Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch (2013)

gold finch bookMy first blog in a long time and there is a good reason why it has taken so long – I have been reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and it is huge and I have very little time for reading for pleasure.

I have finished reading the novel at much the same time as the #7daysofaction campaign has been launched.  #7daysofaction is a social media campaign to raise awareness of adults with learning disabilities who are being warehoused in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs) across the UK.  When I first started research disability in the 1990s, I was particularly inspired by Jenny Morris book – Pride against Prejudice and when considering the right to family life, I am always reminded of these words:

 “Powerlessness characterises the experience of residential care and the nature of institutionalism affects even those of us who are not in residential care. The possibility of institutionalism hangs over many disabled people living in our own homes, fuelled by the fear that one day the support which makes our independence possible will disappear, or that an increase in functional limitations will prove too much for whatever resources are available to us” (Morris, 1991: 127) Continue reading


He Named me Malala (2015)

malala posterMalala Yousafzai is a remarkable woman, with a spirit and voice that needs to be acknowledged and heard.  What happens to this voice when it is mediated through the lens of a documentary maker?  He Named Me Malala is a fascinating film, through which Malala’s charm and courage shines, but it is not perfect.  It starts with the mythologised context of Malala’s naming.  Her father chose her name which is from the Afghan folk heroine Malalai who rallied Pashtun fighters against the British in 1880.   This provides a context of colonialism and conflict and a narrative of defiance.  There was a powerful scene, narrated by her father (over animation) where on seeing the family tree populated entirely by men, he draws a line and adds her name.  For me, this is what that act symbolised:

“Women’s history has a dual goal: to restore women to history and to restore our history to women.” (Kelly-Gadol, 1987: 15)

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Laura McBride – We Are Called To Rise (2014)

In my early days of teaching, working with Access and first year undergraduate social work students, I would try to encourage students to consider why context, politics and policy matters:

Me: (Tongue in cwe are called to riseheek) So, let’s say the government decided to declare war on some random country in the Middle East (highly unlikely, I know) – what impact do you think this would have on social work?

This question was an exercise in an introductory social policy unit, where one of the objectives was to acknowledge the impact war has on social relations. Students would surprise themselves with the list they produced:

  • Soldiers returning with disabilities
  • Soldiers returning with PTSD or other mental illnesses
  • Increased numbers of asylum seekers, including children in need
  • Increased budget on defence, meaning less money spent on health and welfare
  • Increased xenophobia and racism
  • Loss and bereavement within families
  • Potential terrorism
  • Climate of increased fear and distrust
  • Increased government surveillance

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Sara Ahmed – Brick Walls: Racism and other Hard Histories

Why I invited Professor Sara Ahmed to the Developing Social Justice Seminar Series

SARAOn 11 March 2015, I had the great pleasure of welcoming Sara Ahmed to MMU to discuss Racism as part of the social justice seminar series.  I first came into contact with Sara’s work when writing my PhD.  She led me to reflect on my time as a policy officer at a local authority. Armed with the McPherson Inquiry (1999) definition of institutional racism, I found a way of championing race equality issues.  Continue reading

Zadie Smith (2013) – The Embassy of Cambodia


The fact is that if we followed the history of every little country in this world – in its dramatic as well as its quiet times – we would have no space left in which to live our own lives or to apply ourselves to our necessary tasks, never mind indulge in occasional pleasures like swimming.  Surely there is something to be said for drawing a circle around our attention and remaining within that circle.  But how large should this circle be?

Two Warnings

  1. There are some distressing images in this blog
  2. This blog is longer than others because this quote really got me thinking and I ramble without any conclusion

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Margaret Drabble – The Pure Gold Baby

pure gold babyThis blog is not supposed to be a review of my reading; nor is it supposed to offer recommendations for others. This is just as well, because although I can see that Margaret Drabble’s novel is expertly written, it was an uncomfortable read that I would struggle to recommend, especially if your leisure time is short and reading is a part of your escape. Rather, this is a site for making connections between artistic portrayals of the world and the discipline of social policy. So, while I found this read sometimes frustrating and anti-climatic, what I want to explore here is my unease with the book.

This is the story of an anthropologist (Jess) and her daughter (Anna) who has learning disabilities. However, this is not told by either of the main protagonists. In some ways this is entirely appropriate as they form the polar opposites of a spectrum when it comes to the ability to tell stories. Anthropologists are often privileged to tell the stories of others, whilst people with learning disabilities are rarely allowed to have a voice. However, this was the source of my discomfort and possibly also the strength of the writing. As Czarniawska (2004: 5) says:

“… other people or institutions concoct narratives for others without including them in a conversation; this is what power is about

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Olive Stevenson – Reflections on a Life in Social Work (2013)

olive stevensonThis is an unusual entry for this blog. It is customary for me to write about fiction and make connections with social work and justice that the artist has highlighted for me.  So, what can I learn from reading about actual social work?  I picked up Olive Stevenson’s memoir because it was to be discussed at the Social Work Book Group, an endeavour that excites me and (with candour similar to Olive’s) of which I am slightly jealous.  It is unlikely that I would have read it without that prompt. Continue reading