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On being posthuman in human spaces: critical posthumanist social work with interspecies families

Melissa Laing (School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 29 April 2020

Issue publication date: 21 May 2021

391

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, it proposes a critical posthumanist orientation to social work as an approach to address the impediments to care experienced by interspecies families. Secondly, it challenges the anthropocentric assumptions that underpin this exclusion of nonhuman family members in human services disciplines such as social work.

Design/methodology/approach

This article presents primary data from a qualitative study into social work and other human services practice in the family violence and homelessness sectors in the state of Victoria, Australia.

Findings

Social workers undertook companion animal-inclusive practice to counter vulnerability to interspecies families caused by gender- and species-based violence, and by homelessness. Gender- and species-based violence was exacerbated by a lack of refuge options, and contributed to women considering their companion animals to be their children. The vulnerability that homelessness brought upon interspecies families was amplified by stigma within and external to social work and related professions, and the impediment that experiences of homelessness had on being able to provide care for their nonhuman family members. These factors shaped practice with interspecies families. Scope for future practice was also identified.

Research limitations/implications

The research findings can be used to inform policy change that includes consideration of nonhuman family members, as well as critical posthuman program design in social work education.

Originality/value

Companion animal-inclusive practice with interspecies families in social work is an under researched area, and there is little empirical data available on the nature of this work in Australia. This paper addresses this gap by centring social workers' own accounts of practice. This paper has scope to contribute to education in social work and other welfare fields, with the potential to empower students to challenge assumptions about social work being solely focused on human-centred concerns.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author acknowledges the contribution of her research participants, without whose critical accounts this paper would not be possible. The warm and insightful feedback from her anonymous reviewers is also gratefully received.

Citation

Laing, M. (2021), "On being posthuman in human spaces: critical posthumanist social work with interspecies families", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 41 No. 3/4, pp. 361-375. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSSP-09-2019-0185

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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