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THEORETICAL FRAMEWORKS: CRITICAL PEDAGOGY AND NARRATIVE PRACTICE THEORY

Critical pedagogy provides important conceptual tools for understanding the approach we took in designing the IMBS course discussed in this chapter, as well as the liberatory impact the course had on us as the instructors. Advanced by Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire (2000), critical pedagogy is an approach to education that aims to engage teachers and learners in their own liberation from oppressive systems. Critical pedagogy theory contends that conventional education uses a banking model, which treats students as repositories for knowledge to be gained in the learning process and fosters a passive approach to the world. Freire argued that the banking model of education is often used as a tool of oppression. By contrast, critical pedagogy uses a problem-posing model, which actively engages teachers and learners in analyzing and understanding their world, their role in it, and their ability to change it. Freire posited that the problem-posing approach to education has a mobilizing effect that supports people in understanding the power dynamics that affect their lives and working toward their liberation from oppressive forces. A central component of critical pedagogy is praxis, which is an iterative, transformational process of critical reflection and action (Freire, 2000). Through praxis, individuals and societies are transformed.

Our analysis uses narrative practice theory as a conceptual tool to explore our developmental process of becoming holistic social work educators. The underlying principles ofthis postmodern theory are that realities are socially constructed through language and are organized through narrative. Reflecting these principles, narrative practice theory rejects the concept of “knowledge” and uses the term “knowledges” to acknowledge that there are no essential truths (Freedman & Combs, 1996).

The groundbreaking work ofWhite and Epston (1990) outlined the basic concepts of narrative practice theory:

  • • People's narratives (i.e., personal stories) shape their lives and identities.
  • • People's lives are multistoried, and they have multiple identities.
  • • People experience problems in their lives, but the person is not the problem.
  • • When people experience problems or limitations, there is an accompanying dominant narrative that supports a problem-saturated identity while marginalizing other identities.
  • • People can address problems and limitations by re-storying (also called reauthoring) their lives, which requires developing a thick and rich narrative that supports a preferred identity.

This theory supports critical analysis because it recognizes that the stories of individuals are influenced by broader cultural and societal narratives. Some of these broader narratives promote the dominance of particular social groups and institutions while marginalizing and subjugating others (White, 2002). Germane to this chapter are two dominant cultural narratives. One is the narrative of biomedicine, which asserts that it is the most effective and credible approach to maintaining or restoring health and well-being. The other is the cultural narrative of Western science that asserts that knowledge is singular and discoverable only through use of the scientific method, thereby discounting all other ways of knowing and knowledges derived through other means.

The re-storying or re-authoring concept in narrative practice theory is particularly relevant to our analysis. Re-storying creates an alternative narrative to the problem-saturated story that reinforces a problem-saturated, disem- powered identity. This is accomplished by several processes. Externalizing locates problems that people are experiencing outside of themselves and is an essential component of re-storying. For example, an internalized perspective would have me ask of myself (Salome Raheim), “Why don't you have the courage to discuss your IMBS practices in professional settings?” By contrast, an externalized perspective asks, “What forces are operating that are intimidating you?” These forces are viewed as active agents that are influencing my thoughts and behaviors. After locating the problem outside of the person, re-authoring conversations link people with their knowledges, skills, abilities, and values to support development of an empowering story that shapes a preferred identity. These re-authoring conversations develop “alternative storylines of people's lives [which] are thickened and more deeply rooted in history” (White, 2005, p. 12). Equally essential to re-storying is a process called re-membering conversations, which assists people to recall and identify connections with others who might play important roles in their preferred story and identity (White, 2005):

Re-membering conversations are not about passive recollection, but about purposive engagements with the significant figures of one's history, and with the identities of one's present life who are significant or potentially significant. These figures and identities do not have to be directly known in order to be identified as significant to persons' lives. (p. 12)

Re-authoring using externalizing and re-membering processes assist people to create preferred identities that mitigate the negative and limiting effects of problem-saturated narratives, including the marginalization and subjugation of hegemonic cultural narratives, such as the superiority of biomedically based health care systems and the inferiority of others (Snow, 1998).

Using concepts from narrative practice and critical pedagogy, this chapter analyzes and interprets our experiences of becoming holistic social work educators in the cultural context of higher education. Our combined experiences illustrate that societal, institutional, and cultural forces may constrain, while others promote, social work educators' perceptions of agency and ability to engage in holistic social work education.

 
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