Abstract This paper outlines a set of art mechanisms that can help to co-produce knowledge between service users, social workers and policy makers. The paper will demonstrate how the arts can enable a space to reflect, to give concrete shape and to discuss and explore new meanings of an issue, for both ‘sides’ of the interaction together. Art enables situating subjective experience within social context with the help of the relationship between figure, background and spatial division of recourses (meaning material physical and also abstract recourses available to a specific group). Finally, arts enable negotiating multiple understandings and initiating new perspectives through using shifting symbols and shifting compositional elements. These mechanisms are demonstrated through images of a group of marginalised Bedouin women in Israel. The article discusses implications of conceptualising the relationship between social work and the arts and humanities as a way to enhance social workers’ skills. Social work research, arts in social work, co-production of knowledge, arts-based research Introduction A central goal in social work is to integrate the knowledge of practitioners and of service users so as to co-produce effective solutions (Boyle and Harris, 2009; Slay and Stephens, 2010). However, while the theoretical, ethical and practical advantages of co-production of social work knowledge are clear, it requires a method to bridge the differences in power and in culture and forms of knowledge between social workers and service users, and to integrate them into a form of practice. Social workers are acculturated to define a problem and a solution mediated through Western and abstract psychological and social concepts, while members of marginalised groups often make sense of their experience and develop meaning structures using symbolic, narrative and visual forms of expression (Bowler, 1997; Fine, 1994; Gordon et al., 1990; Tuhawi-Smith, 1999). As Lippard states, ‘Educated Westerners use language as control, while poorer, less educated people, especially those from rural backgrounds, control language through expressive formulations’ (Lippard, 1990, p. 57). These differences can create difficulties in self-defining and articulating knowledge. In addition to these different forms of knowledge, there are also differences in levels of power and dependency issues that make conflicts in knowledge in social work between researchers, social practitioners and service users difficult to negotiate. For example, a female service user’s self-definition as less important than a man might conflict with the social worker’s training towards equality. Because of the power of the social worker, the service user might submit to the social worker’s view. Marginalised groups’ self-definitions of problems and solutions are eroded through external and internal forms of marginalisation, and through the difficulty in negotiating hybrid and shifting cultural norms and social realities. Hooks (1992) discusses the difference between being ‘observed’ as a passive position, as compared to actively ‘observing’ one’s own and others’ reality, as an active position. Furthermore, service users accept the definitions of the ‘experts’ such as social workers, who have authority over them. To overcome these barriers in form, content and context of sharing knowledge between social workers and service users, each side has to learn the culture and knowledge forms of the other. Social workers often teach service users social and psychological theories as within consciousness-raising, feminist interventions and cognative behavioral protocols protocols. However, social workers and researchers can also learn the more expressive and phenomenological ways through which service users describe their knowledge. Mason (2002, p. 31) describes the centrality of words in Western-style research as a limitation of the imagination. This point has implications for teaching social workers skills from the arts and humanities, such as relating to form as well as content. Freire also understands arts as an important medium through which to express individual understanding of social context (Freire and Macedo, 1987, p. 86). Spivak states that: … the place where female ‘speech acts’ can be heard is not in historical and political writings that are male dominated, but rather in the areas of symbolic self-expression where resistance does not directly threaten the central male discourse, as it is removed from reality (Spivak and Guha, 1988, pp. 197–219, 241–68). From this perspective, the arts are an important language within which social workers can meet service users’ theories of what is a problem and what is a solution within the context of their lives. This paper aims to show the usefulness of arts as a methodology for co-producing knowledge. This paper does not advocate a romantic perspective on the arts as general intuition. Rather, it proposes a typology of visual compositional mechanisms inherent in the arts that are useful to co-produce integrative knowledge in social work. These mechanisms will be demonstrated using images created by minority-group women and addressed by social workers. The first stage of co-producing knowledge is for each side to define their theory of the problem and solution. The arts enable to concretise these definitions and to expand verbally upon their inner coherence. The dynamic relationship between the visual forms used, such as size, shape and colour, and the content level, such as symbols and metonyms, enable further elaboration of meanings. This gives silenced groups a space to produce