Week 1: SW Theory and Decolonization

1. Why is theory important in a course on diversity and social justice and how might these be applied in your social work practice?

In Module 2 of the EdX course, theory is defined as “a set of assumptions meant to explain how or why something happens, or predict if/when something will happen” (Mitchell, 2017). Theories are important because they take a multi-dimensional approach to a hypothesis and help to describe through a series of applications the ways in which society functions. It further aims to explain these causes, hypothesize future outcomes for these behaviors, and aspires to study how this plays out on all level of human activity.

Studying theory will help my colleagues and me develop as stronger clinicians.  Being open to studying the various theories (which are naturally continually evolving through practice) in social work, will help us to better learn about the “social structures, institutions, policies, practices and process with respect to how they treat all groups in society” (Mullaly, 2010).  If we aim to work interpersonally or with the wider community, we must be aware of how social scientists before us have understood these trends.  

Furthermore, as we learn about theory we must also think critically.  No theory is the same or should be viewed as truth.  A theory, by nature of its name, is meant to be regarded but also questioned and tested.

In this course on diversity and social justice, studying and making sense of the established theories in social work are imperative.  As Mullaly (2010) denotes in Chapter 1 of the text, organizations and agencies typically focus on how clinicians directly practice and impact their clients in the real world, but typically do not acknowledge that theory informs this work. I will be critically conscious of this fact as this I learn and engage throughout this course and move forward with my MSW.   

I also realize that not all theories will apply to every scenario and each theory might not entirely be applicable.  For example, as an educator, I learned a handful of important theories that were meant to support and guide me in my teaching pedagogy before I entered the classroom.  Although I never directly employed any particular theory as principle or fact to teach by, I am grateful for those that have inquired and theorized before me because it gave me a wealth of knowledge to pull and learn from in various, diverse scenarios. 

Without developing an underlying background in the various theories presented in social work, clinicians operate under the umbrella of their own experiences, views of the world, and biases. Learning about the theories in this course will be important.  If we do not examine and learn from concepts like “structural role theory” and “contact theory,” then we have a narrow perspective on humanity considering the fact that our own experiences are not all-encompassing.   


2. We have all been colonized through our education and the influence of our social environment.  Even our participation in this course and work with the university can be seen as participating in a colonial system – what are some things that stand out to you in your social environments, e.g. family, work, school, communities, institutions that are unsettling now that you think about them.   Tell us what it was and how it impacts/ed you.

As the readings for this week stipulate, we must be careful of creating a metaphor of decolonization.  The term “decolonize student thinking,” for example, changes how we view the real meaning of the word.  The term “decolonization” is intended to be the revival of a culturally indigenous identity through which a series of challenging, life-altering steps must be taken. Decolonization is an act of recapturing one’s stolen, eradicated culture due to the process of colonization.  I do not want to be naively guilty of saying that my education was colonized and thereby invalidate the historical colonization of indigenous peoples.

I agree, however, that the systems our country has established (education, community, healthcare, work, etc.) are a product of the social environments established by a dominant group. By nature, the dominant group have put systems in place that act to systemically dampen the cultural influences of minority groups.  With this in mind, there are certainly things in our current social environment that are unsettling and are in the way of decolonization. The attempt I make to answer this question will be based on an observation of our currently charged political society.  I do not claim to have the answers, rather this is a commentary on an experience that is linked to an example of a move to innocence from Tuck & Yang (2012).

One massive structural hindrance to decolonization relevant today is immigration policy. I have noticed that since the September 5 executive decision made by the President discontinuing DACA, some of my Facebook friends have been inserting their personal narratives into the situation, showing their “move to innocence” via settler nativism

For example, I have a friend that posted today that she went onto ancestry.com and noticed that her grandma came to America via Ellis Island.  With this connection to immigration through her grandmother, she says she stands by the “Dreamers.”  She makes an important point that many of our ancestors were immigrations at one point to this country.  And, of course, her intentions are pure.  I recognize that she wants to put her voice out there and make a stand for the upsetting decision made by the President.  Like the readings this week indicate, however, this comment (although entirely well-intentioned) is an act “to deflect a settler identity, while continuing to enjoy settler privilege…(11)” (Tuck & Yang, 2012) She is a second-generation American citizen and is not an undocumented student and she can make this statement without fear (theoretically).  She was privileged enough, like myself, to have the ability to have access to higher education. 

I, like my colleagues, want to fight for what is fair and just in order to decolonize. The challenge is that by unintentionally asserting settler nativism, it reinvests in the colonial structures of our society.

3. What was a major learning for you this week?

I am really interested in decolonization.  Although this week’s readings yielded a wealth of knowledge about the importance of theory, I think that I was most struck by all of the moves to innocence, or the ways in which decolonization could miss the mark.  As humans, we can be incredibly well-intentioned.  However, when we do not understand the many ways in which our own privileges automatically impact our existence, it prevents us from attaining incommensurability. 

Tuck & Yang (2012) say this is an “acknowledgement that decolonization will require a change in the order of the world” (31).  My big takeaway is that as social workers, we must prioritize deconstructing the outdated, dominant-culture worldviews in our work in order to open the door to justice for the colonized and disenfranchised groups in our society.






3 thoughts on “Week 1: SW Theory and Decolonization

  1. Shelby's Spot says:

    Hi Noreen! I really liked how you mentioned the importance of questioning and criticizing theories. Often times as learners, we take what is presented to us as the absolute truth. It’s important that we take the time to understand theories, and analyze how this relates to the world around us. I also loved how you mentioned moves to innocence that you’ve noticed around you, specifically in terms of DACA. I’ve also noticed this as I scroll through social media, and I’ll definitely be more critical and aware of this in the future. Thanks for the great post!


  2. RogelioCastro says:

    Noreen, I found your take on theories in the realm of social work to be very insightful! I agree with you on the idea that learning about theories could make us into better clinicians better they can have the ability to influence our decision making when working with a client. Nevertheless, you make another point on how it is important to learn about the foundation work regarding social work but to keep in mind that theories should not be the only thing that should revolve around the work. You give the example of how as an educator you learned about theories but that did not mean they were entirely applicable to the work you did. Nonetheless, how theories would really strengthen your skills.

    Additionally, the connection you made regarding colonization/decolonization to the presidential decision on DACA was very thought provoking. Your take on this concept is touches on the dangers of decolonization, which is something I also explore in my blog post.


  3. jungtaechoi says:

    Dear Noreen,
    I agree with your opinion that theories are important because they are based on a multi-dimensional approach that effectively explains and evaluates certain social justice issues. However, one thing I have always been worried about is that social work does not have its own theory. As our textbook explained, the theories regarded as core social work theories, general systems theory and the ecological approach, are not actually theories (Mullay, 2010). This means that we social workers are required to build our own theory that effectively explains and predicts social issues related to social work. Of course, theories are not perfect that they are not applicable to every scenario, but it is good to actively adopt theories into field placement, which will likely increase an opportunity to not only effectively help clients but also to construct our own theory.


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