“Unauthorised Access to the Soap Dispensers”: Holding Space Open for Emancipatory Social Work Practice



Social work education, Emancipatory practice, Social justice, Neoliberalism, Critical pedagogy, Activist pedagogy


Dismantling inequality, discrimination and oppression are core tenets for critical social work practice and foundational for social work education. Yet, increasingly, social work students find themselves grappling with identifying and challenging issues of social justice in contexts influenced by neoliberal hegemony. Such contexts emphasise individual “failings”, ignoring structural barriers for people experiencing social problems such as poverty, inequality, incarceration and racism. Through co-production with social work students, our research aims to inform social work teaching practices which can best equip graduating social workers for emancipatory social work practice. Here we report on an exploratory study that outlines student experiences and understandings of an undergraduate social work subject which explicitly aims to equip students with skills for social justice practice. Our findings reveal that at the start of a semester, students have very little understanding of social activism for social work but through experiential learning they acquired knowledge-by-doing, which was transformational in their journey to becoming social justice advocacy practitioners.

Author Biographies

Fran Gale, Western Sydney University

Dr Fran Gale, Senior Lecturer, Social Work and Community Welfare, School of Social Sciences

Linda Briskman, Western Sydney University

Professor Linda Briskman, Margaret Whitlam Chair of Social Work and Community Welfare, School of Social Sciences

Rimple Mehta, Western Sydney University

Dr Rimple Mehta, Lecturer, Social Work and Community Welfare, School of Social Sciences