‘You Can’t Say That!’: Critical Thinking, Identity Politics, and the Social Work Academy

Jane Fenton (Lead / Corresponding author), Mark Smith

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

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    Recent years have witnessed an eruption of what have been termed culture wars, often converging around the messier aspects of interpersonal relationships and corresponding identity issues that are complex, sensitive, and contested. These are emotive topics that are often colonised by activist groups, and consequently have become 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 a 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
    Title of host publicationChallenging Academia
    Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Space for Controversial Social Issues
    EditorsHeather Piper, Else-Marie Buch Leander
    Place of PublicationSwitzerland
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Electronic)9783036508276
    ISBN (Print)9783036508269
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


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


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