their own theory of the issue. Second, the inherent tension between figure and background (also in abstract images) creates a phenomenological depiction of how the individual experiences the system within which he/she lives. This creates a personal interpretation of a social context in an externalised image (Freire and Macedo, 1987; Foster, 2007; Harrington, 2004; Wang and Burris, 1994). Thus, the service user’s own interpretation of his/her social reality is shown. This helps to contextualise micro experience within a macro context, which is an important aim of social work. Third, the arts are spatial and so show how space or recourses are divided within the service user’s reality. It does not allow professional terms that hide the social–structural problems that hide lack of recourses. For example, if the social worker and service user each has a page to describe their understanding of the problem and of the solution, then space is already re-divided and both sides have physical space to define the issue. However, social work, as a practice rather than theoretical profession, aims to go beyond accepting different understandings of problems and of solutions, into negotiating a specific policy to create practice actions and guidelines. This can include transferring knowledge, allocating resources and reaching joint benefits in an integrative rather than distributive type of agreement (Bereby-Meyer et al., 2004). A shift to arts injects a set of creative mechanisms that help shift this negotiation of solutions between social worker, service users and policy makers, to a distanced, metaphorical, embodied and innovative field of reference. Arnhiem describes symbols as a medium that can hold multiple meanings: as such, the same symbol can be interpreted in different ways by different people without one side being right (Arnheim, 1996). Symbols can contain and define past issues and imagine and help concretise future issues, through giving them form (Dokter, 1998; Emerson and Smith, 2000). Indeed, the arts, from a neuro-biological perspective, are a way to group together stimuli into a coherent gestalt or unit (Van der Kolk et al., 2001). Working memory selects and updates images and sensations that become the base of narratives, rituals, symbols and other forms within which meaning is made and negotiated (Bledowski et al., 2009). Thus, arts and symbolic interactions are the spaces where the core values and integrated learned patterns of behaviour, ideas and products characteristic of an individual and of a society are defined and communicated to others (Huss, 2012). This focus on visual stimuli is also apparent in social work, where, due to increased use of visual social media by service users and social workers, images become part of the interaction. We see this in research and practice methods that focus on the arts, such as use of photography and art films, television programmes and media heroes in individual and group interventions, and use of photo-voice, photo-voice, community art, outsider art, arts in conflict negotiation and arts for social change in community work (Foster, 2007; Huss, 2012; Bryant, 2014; Chamberlayn and Smith, 2008). These methods are also used in arts-based research, which is particularly suited for researching silenced groups, as described in the theoretical section above. Art is also much utilised to humanise institutions such as prisons, hospitals and others (Foster, 2007). However, social work only minimally incorporates visual arts into social work theory, often as an illustration or as a general romantic conception of creativity rather than as an inherent methodological structure that is part of intervention or research. It is important to explain that social uses of art as outlined in this paper include a broad definition of arts as a trigger for meaning making and narratives of meaning, rather than aiming to create aesthetic product, or aiming to reach an unconscious projected layer of the socially decontextualised inner self. Social ‘art’ can include symbols, colours, photographs, TV shows, advertisements, photographs and others that hold meaning for the person who created or chose them as a trigger for their definition of problems and of solutions (Simmons and Hicks, 2006). Field site of illustrations The visual mechanisms outlined above will be demonstrated by the author with drawings from a group of poor indigenous Bedouin women in Israel. This paper is theoretical and uses this case study as an illustration of the central claim that arts can be a useful space to co-create knowledge within. A full description of this group with different analytical prisms can be found in previous publications of the author (see Huss, 2012, 2016). In general terms, the Bedouin, who define themselves as indigenous people, are one of the poorest and most underserved parts of Israeli society. The women in this group are doubly marginalised on the level of class culture and gender—both from within the society and from without (Tal, 1995). The groups whose images illustrate this study are connected to the Department of Welfare Services and private non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and work in empowerment groups. The art was one such enrichment within these groups. The social workers working with the women are all Jewish, representing a different culture and class, as is often the case when working with marginalised groups. All university and field ethics approvals were received, and the women signed consent to have their images anonymously used within research. (As stated above, in this paper, the groups are illustrative: