Beyond a single story: peripheral histories of boys brought up in a residential school

Mark Smith (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)
    151 Downloads (Pure)


    In recent decades, a singular story that speaks of awful and endemic abuse in residential schools has assumed a status as normative truth. Schools run by religious orders attract particular opprobrium. A single story can act to totalise experiences and can occlude nuance and complexity in how we understand the past. Invariably, other stories are to be found submerged beneath any grand narrative that has been laid down. In the case of residential schools, these submerged stories belong to those children brought up in residential schools who do not recognise themselves in the dominant story. This article offers an account of life in a Scottish residential school run by a Catholic religious order. The author worked there over the course of the 1980s and has conducted life-history interviews with boys he looked after there. Their accounts offer a powerful counter narrative to the dominant story of the schools. The article proceeds to discuss the gulf between the two stories from a position of narrative inquiry. It cautions against attempts to judge the past from the vantage point of the present and calls for more finely grained and grounded approaches to social work history than are currently evident.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)290-305
    Number of pages16
    JournalEthics and Social Welfare
    Issue number3
    Early online date16 Feb 2022
    Publication statusPublished - 2022


    • Residential schools
    • historical abuse
    • industrial schools
    • narratives
    • stories
    • transitional justice
    • victims

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Philosophy


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