Taking a stance: reflexivity in research with a social justice orientation

Target audience

Doctoral students in social and political sciences, such as sociology and social policy, education, and social work.

Organising Committee

Griet Roets - Faculty: Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences - Department: Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy -

Prof. dr. Rudi Roose (Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy, Ghent University)
Prof. dr. Koen Hermans and Prof. dr. Wim Van Lancker (Social Policy and Social Work research group, Centre for Sociological Research, Catholic University of Leuven)
Prof. dr. Stijn Oosterlynck and Prof. dr. Peter Raeymaeckers (Department of Sociology, Antwerp University

Topic and Theme

In international circles, the recognition of the status of social work as an academic discipline has been a vital dilemma and subject for debate. In comparison to other established disciplines such as psychology, social policy, sociology or pedagogy, the academisation of social work in Europe is a rather recent phenomenon. The recent reformulation of the global definition of social work however acknowledges social work not only as a profession, but also as an academic discipline. In these discussions about the academic grounding of social work, particular attention is paid to an exploration of the disciplinary identity of social work research.

In that vein, the search for a common research agenda in social work might be a rather complicated yet captivating and necessary issue. The existence, nature and specific elements of anything which can be identified as social work research has generated an interesting and productive debate over the last two decades. In that vein, social work, including social work research, in Europe and in the international realm remains a highly complex yet very diverse phenomenon. Moreover, social work researchers have explicitly argued that social work research is inherently normative rather than neutral and value free. Social work shares a common commitment to the realization of social rights, social justice and social change, which is constitutive of human societies. The social work researcher is, in other words, never a tabula rasa, since social work research always inherently intervenes in existing assumptions about social problems.

The role of social work research in the process by which knowledge is generated as socially constructed in relations of power therefore implies that the ways in which research deals with existing assumptions about social problems should be open to scrutiny and contestation. It is important to understand this dimension of generating knowledge as political, which refers to the critical awareness that research findings and knowledge claims emerging from social work research can be seen as questionable and agonistic issues rather than as neutral facts. This requires a greater degree of reflexivity to think about what assumptions about the world are taken for granted and what questions and answers are not addressed or precluded by particular pieces of research, in terms of the theoretical perspectives or particular research methodologies that are used, both in quantitative as well as in qualitative research designs. As a process of knowledge construction and production, doing research requires reflexivity by the researcher, which means that social work researchers should constantly take stock of their actions and their role in the research process and subject these to critical scrutiny.


The central objectives of the specialist course therefore imply that participating doctoral students are required to:
•    critically (re)consider the possible challenges for research, policy and practice in this context;
•    reflexively position their role as researchers in relation to policy and practice.
In order to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue within the social sciences, doctoral students will be enabled to discuss the role of social work (research) in relation to other academic disciplines such as social policy, sociology, pedagogy and education, etc.

Format - Methods

The programme will combine a series of 4 public lectures and research seminars (lectures from 10-12u, lunch between 12-13u, seminars from 13-17u)

  • Public lectures: Four guest lecturers will discuss possible challenges for research, policy and practice in the context of this broad social and political development, which arise in many European welfare states and in different fields within social work. Within these lectures, special attention will be given to the role of research as well.
  • Research seminars: Based on insights that are introduced during the public lectures, doctoral students are encouraged to present their own current doctoral research projects during the research seminars. In order to stimulate their reflexivity about their role as researchers in relation to evolving policy and practice, they are enabled to frame their theoretical as well as methodological frame of reference, and to discuss complexities and ambiguities that are emerging during their research process. During the research seminars, the international guest speakers as well as members of the organising scientific committee will give feedback on their work.

Dates and tentative programme

  • 26 February 2019: Researching ‘race’, poverty and mental health: An intersectional approach by Frank Keating at UGent

This presentation will explore how research can be used as a tool to draw out the intersections between poverty, mental health and ‘race’ as social inequalities in social work research. It will draw on a photo voice project that aimed to give voice to black men who are particularly marginalized and stigmatized in the United Kingdom (UK). There are well-documented disparities for black men in the UK, which spans their general life experiences, their experiences in mental health services and their experiences in recovery. This intractable situation has persisted for decades. The aims of the project was to find ways of encouraging black men to talk about emotional well-being in a non-medicalised way and to capture their narratives about how they construct well-being.  Nineteen men agreed to participate in the project and all gave permission for their photos to be used in reports and presentations.
The project was underpinned by critical race theory, intersectionality theory and insights from the work of Frantz Fanon. I will use the findings to illustrate how these theoretical insights helped to give voice to a marginalized group, the challenges encountered both during and after the project. I will specifically highlight the challenges for doing research that offers a counter narrative, attempts to promote social justice and the positioning of the researchers in relation to the participants.

Frank Keating is Professor of Social Work and Mental Health in the Centre for Social Work, School of Law, at the Royal Holloway University of London. His research focuses on themes of diversity, inequality, justice and power, and contemporary professionalism in an increasingly complex and globalized nature of practice. Key research topics include the critical examination of services engagement with diversity, such as responses of mental health services to ethnicity, gender and inequalities, and the experiences of groups, communities and individuals that are often marginalized in social services. A developing area of work is a concern with cultural competence, which looks at ways of working with people across different cultures but also understanding their experiences, and strategies to challenge injustices in day-to-day experience. Recent publications include Parental mental health and black children (2016), and Racialised communities, producing madness and dangerousness (2016).

