Class of ′78: Jeff Hearn - lecturer view

By Jeff Hearn

| 19 March 2019

Let me start by coming clean; I'm not and have never been a social worker.

So why am I writing now? Well, I started as a stripling lecturer, of just 27, the same time as the student class of 1974, and taught them on organisations and groups, and social policy, over their final two years, along with being involved in student selection, personal tutoring, even some placement supervision. In the 1980s, I became course director of the Master's in social and community work studies, and in the early 1990s, as head of department, was responsible for co-chairing the Social Work Programme Management Board. So, over those 20 years, I moved, in some ways, from outsider to insider.

Though I came to Bradford with a background in geography, urban planning, sociology, organisation studies, group work, local government, housing policy, and activist community organising, teaching social workers meant I had a lot to learn. I tried to impart an understanding of how organisations and groups can frame social work practice. At the same time, I was trying myself to learn about how social work organisations actually worked, or appeared to work.

Thinking back to my teaching in 1976-78, two things stand out. One was that, after introducing some key organisational theories, the students were required to write an organisational analysis of their third year social work placement organisation - on organisational structures, formal/informal relations, communication, teamwork, what happened "back at the office", away from the clients, yet often intensely important for face-to-face work. Also, as a way of educating myself, I photocopied the projects, along with my feedback, so that the following year(s), I could draw on relevant examples, and understand more.

Just recently, I found by chance in a dusty box file of those very project reports from March 1977. At a recent reunion, some read eagerly, marveling at the analytical detail, complex organisational diagrams, neat handwriting; others reflected on youthful naivety; some dared not to read. But the point was that this introduced students early in their career to organisational realities beyond "the client relationship".

A second memory was developing an awareness of how organisations, groups, management and leadership work in the here and now, and the powerfulness of that. I decided for the last three sessions of the 3rd year teaching to involve the students in co-designing some of the 4th year course: what became option seminars alongside the main sessions. These seminars were on women and organisations (later called gender and organisations), which I ran, and organisations, culture and race, which my close colleague Peter Hitch ran.

Theory had to be translated and meaningful, through a mix of didactics, topical discussions, project work, inter-group tasks in class (with newspapers and cellotape!), role-playing (e.g. being very bureaucratic or non-bureaucratic!), even re-reading novels through organisational eyes.

The middle and late 1970s were an exciting time to be around social work education, with shifts from social administration and psychoanalytically-inspired object relations theory to a much broader critical practice, inspired by more radical analysis of societal inequalities, social (in)justice, and social policy and control. The 1974 cohort were right in the middle of the change. It was also a time of intense political activity, with struggles between staff, and at times close alliances between some staff and students, in a way that now seems remote, a different world.

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