‘You can’t say that!’: critical thinking, identity politics and the role of the social work academy

Jane Fenton (Lead / Corresponding author), Mark Smith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    11 Citations (Scopus)
    168 Downloads (Pure)


    Recent years have witnessed an eruption of what have been termed culture wars, often converging around the messier aspects of inter-personal relationships and corresponding identity issues that are complex, sensitive and contested. These are emotive topics, often colonised by activist groups and, consequently, enveloped in particular regimes of truth and assertive identity politics. They are often also, by their nature, the kind of issues that are central to social work practice. This can lead to pressure on social workers and social work students to think that these orthodoxies ought to underpin and define the profession, which, in turn can lead to the silencing of alternative opinions and the closing down of dissent. This article seeks to locate identity politics in political and cultural context. It goes on to set out classic arguments for free speech, viewpoint diversity and for the need for social work to embrace and engage with such. It explores the notion that the closing down of debate about contentious issues, the disincentives that exist to expressing controversial opinions, and the uncritical adoption of ideological orthodoxies work against the development of the critical thinking skills that are essential for social work practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number71
    Number of pages14
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


    • critical thinking
    • identity politics
    • academic freedom
    • free speech
    • victimhood
    • anti-discriminatory practice


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