Rhetoric versus reality : the experiences of social workers in a public service organisation in eThekwini Municipality.
Dlamini, Thembeni True-Love.
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This research was designed to understand the experiences of social workers working in one public service organisation in the eThekwini region. It focused on how social workers explained the discrepancies between their preferred roles and responsibilities and the realities of their day to day practice. The study was guided by critical theory, which recognises the political dimensions of research and supports the importance of research being used for transformative purposes. Data were collected from 10 individual in-depth interviews and one focus group session with 21 participants. I also adopted the role of participant observer in collecting data. The research was driven by the desire to awaken social workers’ critical awareness about the structural injustices that exist in their practice offices and for them to propose solutions to their predicament. The major themes identified from the data highlighted the difficult conditions under which social workers function, the loss of professional autonomy under increasing managerialist practices; the undue political interference in social work functions, the cooption of social workers into political agendas, abuse of managerial power and lack of essential resources. The research process has demonstrated the power of critical theory in action. Through engagement in reflexive dialogue, social workers began to appreciate that they were not merely passive victims of the system. They began to see themselves as people who could be assertive and challenge some of the conditions that impacted their functioning. Rather than simply accept instructions, they began to show a willingness to ask questions and seek clarification from management. They made recommendations about improving service conditions so that they could fulfil social work’s core mandates in respect of pursuing human rights and social justice and work in the best interests of service users. These are detailed in this dissertation.
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