for a more detailed description of the groups, please turn to former papers on this group published by Huss (2009, 2012, 2016).) Analytical prism As stated above, this paper is theoretical and analyses these images through a new method in this paper, so as to illustrate a typology of the inherent compositional elements of art that help to co-produce social work knowledge, using impoverished Bedouin women’s images. The women typify a group of marginalised service users on the level of culture, gender and poverty. The aim of these illustrations is to demonstrate how the arts can: help to concretise the connection between micro and macro perspectives through the relationship of figure to background; help both social workers and service users to self-define issues through dialogue with compositional elements of an image; help to map out how space and recourses are divided within a system in a concrete way; help to negotiate shifts and conflicts in service users’ versus social workers’ definitions of problems and of solutions. Examples: a typology of art mechanisms that can enhance co-production of knowledge Stage 1: Using art to self-define a problem and a solution Before knowledge can be co-negotiated, those with less power and voice need a safe space within which to self-define the issues that concern them. This stage has been described using three visual mechanisms: using art to excavate or to self-define internal theories for marginalised groups; using art to show rather than tell about how recourses are divided; and using the relationship between figure and background to access how the individual experiences his social reality. Using art to excavate or to self-define internal theories for marginalised groups The first stage of co-producing knowledge is for each side to define their theory of the problem and solution. The arts, as stated above, can enable concretising and elaborating upon these different voices through the dynamic relationship between the visual forms used, such as size, shape and colour, and through the content level, such as symbols and metonyms. This gives silenced groups a space to produce their own theory of the issue rather than internalising hegemonic definitions of their experience. This activity becomes an act of empowerment and social change in itself. As Jones states: ‘The image may speak for itself, reducing the possibility of the artist client being spoken over’ (Jones, 1997, p. 75). Similarly, Hooks states: Spaces of agency exist for black people, wherein we can both interrogate the gaze of the other and also look back, and at one another, naming what we see. The gaze has been a site of resistance for colonized black people globally …. One learns to look a certain way in order to resist (Hooks, 1992, p. 208). Thus, making art enables turning one’s own gaze onto one’s life, and onto one’s problems, before negotiating this knowledge with others. For example, in creating an image that includes a heart, one has to decide the art material, colour, position and size of the drawn heart. These compositional decisions portray the type of love expressed. Thus, the process of creating or discussing images can help to clarify inner theories—about, in this case, how love is defined and experienced—in an action-based and embodied way, and to show and narrate this experience to others. In the first example of a heart drawing (Figure 1), the Bedouin mother who drew it explains: Figure 1 View largeDownload slide A heart Figure 1 View largeDownload slide A heart I was married at aged 15 and I have ten children, my husband hits me and the children, now I’m ok because we got divorced, but I am alone, I have no one to listen to me, ten children and I am alone. I drew my heart, crying, alone. This is my heart, the only thing I have left. In this example, the woman is able to excavate her meaningful symbol, the ‘heart’, and then to use it as a trigger to verbalise her feeling of lack of support. She thus self-defines the central problem, among many, as being so alone. In multi-problem cases that are common in social work practice, if the service users can prioritise their problems for themselves, then this creates important knowledge for the social worker, as well as pointing to a potential solution. Drawing a problem creates an internal dialogue in which problems are chosen and self-defined. From this, solutions are suggested (Betinsky, 1995; Bledowski et al., 2009). Using art to show how rather than tell about how recourses are divided Above, the arts were used to excavate the woman’s own self-definition of the problem. The second mechanism uses art to map out the division of recourses related to the problem. The professional terms used by social practitioners are often abstractions that hide the social–structural problems that create symptoms. For example, PTSD, defined as an illness, is caused by lack of safe space for some members of society (Gould and Baldwin, 2004). Soja (1989) writes ‘Class struggle must encompass and focus upon reassertion of space in critical social theory’ (p. 92). The visual image is a spatial medium that can help make this lack of space visible. Once lack of space has been revealed, then the arts are also a space to enable symbolically starting to re-divide recourses and to ‘dare to imagine’ a new division. For example, if both the social worker and the service user each has a page to describe their understanding of the problem and of the solution, then space is already re-divided and both sides have physical space. Figure–background relationship as revealing person in social context Figure 2 illustrates the use