Monday, February 13, 2012

Thoughts on Power and Social Work

I read the article "Power and social work in the United Kingdom: A Foucauldian excursion"* by Tony Gilbert and Jason L. Powell and I think it expresses the root of my hesitation to take on a cloak of authority in my professional life. I know the authority we take on as professionals is legitimate and well-earned, and that we are held to a set of standards, but somehow I still feel hesitant. It feels like being in a position of authority reinforces a power structure I don't feel right being a part of. It feels hypocritical, like somehow it undermines the principles and values of social work (social justice, e.g.) to claim this authority, even if the authority is legitimate... After all, shouldn't someone who really values solidarity with her clients naturally be at odds with any system that reinforces a power hierarchy between the professional and the client?

The article describes the situation as more nuanced than that - i.e., that power is relative/relational, and that it is fluid rather than static. It also offers some hope of potential for social workers to resist or work to correct power inequalities. The authors of this article maintain that it is impossible for individual social workers to remove ourselves from the flow of power, and that we are both actors and acted upon by the concept of governmentality. This offers me some hope in a strange, resigned way - that is, being in a position of power/authority is not endemic specifically to social work. Regardless of what profession or path we choose in life, we are still going to be a part of a society that is comprised of a constant flow of power. So truly, if there is really no way out of the flow of power, we may as well embrace it and make the best of it... especially since social work specifically makes a conscious effort - more so than the vast majority of other professions - to achieve values like social justice and valuing the worth of individuals.

I mean, what else are we going to do - reject society entirely and live like hermits in the woods? Not only does that undermine the purpose of working to promote societal change (which is why we're all social workers to begin with, right?); but it is also, if I understand the Foucauldian perspective correctly, futile anyhow - since we all govern ourselves with our own thoughts, thus perpetuating the power dynamic even in the absence of anyone else!

And anyway, just like any other professionals, don't social workers deserve to be acknowledged for, and make a living by, our expertise? Isn't authority kind of a good thing? If you're sick, you want a doctor who is an authority in her field, right?

On a related note, after reading Saul Alinsky's book Rules for Radicals*, it seems reasonable to accept the idea that instead of trying to live life as we wish it were (head in the clouds), we have to start from where it is (feet on the ground) - and in doing so, acknowledge, understand, accept and work within existing power structures, or else be doomed to ineffectiveness.

But while there are ingrained mechanisms within our NASW Core Values and our Code of Ethics for undermining and resisting inequality, as members of this modern society, we still in many ways inherently perpetuate inequality. In so many ways, we as professionals and academics - even social workers - can fall victim to embracing hubris to promote ourselves, or choosing not to speak up when a moral dilemma arises because it may compromise our job or career, etc... So my question is not do I want to be a professional social worker. My question is: how can I be a social worker with integrity? How can I live a life and have a career that is in line with my values? How can I advance in my career without compromising my ethics? Ultimately, how do I avoid selling out? Link

I don't have the answers to these questions, and that bothers me. What are your answers?

*References (not perfect APA format - don't judge. It's late.):

Gilbert, T. and Powell, J.L. "Power and social work in the United Kingdom: A Foucauldian excursion" - if you want to read the full PDF of the article, I can email it to you. Published online before print December 8, 2009, doi: 10.1177/1468017309347237 Journal of Social Work January 2010 vol. 10 no. 1 3-22

Alinsky, S. Rules for radicals. 1971, Vintage Books. More info:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mini Reviews on Authors & Books

Here are a few descriptions/reviews I wrote up about my favorite authors and some of their books. Enjoy!

Barbara Kingsolver - Her characters are so interesting and funny, and usually very witty. She has a huge heart and you can tell she cares about her characters and people in general. The characters often endure excruciating trials, but always come out better for it. After reading one of her books, I feel warm and rewarded and glad I read it. There is usually deep and complex social issues at play, and you can tell she sees the world in a very nuanced way. She herself doesn't seem to have the answers to these issues - she never forces her opinion down her throat - rather, she explores issues through her characters.

Mary Gaitskill - She has an amazing way of describing odd human emotion and experience so sharply and accurately that the reader feels understood. Even if you're not experiencing/haven't experienced the particular emotion/experience she's writing about, you can't help but feel validated by her ability to put into words what every person constantly struggles to put into words. Her characters are always odd, wounded people, who seem to always be searching for something that's out of reach. Her writing leaves me feeling slightly raw and cold, like sitting too long in wet clothing. (Does that make sense? Maybe.)

Wally Lamb - His characters are usually these very complicated men. You want to like them, and you usually do, but sometimes they can be real a-holes. You always end up rooting for them, and watching their emotional growth is so rewarding. Reading I Know This Much Is True got me through a rough patch in my life.

