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Blog 9 – British Journal of Social Work lived experience issue series

9 November 2022

Reflections as a new social worker in practice on epistemic injustice

This is part of a series of blogs kindly contributed by the editorial group working on the lived experience edition of the British Journal of Social Work.

Blog nine is by Omar Mohamed, Children and Families Social Worker, Lecturer and Researcher

Now having entered practice, during my journey as a guest editor for this special issue, I am faced with reflections around how knowledge from people with lived experience is considered in practice and how this links in with epistemic injustice.

Epistemic injustice refers to the unfair treatment given in how we produce knowledge and make sense. This can be seen as exclusion, silencing, invisibility, having one’s meanings distorted, misheard, misrepresented, diminished in status, unfair power dynamics, and being marginalised due to dysfunctional dynamics (Fricker, 2017).

This concept, that other guest editors have mentioned, has been clear in social work academia, such as in a recent BJSW editorial titled ‘The Deliberately Silenced and Preferably Unheard, Part Two—Discriminatory Epistemic Injustice and Distributive Injustice in Social Work’.

Applying this to practice has enabled me to reflect on how epistemic injustice is a clear and direct opposer of international social work values around promoting social justice, equality, and empowerment.

In practice, too often I am told that the knowledge we hold as social workers and the research evidence available is how we can truly understand what is happening for individuals, families, and communities. However, this fails to unpick the unfair power dynamics and marginalisation of people with lived experience, where the aim should be to empower people to understand that they are the experts in their own lives, and we are tasked with understanding their world view, knowledge, beliefs, principles, etc.

This difficulty is particularly faced by minoritised communities, such as racially minoritised people, and there is research happening around the specific experiences exclusion of Indigenous voices. The lack of attention to lesser heard and deliberately silenced voices causes ethical and moral concerns for me, therefore highlighting the importance of listening and learning from people with lived experience in this special issue.

My hope will be that the learning from this special issue will transcend into practice, and social workers and other professionals in social care will take notice and do those contributing the justice they deserve to be included, heard, visible, and represented.

Omar Mohamed is a Children and Families Social Worker, Lecturer and Researcher

Fricker M. (2017) ‘Evolving concepts of epistemic injustice’, in Kidd I.J., Medina J., Pohlhaus G.Jr, (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Epistemic Injustice. London: Routledge, pp. 53–60.