of art to reveal power relations between men and women in Bedouin society: Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Planting flowers Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Planting flowers My father did not allow me to plant flowers in the garden, or to choose my own husband, or to live in my own house. Here I drew me, in my garden, with my own house and flowers that I have planted. Above, the woman used the art her to access phenomenological experience of the problem on a micro level and, second, to map out the social recourses involved in the problem on a macro level. However, an image that is made up of both subject and background can help to integrate these two levels into a single gestalt, showing how they interact with and construct each other. Humans have a basic survival mechanism for identifying the potentially dangerous subject (such as a tiger) as opposed to the background (Sarid and Author, 2010). Tension between figure and background creates a phenomenological depiction of how the individual (subject) experiences the system and a social depiction of how the system (background) constructs the subject (Freire and Macedo, 1987; Foster, 2007; Harrington, 2004; Wang and Burris, 1994; Simmons and Hicks, 2006; Shank, 2005). For example, the background in a drawing of a house might be a village, an unpopulated area, a city, a war zone or a field—each expressing a social context for the subject, the house. A drawing of a person in a house might reveal how the art maker experiences their house as the background. In Figure 3, a woman explains: ‘I drew me as a tree with branches flying in the wind, the wind is trying to make me fall and I am trying to be strong, to give my children what they need.’ Figure 3 View largeDownload slide A woman as a tree Figure 3 View largeDownload slide A woman as a tree In this example, the ‘wind’ or macro surroundings are the lack of recourses for the women from her surroundings. She describes how she is trying as a subject to withstand this threatening ‘windy’ context. Instead of defining her as a ‘shaky tree’ in psychological or ‘micro’ terms, then we can try and understand how she tries to withstand the ‘winds’ of her lack of recourses. These become a base for the service user’s knowledge (Harrington, 2004; Huss, 2012; Mahon, 2000). Stage 2: Using art as a space to co-negotiate knowledge: Above, we used visual mechanisms of art to articulate a phenomenological but also socially contextualised narrative using the compositional, spatial and figure-background mechanisms of visual expression. However, co-creating knowledge demands negotiating conflicting stands and creating integrative solutions based on service users’, social workers’ and policy makers’ knowledge. Social work, as a practice rather than a theoretical profession, aims not only to excavate phenomenological understandings of issues or to situate them within a social context, as happens in arts-based research and critical research methods, but also to co-negotiate methods of solving specific problems in specific realities based on these understandings. This process can include transferring knowledge, allocating scarce resources and aiming for an integrative rather than distributive type of agreement between the knowledge of social workers, of service users and of policy makers (Bereby-Meyer et al., 2004). As stated in the introduction, differences in form, content and power relations between these different groups involved in decision making make this stage of co-negotiation more complicated. The arts can help by shifting the language of the negotiation to a neutral zone, using visual language to conceive of new perspectives on the problem. How are the arts suited as a method for this process? First, the arts enable a broad hermeneutic space within which to negotiate different meanings from new perspectives; second, the shift to a visual compositional language can enable new perspectives on problems; and, third, the arts enable distancing direct conflicts. The arts as a broad hermeneutic space Visual symbols are broader than words, and thus more open to multiple interpretations (Arnheim, 1996). This is apparent when a group observes the same image and each finds different meaning in it, or when a person discovers new levels of meaning in a much loved image at different times in his life. This process of shifts in meanings is apparent in the following example, where one women in the group created a small image of a cow out of clay: [Making a small cow out of clay] ‘A woman is like a cow. Ifthe woman gives milk, it’s looked after, but after it doesn’t give milk, it’s discarded’ [She bursts into tears]. [Quickly making a horse out of her clay] ‘A woman is not like a cow, she is like a horse, strong, and carrying burdens on her back’. Using visual language to conceive of new perspectives on the problem As stated above, the arts provide a broad hermeneutic base for finding new meanings and for shifting perspectives of an issue, through focusing on different elements and on the various relationships between parts of the composition (Huss, 2012). As stated above, this shift in perspective enables a system or community to reconceptualise or to revision a specific issue that has become calcified or that is problematic. Symbols enable containing and defining past issues and defining new constellations of the system as captured in compositional elements (Dokter, 1998; Emerson and Smith, 2000). For example, compositional shifts in a Jewish Star of David can be a symbol of religion, culture or state, and can shift between these definitions based on