Controversy analysis

Contributions to the radical agenda

Authored by: Natalia Farmer

The Routledge Handbook of Critical Social Work

Print publication date:  January  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138578432
eBook ISBN: 9781351264402
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter will reconsider social work research methodologies and engage with the concept of ‘controversy’ in order to cultivate a critical understanding of the contemporary global landscape we are implicated within. In an attempt to comprehend the ever changing environment of conflict, uncertainty and complexity that social workers and service users are located within, this chapter aims to embrace the persistence of ‘controversies’. It will be argued that when ‘controversies’ erupt, taken for granted assumptions are challenged, technical knowledge is disturbed and the opportunity to increase knowledge and influence policy and practice is created. Drawing from my PhD literature review, the interdisciplinary field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) will be utilised and ‘controversy analysis’ as a research methodology will be presented as a radical approach that can be applied in practice. The first part of this chapter will ease into the textures of controversy and begin with an exploration of ‘conflict’ that has the potential to open processes and relations that have remained closed and hidden. Attention is then focused upon Actor-Network Theory (ANT) as an approach that encourages us to ‘follow the actors’ and ‘describe what you see’ (Latour, 2005: 8) and key case studies will provide detail of these methodological ‘empirical occasions’. Finally, I draw from my PhD research with immigration controversies to demonstrate how this methodology enriches current understandings of practice and offers fresh insight in relation to service user engagement as participatory resistance.

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