spirituality as integral to cultural diversity, and this interest has underpinned much of my scholarship in both social work and sociology. Gender studies are equally a passion and so it seemed natural to form a happy union of the two.

 

For the past eighteen months, and thanks to recent Fusion Funding for part of the project, I have been undertaking a cross-cultural study of women’s experiences of religious commitment across several faith groups in the UK and Malaysia. Both countries share a common historical heritage through the ties of colonialism, where additionally wide-scale migration has forged multicultural and therefore multifaith societies. Each modern nation also struggles to resolve the contradictions and paradoxes created through multiculturalism and claims to a specific national religion.

 

The aim of the study is to examine the constructions and meanings that women bring to religious beliefs and daily practices, which may be distinctive to those of men, particularly given the extremely powerful influences of patriarchy in organised religion. Thus, the working assumption behind this study is that women will bring their own gendered priorities and understandings as women (and variously as wives/partners, mothers, daughters and sisters) to their individual religious and spiritual beliefs.

 

For an in-depth ethnographic study the participant sample is extensive, and where by the end of this year, 48-50 individual narratives will complete the data gathering stage. The level of complexity is high for not only does this study cover two contemporary societies, but it also seeks to cover representatives from several different faith groups. Thus, in Southwest England I am seeking to capture the voices of Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Muslim women, as well as hoping to access female followers of one of the ‘New Religions’.

 

Across Malaysia, I have covered the same groups but substituted Jewish participants for Hindus.  I also hope to access indigeneous Animists to compare with the revival in pre-Christian ‘nature religions’ that may be found in the evocatively pagan, Dorset/Somerset/Wiltshire landscapes.

 

Such a large and highly diverse sample group represents a major study of contemporary, gendered faith practices in modern, multicultural societies; and where despite woman-centric theological re-interpretations, such as, for example, Christian feminists theologies or Malaysia’s ‘Sisters in Islam’, the insights from this study are already proving to be original and profound. My initial hypothesis has been both affirmed and challenged by participants struggling to engage with the politics of ethnicity, culture, gender constructions and gender oppression; together with the business of daily negotiating the politics of church/temple/mosque/synagogue – not forgetting, of course, the politics of the home and family.

 

Participant accounts have been deeply moving at times; and where to my surprise, I have been frequently thanked for giving participants the opportunity to be able to express that which is so important to their individual integrity and sense of purpose in life – and yet which remains a submerged discourse. There are many reasons, political, social and personal for religious expression among women to be largely unheard (and sometimes even a forbidden) discourse in both countries. These too are critical issues of context that are analysed alongside the narratives.

 

With REF2020 beginning to appear over the horizon, I will seek to do justice to these remarkable narratives in my analysis and the research monograph and peer-reviewed papers being planned. However, what is strikingly apparent is the intense interest participants hold towards their own spiritual journey, where they are also eager to read the finished publications in order to find further insights and connections with other women: impact in itself.

 

What this reveals to me is that not only is the area of inquiry extremely rich in theme, nuance and contemporary relevance, but that in respect of social impact (however one defines that term) much more is needed of me. Accordingly I am pondering deeply on how I may return and somehow multiply the fruits of this research to the global community of women for whom it carries such intense meaning and many shared commonalities in an otherwise divided world.

 

Volunteering to be a participant

If this Blog has resonated with you as a woman embracing a religious faith, or as someone who may know of such, I would be extremely grateful if you would contact me directly on scrabtree@bournemouth.ac.uk. Muslim, Jewish and ‘New Religion’ women’s voices in England are still under-represented in the study but all participants from other faith groups are equally welcome.

BU Social Science Input at Tasik Chini, Malaysia

A very significant aspect of our Fusion Funded Study Leave has been our invitation to spend time as Visiting Professors at the Tasik Chini Research Centre, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.  This Research Centre is primarily a natural science-based one, which is now expanding its remit to embrace social science, and which focuses on Tasik (Lake) Chini in the State of Pahang, about 4 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. This lake, one of only two freshwater lakes in Peninsular Malaysia, is composed of a very large area of 12,568 acres, and in terms of beauty and grandeur was not dissimilar to England’s Lake District.  Google the lake and a serene vision will appear of placid waters smothered in ravishing pink and white water-lilies in a valley of opulent, teeming rain forest and rimmed by green mountains. A veritable paradise, seemingly, and also the traditional ‘native’ lands of a community of indigenous, ‘first-people’, of Malaysia, the Jakun tribe of the Orang Asli (original people).

