Academic journal article Arena Journal

Humanities Professionals and ‘the Social’

Academic journal article Arena Journal

Humanities Professionals and ‘the Social’

Article excerpt

What's In and What's Out

The ambition of this essay is broad: to review the contributions of Arena on humanities professionals over the last fifty years. This ambit has been interpreted to include material relevant to those with a background or interest in public policy, social research, education, community services and health.1 To proceed in this way is uncertain. That is, the brief is unstable, as relevant naming practices and territory definitions are evanescent - they exist at one moment only to fade, are then reformulated and later disassembled.2 Given these kinds of reformulations, and the shifting programmatic and professional delineations that they entail, it has been necessary to be deliberately selective in the material chosen for review.

The reviewed material includes contributions with the following subjects: social research, public policy, social services (income security, non-government organizations, 'welfare'), health (a reference that itself has overlapping, definitionally unstable components such as physical health, mental health and aged care), disability and, lastly, 'schooling' in the primary and secondary sense. All of Arena's published material falling within this ambit concerns, at the conceptual level, dimensions of 'the social' and is relevant to professionals such as, but not limited to, teachers and nurses, psychologists and welfare practitioners, policy workers and consumers, and health and human-service managers. The reviewed material also has relevance to those who have an interest in the work of, the theory relevant to, and the policies informing these actors and their contexts.

Given the volume of published material that directly, or more implicitly, is at issue, what follows must be partial. With apologies, there is not the opportunity to properly respect and engage with the content of, or to critically review, all of the contributions to each element within this larger reference. For example, if any single subreference within what might be summarized as the human services - say the particular field of child protection, or mental health - were to be properly considered, this would itself necessitate a large project.3 With this in mind, the limits to what can be concluded about Arena's contribution within the design of the present review become obvious. This problem of scope and depth is compounded by the fact that Arena has published - as it is obliged to - much that is interstitial. A piece that focuses on, say, 'the changing construction of childhood' may claim a meaningful relevance to many diverse groups, including teachers and residential care staff, but the importance of such a piece may not be immediately recognized by its potential audience because it is not specifically indexed to education or child protection.4

The above example is one of many. Further boundary-spanning topics include the casualization of the workforce, managerialism, positive psychology and its misuses, the role of health promotion, digitization and the demise of community. Unfortunately - and quite perversely, given the demonstrated need for a holistic perspective from which to understand, and respond to, the complexities of the many multi-problem presentations ('cases') practitioners face - there is now an increasingly severe enclosure phenomenon, a dividing practice, present in contested public settings such as education and child protection. In these embattled fields a close to impermeable fence is increasingly observable that simplistically separates what is deemed relevant from what is deemed 'other'. In these fields practitioners and managers often feel, and frequently think and say: Unless I really have to engage with X, unless I can be convinced it is an essential feature of my patch, no thanks. I am already very close to capsizing. That material is available that potentially challenges this understandable, but regressive, reflex goes some way towards offering a raison d'etre for the kinds of contributions Arena publishes: the offer of intellectual refreshment, and the recognition that particular ideological contingencies inform the policies, the everyday outcome of which is that practitioners will continue to struggle with overwork. …

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