Northern Social Workers’ Experiences with Reflective Practice: Analyzing Power in International Development Work

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Strumm, Brianna Lee




Colonial histories, processes and experiences created conditions of inequality that continue to exist between the Global North and South and established a power dynamic that plagues international development work. Social workers who work in the international development sector are implicated in reproducing these unequal power relations through the operation and facilitation of this work. As such, they have been criticized for imposing their influence and knowledge in Southern contexts, while at the same time failing to critique the effects of Northern imposition on individuals and communities. Drawing on anti-oppressive social work practice, this project explores whether social workers' engagement with reflective practices impacts their understanding of their own positioning, power, practice strategies and negotiation with their managerial workplaces. Data was collected with the use of semi-structured interviews with Northern-trained social workers who work (or recently worked) for governments, international aid organizations, or as consultants across the Global South in the Middle East, Caribbean, Oceania, East Asia, Europe, and Africa. Participants revealed that powerful neoliberal ideas in the workplace and location-specific challenges constrained reflective practice activity. This research provides important insight and understanding into how Northern social workers working in the Global South grapple with their roles, responsibilities, identities, and positions. This study contributes research on the different possibilities for reflective practice within an anti-oppressive international social work practice framework and within international development work. These possibilities include a critical analysis of power as well as how such practices narrowed the gap between critical analysis of power and workers' practice orientation.


Social Work
International Law and Relations




Carleton University

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Social Work

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Theses and Dissertations

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