Flexner Book Club Blog

2011 Mary Flexner Lecturer: Judith Butler

Theory and Practice: Friend or foe

In completing my final exam for the semester, I began to think about how I wanted to end this series of posts. I read over past entries while contemplating the themes that Butler has raised in this lecture series. In my last post I addressed concerns of applying Butler’s theories to the populations that I have worked with during my social work education. My final exam highlighted some of Butler’s reccurring themes of precarity, visibility, and alliance through vignettes drawn from case examples of various populations and settings common to social work practice. In reviewing any case example, social workers derive conclusions regarding case formulation and intervention options by reviewing the client in the context of their socioeconomic status, gender identity, culture, ability, etc. We frequently use theory to inform our work.

I began to think back to Butler’s theory of the politics of visibility and social action, and the impact that visibility has on the populations I have worked with. A social work tenet is to address issues of social justice—setting the field apart from other mental health professions. The social justice component was the most important piece in my decision to pursue this career. Finding the intersection between Butler’s quite heady arguments and the lives of those whose experiences with precarity exclude them from participating in these very conversations can, at times, feel like a stretch. However, as she so aptly commented in one Monday lecture that often academics leave academia to go out in the world and impact change directly, but frequently find their way back to academia in search of theories to inform and support their work. I see that through my own application of theory to social work practice, I am better equipped to address the needs of my clients.

Attending this lecture series and participating in this blog has allowed me to fully appreciate the need to employ a multidisciplinary approach to social work. This experience has enriched my own work when considering my clients who experience various forms of precarity, and the ways in which I align myself with them across boundaries of class, race, religion, and gender.

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