  • 26 April 2019: Towards a Science of Social Change: Advancing a Rights Research Approach to Social Work Research and Evaluation by Tina Maschi at UA

During this lecture, Dr. Tina Maschi will present a human and social rights approach to social work research and evaluation that merges the powerful partners of science and social change.  Drawing from her book, “A Rights Research Manifesto” Dr. Maschi will present an action-based research model that applies a human rights framework (e.g., dignity and respect for all persons, the universality and interrelatedness of political, civil, social, economic, and cultural rights), (i.e., applying a human rights framework; making a difference; informed; multiple perspectives and methods; meaningful participation; holistic analysis, and thoughtful sharing.) She will use case examples from her own research individuals, families, and communities impacted by trauma and/or the criminal justice system, especially incarcerated older adults. Participants who attend this lecture will increase their competencies in how to apply a rights-based approach to the research decision-making process from the formulation of research questions, research and practice design, and participatory action strategies that advance human and social rights. It will conclude with a participatory dialogue with participants on how social scientist researchers can integrate science and social change with the ultimate global goal of liberation and empowerment for individuals, families and communities.

Tina Maschi, PhD, LCSW, ACSW is an associate professor at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service in New York City and licensed clinical social work with advanced certification. She is locally, nationally, and internationally known for her social work research and practice efforts are at the intersection of aging, trauma, health, and justice. Dr. Maschi is a practitioner scholar with over 125 peer reviewed  publications, including in international and interdisciplinary journals and books.  She is the author and/or editor of four books, including 'A Human Rights Approach to Social Work Research and Evaluation: A Rights Research Approach,' "Practitioner as Researcher: Integrating Research with Advocacy," "Content Analysis," and "Forensic Social Work."  Hodge and colleagues (2016) article noted Dr. Maschi as one of the top 30 high impact social work scholars using the m index. She also serves on the editorial board of well respected journals, including Traumatology: An International Journal, published by the American Psychological Association.

  • 7 May 2019: Theorising disability and humanity by Dan Goodley at UGent

This public lecture will draw upon some of my recent work with colleagues in Sheffield and Manchester in Britain and in response to some inspiring writers and writings. Drawing on research projects and intellectual moments of engagement, the lecture considers the ways in which disability disavows normative constructions of the human. I use the term disavowal in its original psychoanalytic sense of the word: to simultaneously and ambivalently desire and reject something (in this case, the human). I will then clarify and expand upon this disavowal - with explicit reference to the politics of people with intellectual disabilities – and make a case for the ways in which the human is (i) a category through which social recognition can be gained and (ii) a classification requiring expansion, extension and disruption. Indeed, an under-girding contention of this lecture is that people with intellectual disabilities are already engaged in what we might term a posthuman politics from which all kinds of human can learn.
The lecture explores how, while I started with disability studies, my research and scholarship has shifted to include engagement with feminist, queer, postcolonial and class theories. This critical subjectivity requires a more intersectional and therefore more broadened praxis necessitated by the complexities of human lives at the margins of society. The lecture then outlines seven reasons why we should ask what it means to be human. Then we will move to focus on four very human elements - support, frailty, capacity and desire - and disability’s place in redefining these elements. The lecture adopts the maxim of critical disability studies: that while we start with disability we do not end with it. And in this sense I am interested more widely in considerations of social justice.
Dan Goodley is Professor of Disability Studies and Education at the University of Sheffield. His writing has sought to unravel and contest the dual process of ableism and disablism, being reflected in influential book publications such as Dis/ability Studies (2014, Routledge) and Disability Studies(2011, Sage). He is a father to two daughters, a keen Nottingham Forest FC football fanatic and lover of the band Sleaford Mods.

  • 14 May 2019: Quantitative research and the secondary analysis of longitudinal data in social work research by Martin Elliott at KUL

The use of quantitative methods within social work research varies between countries. Although their use in the UK has increased in recent years, historically there has been relatively limited use of quantitative analysis within social work research. This mirrored their use in the social sciences more widely in the UK. This is in stark contrast to research undertaken in the USA, for example, where arguably quantitative studies provide a significant proportion of research evidence for the field of social work. Using examples from two UK studies (the four-nation Child Welfare Inequalities Project and my own PhD) the lecture will explore the use of quantitative methods in social work research.  In particular, the lecture will focus on the use of routinely collected administrative data, both cross-sectional and longitudinal, relating to children in out of home care or subject to child protection procedures. The opportunities and challenges of undertaking these types of analyses will be outlined and explored.
Martin Elliott is an ESRC funded postdoctoral research fellow in the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre (CASCADE) at Cardiff University. His research interests include children 'looked after' by the state; young people in secure accommodation; children on the edge of care; poverty and social inequalities; services and outcomes for disabled children and young people. In his PhD, he studies trajectories of youth care users, using administrative data and longitudinal research techniques. Recent publications include Quantitative research and the secondary analysis of longitudinal data in social work research (2015), Looked-after children in Wales: an analysis of the backgrounds of children entering public care (2017), and Child welfare inequalities in the four nations of the UK (with Paul Bywaters et al., 2018).

Registration fee

Free of charge for members of the University Doctoral Schools of Social and Behavioural Sciences


Please follow this link:  https://webappsx.ugent.be/eventManager/events/takingastance

Number of participants

Maximum 25

Teaching material

Articles or chapters being published by the key note lecturers.

Evaluation criteria (doctoral training programme)

Attendance, active participation, presentation, and writing a short paper concerning the own doctoral research project.