 

Hardly surprisingly maybe that this wonderful area received coveted UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status due to its lush diversity of flora and fauna. However, although once a popular eco-tourist destination, very few tourists are spotted now and the trade has virtually died off. The reason being that the lake itself is dying with total and irreversible collapse of the ecological system predicted by 2030.  Unrestrained mining of the mineral-rich soil in the area has led to mass deforestation, while logging, itself, and destruction of the colossal swathes of the forest has made way for Oil Palm plantations. Contaminants from mines in very close proximity to the lake have caused considerable pollution and the replacement of local flora with a pernicious species of aquatic weed and algae.  To add to a catalogue of disasters, and against the wishes of the those Orang Asli communities who managed to hear of it (as they were not formally consulted) and Malaysian environmentalists, an ill conceived dam was placed in 1994 at the juncture of the Tasik Chini and the great Pahang River. This served to prevent the annual ebb and flow of the lake that made boating of tourists difficult at times but was essential to the ecosystem of the area  The lake is now stagnant, polluted and  the fish, upon which the Jakun relied on as fisher folk, frequently unfit to eat, their flesh being tainted and their bodies invaded by parasites.

 

Our role as social scientists invited to work with the Tasik Chini Research Centre is to help to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge of the problems here and the local communities. Our work is to aid amplification of their voices in speaking of their experiences of trying to survive in traditional native lands that have been violated and usurped.  With our fourth intensive field trip to Tasik Chini coming up this week and a packed itinerary of interviews and focus group discussions planned with the local villagers, our ethnographies are rapidly developing. The Orang Asli people have much to be angry about and although too often treated as backward and uneducated in Malaysia itself, they have impressed us considerably with their passion for their lands, their rage and grief at the destruction, their eloquence, their gracious hospitality to us – and their ability to organise their communities and their protests up to the highest levels of Government. Truly they are a great if much abused people and we count it a pronounced honour to be so warmly welcomed by them, and regard this as some, and maybe, the most important work of our careers.

 

We hear much in the UK of the trite, overused and sometimes disingenuous phrase ‘making a difference’ when applied to higher educational endeavour and these experiences have brought into sharp relief the differences between its application to the banal and to the truly tragic. This area is part of the traditional land of the Jakun, and as such should be protected and preserved. But much more than this it is an international site for the earth’s future generations and we must, as academics, plough back what little knowledge we have into securing this heritage.

 

Sara Ashencaen Crabtree and Jonathan Parker

BU Social Science Study Leave at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Just one week into our fusion-funded study leave and work is developing, growing and coalescing around the objectives we set and negotiated last June and July.

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday evening (11th Jan), stumbling into our hotel after the 11-hour flight having watched the films Rush and one featuring an improbably accident prone and deranged Sherlock Holmes character, with the children glued to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.

Sunday 12th January took us straight into our first meeting, after a brief punctuation for swimming, to discuss the plight of the Jakun, a tribe of the Orang Asli (first people), living at Tasik Chini, one of only two natural freshwater lakes in Peninsula Malaysia. The effects of mining, concomitant environmental damage, the needs of the people and some of the perceived tensions between those working and researching with the Orang Asli were described.

Our thoughts concerning the plight of the Orang Asli were further agitated by discussion with the social science team, the meeting being chaired by Prof Dato’ Mushrifah Idris, the head of the Tasik Chini Research Centre at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM – National University of Malaysia) of which we are honoured to be visiting professors. The mining activities have expanded significantly since we last met with Prof Mushrifah in summer 2012 and the outlook for the already resettled Orang Asli seems increasingly bleak.

A large part of our work whilst we are with UKM is to assist with the research. We were heartened to learn of the formation of the social science team within the Tasik Chini Research Centre since our earlier discussions with Prof Mushrifah, a natural scientist. Discussion centred on the fact-finding work and concern to illuminate the perceptions of the Orang Asli, our particular contribution being to consider how we can elicit the stories, beliefs, wants and needs of an increasingly voiceless people.

Over the next few weeks we will be making introductory visits and meeting people who work alongside these groups as advocates and welfare workers. The social science team also want us to work with their social work and sociology student groups to help develop a community development approach at the Tasik Chini site. It was suggested that a Participatory Action approach would probably be the best way forward where community members act as equal partners with academic staff and students to identify needs and solutions.

