Occupying Social Work: Unpacking Connections and Contradictions in the Social Work/Activist Divide

  • Emma Palumbo School of Social Work, Ryerson University
  • May Friedman School of Social Work, Ryerson University


We are interested in how social work and activism fit, connect and contradict each other.  As academics, activists and social workers, we consistently grapple with the tensions between these realms and how we configure ourselves and our work into these spaces. This pilot project was initially undertaken by Emma, an undergraduate social work student, under the supervision of May, an assistant professor of social work, as a means of blending our diverse identities and subject positions while allowing us to analyze the relationships between social work and activism.  We were able to use our own different roles and ideas as a jumping off point that led to Emma interviewing eight other people (who identified, variously, as social workers and/or activists), allowing for a rich and multifarious conversation to emerge. While neither social work nor activism nor any other form of protest and resistance can single-handedly engender utopia, this research has confirmed what our lived experiences have suggested: that individual connections, communities, social movements, educational models and radical alternatives must continue an engaged dialogue in order to constructively co-exist.