the colour, size and context of the symbol. Another example is the inclusion of a heart shape within Bedouin embroidery, showing a shift to Western understandings of romantic love. Similarly, the veil of a Muslim women symbolises traditional values but, as such, enables the traditional woman who wears it to pursue non-traditional activities such as work and study outside the home. On this level, elements of visual culture that are meaningful to service users, such as favourite TV shows or media heroes, can be utilised as a space to negotiate new knowledge together (Dokter, 1998). Shifting the conflicts in co-negotiation to a neutral zone Issues of power between social workers and service users can be indirectly addressed through images. In the above example, a woman describes her dilemma between traditional and Western culture through her image of a traditional woman holding hands with a Western woman (Figure 4). Figure 4 View largeDownload slide A modern and a traditional woman Figure 4 View largeDownload slide A modern and a traditional woman The drawer of this image explains that the religious woman is pulling the secular women in her direction, although she does not want to go with her. By talking about the woman in the image rather than herself, she addresses culturally sensitive subjects in a distanced, non-threatening way that maybe she could not discuss directly in front of others in her community. In the next example (Figure 5), an elderly Bedouin widow drew an image of a thin blonde woman and explained: ‘I wish to be pale, thin, and blonde.’ The widow was describing a more Western aesthetic, embodied by the social worker’s pale skin and blonde hair, as compared to her own dark skin and hair and larger size. Rather than directly stating that she wanted the privileges that white Western professional woman have in Israel, she expressed this indirectly through her image. In terms of creating knowledge, this interaction helped to destabilise the knowledge of the Jewish social worker who wished to accept the traditional woman ‘as she was’. However, this was not the woman’s own wish. She wanted entry into Western culture. The distancing of this issue to the image enabled a space to negotiate issues of identity, but also issues of power relations between the social worker and service user, using art as a type of transitional space. Art in this paper has been defined as both flexible enough to enable multiple interpretations, but also as concrete and static enough to hold these together and to create a common base for co-creating knowledge (Simmons and Hicks, 2006; Slay and Stephens, 2010). Figure 5 View largeDownload slide A thin blonde woman Figure 5 View largeDownload slide A thin blonde woman Conclusion This theoretical model tried to point to a typology of visual mechanisms of art expression that help to co-produce knowledge in social work. The arts were shown to be a method to self-define theories of what is a problem and what is a solution for marginalised groups. This included three mechanisms: create a reflective space to self-define experience of social context; map out recourses onto a page to make visible the division of space and lack of spaces within a system; use the inherent compositional tension between figure and background in art to depict the reciprocal relationship between individual and social context.Furthermore, the arts were shown to create a transitional zone within which to negotiate differences in understanding between social workers, policy makers and service users. This also included three mechanisms: the use of arts as a broad hermeneutic base within which to explore multiple interpretations; the use of cultural symbols as a space from within which to negotiate change and new solutions; the use of arts as a non-threatening, distanced transitional space within which to negotiate conflicting types of knowledge.A limitation of this study could be its strong theoretical leaning that is illustrated but not applied to a full research project. Future research can validate these theoretical assumptions. This study has implications for social work education. It shows that, in addition to studying social and psychological theories, social work can also benefit from the skills and perspectives of the arts and humanities. This will help to utilise shifting cultural symbols and images as a place within which to express inner theories, and as an inherent form of problem solving. It may also help to keep social work connected to basic humanistic values such as belief in self-actualisation while preserving the connection of these values to core conditions (Chamberlayn and Smith, 2008; Narhi, 2002; Philp, 1979). Overall, this typology of visual mechanisms went beyond using art as illustration, distraction or minor motif, but used art seriously as a methodology for the ‘pragmatic, intellectual and instrumental character of co-creating knowledge to be actualized’ within social work (Slay and Stephens, 2010, p. 39). References Arnheim R. ( 1996) The Split and the Structure: Twenty-Eight Essays , Berkeley, CA, University of California Press. Bereby-Meyer Y., Moran S., Unger-Aviram E. ( 2004) ‘ When performance goals deter performance: Transfer of skills in integrative negotiations’, Abstract Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes , 93, pp. 142– 54. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Betinsky M. ( 1995) What Do You See? 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The British Journal of Social Work – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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