From the first meeting onwards, we also discussed some of the fears expressed about developments in social work education and practice as Malaysia moves slowly towards passing, and subsequently, implementing its Social Work Bill. A new college initiative is being proposed to address some of the anxieties of non-social work graduates and many NGOs regarding the concern that they will be marginalised by graduate social workers solely benefitting from social work becoming a protected title. We have been asked to advise on the curriculum in this venture.

We were also invited to assist in the development of a new Master’s programme in social work at UKM, determining whether a niche in medical sociology and social work or an emphasis on marginalised and disadvantaged groups would play best to strengths. Prof Vishantie Sewpaul, vice president of the International Association of Schools of Social Work and Kwa-Zulu Natal South Africa, and ourselves joined the UKM team in exploring how they might best develop the academic elements and niche areas. This will involve further discussion but was given a boost the following day (Thurs 16th) at a special colloquium at the Institut Sosial Malaysia, in which we advised on publication and research strategies.

In between this work, background reading, catching up with emails (when we can as email connection is sporadic!) trying to swat mosquitoes, find food and locate a local launderette – and generally navigate our way around on foot in a largely non-pedestrian society where wheels are essential, we are also busily educating our children. In many ways this provides an important balance and helps us in engaging with our family-friendly hosts!

We have also been delighted to meet our former Malaysian students attending the meetings that we have each respectively taught over the years at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak and at University of Hull, who have now reached positions of prominence in their chosen professions. We were both astonished to find out that so many people we have met this week were not only were aware of our individual previous research but were able to refer knowledgably to a number of our papers that relate to the Malaysian context.

So early days and only one week in; but already there are signs of meeting those key fusion objectives of developing international research links, educational opportunities that may link to professional practice outcomes.

Jonathan Parker & Sara Ashencaen Crabtree

Social Work in Palestine

Conference logo

Social Work in Palestine, 2nd conference Palestine-UK Social Work Network
The 2nd National Conference of the Palestine-UK Social Work Network, supported by members of the British Association of Social Work, was held on the 12th November at the Amnesty International Centre off dingy Shoreditch High Street, and was an absolute bargain. For a registration fee of only £15.00 it offered a programme of rare value and threw in a two-course vegetarian lunch as well. It was also one of the most compelling and powerful conferences that I’ve ever had the privilege of attending. One heard with almost disbelief and certainly intense disquiet several level-headed presentations reporting the daily and systematic oppression of the Palestinian people, and the fragmentation of any semblance to normality through the enforced occupation of the territories that has continued for over sixty years.

To try to convey what this means, Prof. Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador claims that every single Palestinian living under occupation suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. We also learned what ‘peace’ has meant for these people over the last twenty years since the Oslo Agreement 1993: 7,000 Palestinians killed, twelve thousand+ Palestinian homes destroyed, a further 250,000+ Israeli settlers in Palestinian territories, and finally, 441 miles of apartheid walls built to corral people into armed, patrolled ghettoes.

Jerusalem, historical home of so many Palestinians, is subject to what Issa Rabadi, Officer of the Palestinian Union of Social Workers & Psychologists, described as an ‘undeclared war of ethnic cleansing’, where apparently the goal of the occupational authorities is that the Palestinian population should not exceed 15-20% by the Year 2020. To this end, one third of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem are at risk of being demolished on the official grounds that these are illegal lodgings, with a predicted peak of destruction of homes due in 2014. Yet, apparently gaining legal rights to live in Jerusalem for resident Palestinians is so complex and protracted a process (lasting decades in many cases) that ‘Kafkaesque’ hardly begins to describe it.

The most distressing stories, unsurprisingly, referred to the detainment and torture of Palestinians; particularly those accounts concerning Palestinian children. Many of these child prisoners are as young as 12- or 13-years-old, and are arrested normally on the charge of throwing stones at the occupying forces. This was exemplified by the experiences of speaker, Mohammed Abu al Reesh, who was arrested on two separate occasions in his recent boyhood and subjected on both occasions to brutal physical maltreatment and psychological intimidation throughout this time. Mohammed’s story was by no means exceptional, rather than the reverse. In addition to physical abuse children may also be placed in solitary confinement for up to a month where the only contact is their interrogator. Arrested and imprisoned children are not normally permitted to see their families and even accessing legal support is achieved only with great difficulty. In the case of Mohammed, within a fortnight of being released from his last sentence, he enrolled at university, eventually gaining a BA in media studies with the ambition, now achieved, of becoming a journalist in order to better inform the world of human rights violations taking place in the territories.

