Epistemic Disconcertment as Occasioning Inquiry into the Figure of the Social Worker in Aboriginal Australia
: Narrative, Analysis, and Interpretation

Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU

Abstract

This thesis explores the process by which a feeling of epistemic disconcertment is used by an embodied participant in social work, as a sign that inquiry into those situations where the feelings arise is warranted. Based on a selected set of encounters experienced by the author in northern Australia where he was engaged in a variety of professional roles with groups of Aboriginal people, the thesis considers the process of such inquiry. In particular the effects of this process of inquiry on the conceptualisation of the figure of the analyst and author are worried at. This figure arises within the inquiry itself and is understood to be configured by a diverse range of elements, not limited to those within the originating situations. The thesis should thus be understood as an explication of inquiry into past situated and collective inquiry (in the form of social work, or ‘services delivery’), and a consideration of what emerges from engaging in inquiry where the focus of puzzling is the knower (who made inquiry in the past in delivering ‘human services’), rather than the known.

The thesis uses four episodes of professional practice in which an epistemic feeling of disconcertment arose, presenting itself as occasioning inquiry into those situations. The aim is to
learn how to work effectively within similar situations. Starting the inquiry process through the writing of first-person narratives, which seek to bring to life the emergence of the disconcerting
moment, each of the four examples are presented as stand-alone instances of inquiry into inquiry. In each case the narrative initiates the inquiry, so while they read as descriptive accounts, they are shown to be part of the interpretive process, iteratively developed with the other components of the inquiry, whose nature, objects and purpose emerge from the process itself.

Through gathering the situations that form the basis of this thesis together, a context is developed: that of a professional whose ‘job’ entails working with Aboriginal people on matters in which
Aboriginal knowledge is a key component. This gathering enables the author to connect different situations under a single banner through which they can be interpreted. That these situations all
occurred in northern Australia, where many Aboriginal people continue to live lives connected to their land and ancestral practices, enables another contextual level to be developed, which the constituent chapters explore through grounded interpretation, asking what it means to work responsibly in situations where objectives and aspirations of Aboriginal authorities are actively
centred.

The reflexive work, which forms the basis of each of the four chapters in which professional disconcertment is considered, in turn enables the figure of the author as an outcome of inquiry to be composed. Recognising this figure as emerging from inquiry; a product of the process, the figure of the author is proposed as a partial knower, sensitised and embodied, capable of appreciating the moral dimensions of action, and able to participate knowingly and responsibly in epistemically and politically complex situations.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorHelen Verran (Supervisor) & Michaela Spencer (Supervisor)

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