Haruki Murakami - Even though I've only read one of his books (The Windup Bird Chronicle), reading the book made me feel very introspective, calm, and made me yearn for intellectual pursuit, and that in and of itself launched him into my list of top authors. The narrator is this amazingly sharp, thoughtful, calm man, who recounts his story, infused the supernatural and extraordinary, in such a calm, practical, precise and detailed way, that you can't help believing that is exactly what happened. :) Murakami brings 1980's Japan to life, and you feel like you're there, even if you've never been. Cool stuff about early PC's, too.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dreams, Music, Podcasts

Hi friends and readers,

My dear friend D sent me an email describing a beautiful dream he'd had, and this is the letter I wrote back to him. I did not yet get his permission to post his description of his dream, so I didn't post that, and I didn't really edit up the response letter much. It's not here to be an example of great writing, but rather to create discussion. Please post your thoughts. :)

Hi D!

I wish I had cool dreams like that more often. My dreams are usually just weird. Funny how sometimes you don't remember what happened in a dream, but it leaves you with a very specific feeling when you wake up. I think it goes to show you that at our core, we are emotional creatures.

Any more thoughts on what the dream may mean to you? You might have to sleep on it a bit longer (if you’ll pardon the pun) to get some perspective. K gave me an interesting book about dreams, and each item/thing/idea/concept is explained in both its psychological terms (what Freud or Jung or other psychologists thought it meant) and its mystical terms (what the ancient Greeks or other spiritualists thought it meant). I think it can be interesting to read about, but really I think it's pretty relative to each person. Different things have different significances to different people. I tend to have recurring dreams about elevators, parking garages and escalators. The escalator/elevator dreams are usually about me not being able to get off the escalator, or about the elevator refusing to go to the floor I push the button for. Maybe it’s about feeling out of control of my life? Or like my life is going in a direction I’m not ready for.

Are you able to do lucid dreaming? I used to be able to do it when I was a kid, and then again recently, but only when I try. I can teach you how if you're interested. It's pretty simple – it just takes practice. Oh my gosh, have you seen the film The Waking Life??? It is so amazing! Definitely in my top ten. I don't think you can get it on Netflix, but I have it (borrowed it from a friend). We should watch it sometime. Did I ever tell you about the psychic (precognizant is the technical term, I believe) dream I had when I was in 5th grade?

Funny you should mention that your dream started off with reading The Hobbit, because I was just listening to a podcast yesterday (see more below) wherein one of the hosts was saying that if she falls asleep reading, she sometimes has cool dreams about being in the story.

The podcast I was listening to is called Dial-A-Stranger. The hosts call up strangers and have conversations with them and record them. You can sign up at their website to submit questions to be asked to the people they call, or to be one of the strangers they call. I love listening to podcasts. I discover most of them through other podcasts! Some of my favorites are: This American Life, Dial-A-Stranger, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, The Moth, Risk, Snap Judgment (those three are story-telling podcasts), Transom, and some podcasts about sex education stuff. (Did I tell you I’m considering becoming a sex educator once I get my Master’s?)

Wow, this is quite a long email, and I have to finish up some stuff before leaving work today, so I’d better go!!

One more thing: I have the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” stuck in my head. J What is/are your favorite Christmas song(s)? You know, I’m not really religious, but during Christmas time I just love all the music – the religious music included! There is something so beautiful about it that unites people and makes us feel light and warm and happy toward humanity in the middle of winter! J Are you attending any Christmas concerts this year? Probably you get to hear and make great music at church all the time!

Have a fabulous evening, and happy dreams to you tonight!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Spiny Death Ball Season Is Here.

As if there aren't enough reasons to be crabby about the end of summer, the trees officially have started their nine-month spiny death ball shedding season. I'm not sure what these woody little spheres on a stem are actually called. I think they're probably some kind of seed-pod, but I'm too lazy to look it up. Nasty way for a tree to propagate its species, if you ask me. Which neither the trees nor the arborists of yesteryear who planted them in my neighborhood clearly did NOT.

These horrid little fuckers fall out of the trees for what seems like nine months of the year.

And now for my List of Reasons to HATE Spiny Death Balls:
~ You can slip on them and twist (or break!!) your ankle;
~ They hurt when you step on them barefoot/with the side of your sandaled foot;
~ Every fucking once in awhile, on your VERY LUCKY DAY, one will fall from a tree while you're walking under it, directly ONTO YOUR HEAD. Ouch.

To be fair and balanced, here is my List of One Reason to LIKE Spiny Death Balls:
~ You can have a Spiny Death Ball fight and throw them at your boyfriend. However, Boyfriend has much better aim, and is stronger, so he can throw harder and farther. Therefore, it's usually a losing battle.

Final analysis:
Spiny Death Balls suck.

