The Art of Social Work: Why Social Workers Should Read Novels

By Karen McCauley.

Published by The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Social workers are invested in understanding and critically evaluating personal narratives to realize individual and social change. This paper offers an overview of ways that social work has been diminished by neglecting its humanistic origins. Reading narrative fiction, particularly novels may inform professional practice as demonstrated by a critical analysis of selected novels and policy discourses over the course of Ontario’s "Institutional Cycle", which commenced in 1839 with the erection of upper Canada’s first lunatic asylum, and concluding in 2009 when the last provincial institution for the care of people with developmental disabilities was dismantled. The findings of this research demonstrate locations where the construction of disability in novels and in policy texts complement or contradict each other and further, how a disconnect between cultural and political discourse may be perceived in the uncertain success of the dismantlement of Ontario’s institutional system. The findings from this research suggest that novels and other literary narratives may enhance program and policy planning for diverse populations and a wide range of social welfare issues.

Keywords: Social Work, Novel, Disability, Narrative, Policy

The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, Volume 10, Issue 2, 2012, pp.33-39. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 262.892KB).

Dr. Karen McCauley

Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

I am a social worker and interdisciplinary researcher (PhD in human studies), teaching social policy, disability studies, and direct practice methods at Laurentian University's School of Social Work. My first degree is in English, and this foundation in the humanities has informed my subsequent professional education and research in important ways. My current research is invested in two main themes: exploring how social workers may more effectively and ethically represent the life stories of people who cannot speak for themselves; and how a social work curriculum incorporating reading of fiction and nonfiction narratives may enhance students' ability to think critically about dominant social policy narratives and individual life stories.