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Home arrow Sociology arrow Holistic engagement : transformative social work education in the 21st century
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ON BECOMING HOLISTIC SOCIAL WORK EDUCATORS

Contemporary social work education in the United States is situated within the dominant power arrangements of higher education, which legitimizes particular ways of knowing while marginalizing others. In the physical and social sciences, logic and the Western scientific methods are held as the primary credible and legitimate way to develop knowledge. Intuition, spiritual insight, and other ways of knowing have been ridiculed and disparaged (Davis-Floyd, 2003; Inhorn, 1994). However, constructivist inquiry (Rodwell, 1998), feminist research methodologies such as standpoint research (Harding, 2004; Swigonski, 1994), and indigenous research methodologies (Smith, 1999) have challenged positivistic research and gained legitimacy in the social sciences. Nevertheless, in many corners of the academy, knowledges derived from the scientific method's guiding principles of objectivism, reductionism, positivism, and determinism are held in higher regard than historical, cultural, and indigenous knowledges.

The dominance of Western ways of knowing is a consequence of European countries' systematic colonization of indigenous peoples ofAfrica, the Americas, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. The ways of knowing of the colonial powers and Western knowledges were imposed as universal, supplanting the knowledges of the colonized (Smith, 1999). This subjugation is reflected in the cultural narrative of biomedicine as the only credible approach to health care. In this narrative, “health care practices that are not considered scientific are not trustworthy and the path to acceptance demands ‘scientific research' ” (Cassidy, 2011, p. 43). As Snow (1998) explains, “In this way, biomedicine is seen as somehow more true than alternative systems could possibly be” (p. 115). Fundamental concepts of holistic practice and related modalities have been influenced by or emerged from cultural groups that have been colonized and/or enslaved by European powers and whites in the United States. These concepts and practices that have not passed the litmus test of Western scientific research are devalued in the education of health professionals in the academy, which ignores the social and cultural nature of biomedicine. “[T]he form health care takes is first and fundamentally a matter of sociocultural interpretation. ... The ‘truth' that guides any health care system is relative and is learned” (Cassidy, 2011, p. 42).

In my experience (SR), the dominance of Western knowledges of health and mental health and the subjugation of other knowledges has led to cautiousness among some social workers and social work educators in revealing their support for IMBS conceptualizations ofwell-being. I have witnessed and heard accounts of the suggestion of the possible effectiveness of such approaches being met with derisive statements, such as “How could any intelligent, well-educated person believe in that nonsense?” or “That's not scientific; that's just superstition.”

 
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