So where does social work feature in this catalogue of utter wretchedness? The Global Agenda for Social Work, which seeks to unite social work educators and practitioners universally in the promotion of this year’s theme ‘Promoting social and economic inequalities’, directly resonates with the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Palestinian social workers live and work under the same high levels of daily oppression and insecurities as the communities they courageously serve. They are unsupported by State legal systems or by Israeli fellow social workers, who to-date appear ominously aloof to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. As lecturer, Barry Levine of Glasgow Caledonian University, also pointed out, any international criticism of state tactics is very likely to result in accusations of anti-Semitism, which effectively serves to stifle debate and to muddy attempts towards a clearer understanding of what constitutes discrimination and oppression in the territories.

Despite this, the Palestine-UK social work network is actively seeking collegial links with anyone interested in the Palestinian plight to further the goals of the Global Agenda and to constructively work towards peace. To this end, plans are being made to hold the next conference in Jerusalem, where hopefully UK social worker academics and practitioners will be able to witness the situation for ourselves; and equally importantly, show solidarity with social work colleagues internationally.

Socnet Conference at HSC

Erasmus Social Work International Week at the Centre for Social Work, Sociology & Social Policy, HSC

 The Erasmus SOCNET International Social Work Week, which runs every April from the 15th to the 19th  of the month,  is a multi-site annual event held at host European universities drawn from across the 19 HEI members of the SOCNET network  on a 3-year rota.  This very popular event brings together a diverse range of European academics and students with an interest in social work and welfare to participate in a packed week of educational, cultural and social events.

 This year, and for the first time, it was BU’s turn to host this prestigious event held jointly by HSC staff and students from the BA and MA Social Work programmes and BA Sociology & Social Policy.  HSC welcomed academics and accompanying students from Germany, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands for a very busy educational week, which received highly enthusiastic evaluations from participants.

 The chosen theme of this year’s SOCNET conference at BU was  ‘Diversity and the processes of marginalization and otherness: giving voices to hidden themes’.  The event was opened by Vice Chancellor, Professor John Vinney, followed by a keynote lecture from Professor Jonathan Parker. Professor Gail Thomas, Dean of the School of Health & Social Care, was guest of honour at the lecturers’ Welcome Dinner held at the Print Room Restaurant, Bournemouth – the first of a number of lively social events held that week. Members of the organizing committee on the staff side included Jill Davey, Jonathan Parker, Sara Crabtree, Richard Williams and Chris Willetts, all of whom were also involved in delivery of presentations ranging from problematising anti-oppressive social work practice to a comparative South Africa/UK study of kinship care to Islamophobia in Europe.  HSC PhD student and Associate Lecturer, David Galley, gave an important lecture on the historical context of migration and its influence on welfare. Social Work students Michelle Lillywhite, David Oppong and Ralph Daniel, and Sociology & Social Policy students Abby Jeffery, Heidi Crew, Luana Silliton and Samineh Hall were instrumental in organizing student events, together with delivery of their own student-led thematic workshops. Finally, invaluable administrative management was provided by HSC’s efficient Administrator, Karen Long. 

 Above all, however, the importance of the SOCNET International Week lies in the ability to sustain the continuation and expansion of a dynamic community of international scholars and educators. Drawn from across the interconnecting disciplines of social work, law and social policy these academics are actively committed to promoting a participatory and internationalised student-focused curriculum on the diverse features of European social work and welfare. The peer collegiality of the event embraces an ever-changing body of students as peer-learners and equal participants in developing specific conference themes, and assisting to develop the sustainability of the network. This in turn generates further engagement through student/staff exchanges and research collaboration.

 To further promote these excellent goals, selected chapters generated from the best of the workshops at BU will be developed into an edited volume entitled Diversity and the Processes of Marginalisation: Reflections on Social Work in Europe, under the editorship of Sara (Ashencaen) Crabtree and Jill Davey (Whiting & Birch publishers). This collection follows from last year’s initiative to produce the first SOCNET volume entitled Active Ageing? Perspectives from Europe on a vaunted topic, under editors María Lusia Gómez Jiménez, University of Malaga, and Jonathan Parker, BU.