Monday, October 4, 2010

(Non) Venn Diagram Pasta

On Saturday night, Ryan and I cooked dinner together! It was supposed to be Venn Diagram Pasta, but we ended up sharing almost all the same ingredients, so there really was no Venn diagram to be made from it, except to add in my homemade salad dressing.

Here's what we made:

Boil half a package of spaghetti.

1 jar store-bought vodka sauce
Broccoli (about a third of a large bag of frozen cut broccoli)
One quarter of a chopped red onion
Two to three cloves garlic, minced
Light olive oil

Saute the vegetables in olive oil in a frying pan. Heat sauce over low heat in a saucepan. Add vegetables to sauce, and simmer, covered, until the rest of the food is ready.

Homemade Garlic Bread:
One half a loaf of fresh French bread (sliced lengthwise)
One half stick of softened butter
Three to four cloves garlic, minced
Fresh oregano and basil, cut into small pieces

Mix the butter with the garlic and the herbs. Spread butter mixture with a rubber spatula onto bread. Wrap in foil; broil in oven on top shelf until crispy on top.

Very Basic Boring Salad:
One head Romaine lettuce
Two stalks celery

Rinse and chop lettuce and celery. Toss in bowl with homemade dressing (for Heather only - Ryan does not like dressing very much) and add homemade croutons (for both). See below for both these recipes.

Homemade Croutons:
Thanks to AS for showing me how to make these!

Half a loaf of French bread
Olive oil
(Variations: fresh-ground pepper; dry Ranch dressing mix; finely chopped herbs; chipotle powder.)

Cube the bread. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add bread cubes. Turn bread cubes over to brown all sides. Tongs are the easiest to use, but a spatula will work. Drain on a paper towel, and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Since the croutons are made with fresh bread, and not dried out in an oven, they are still rather moist, and can absorb dressing very quickly, making them mushy, so I prefer to toss the salad with the dressing first, and then put the croutons on.

Heather's Homemade Vinaigrette Dressing:

One part balsamic vinegar
One part olive oil
One part lemon or lime juice
Fresh minced garlic
Freshly ground pepper
Sesame seeds
Any other spices or herbs you think would be good. :)

Combine in a salad dressing mixer, or any small container with tightly fitting lid. Shake, shake, shake!!! Shake your booty! Add to salad and toss. Be careful pouring, as jars with wide mouths tend to allow the dressing to pour out really quickly!

Keep leftover dressing in the fridge, but note that the oil will harden, so remove a while before using. Shake before using.

Our thoughts/comments about the meal:
It's VERY EASY to burn the bread, so watch it carefully!
This is a meal easily adaptable to many tastes; these ingredients were just the basics.
Next time we'd like to try making vodka sauce from scratch (and want to try MS & AS's recipe!)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Venn Diagram Dining: Burritos

Venn Diagram Dining

I’m starting a new feature on my blog called Venn Diagram Dining. As you may know, my diet is mostly vegetarian, whereas my boyfriend Ryan has quite a taste for meat. However, our differences aside, we are trying to eat healthier and save money by cooking together. In Venn Diagram Dining, I’ll post our adventures in healthy gastronomy with a description of the meal we ate, including how our meals overlapped and where they diverged; photos of each dish; and recipes/tips.

The hope is to share two healthy versions of the same recipe with you. If you’re in the same situation as we are, and want to cook together. I hope this blog feature will serve as a meeting point for others who friends, families and couples with divergent diets.

Venn Diagram Burritos

Last night, we made chicken/tofu burritos. In the Venn Diagram below are lists of ingredients we each used. The recipe below yielded one good sized burrito for each of us for dinner, plus enough leftovers for two to three more burritos.

Our Dinner
Sautéed In The Shared Pan:
~ One quarter of a red onion
~ One can of corn
~ One can of black beans
~ One packet of gently milled brown rice, heated in the microwave for 90 seconds first
~ Fresh ground garlic salt and pepper

Garnished With:
~ Shredded Mexican blend cheese
~ Fresh oregano leaves
~ A drizzle of hot sauce

Wrapped In:
Whole wheat tortillas (large wrap size)

Ryan's Meal
Cooked In His George Foreman Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine:
One chicken breast, rubbed with spicy chipotle dry BBQ rub.

Heather’s Meal
Sautéed In My Pan:
~ Two kinds of squash, diced.
~ One package extra firm tofu, drained and squeezed, crumbled.

I added:
Diced avocado

Our thoughts about this meal:
We were both rather pleased with the outcome! Squash, beans, and corn are supposed to form a complete protein, as they provide all the essential amino acids. Along with the tofu, this was a superstar meal that provided a complete protein that was entirely plant-based!
We steamed the tortillas by laying them over the pan of beans and rice, but Ryan suggested next time we heat them in the oven on a skillet to get them a little crispier.

Please feel free to leave comments or suggestions!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Place Songs

For the musical geographer in you, the following list of songs about places was inspired by my friend DL. Please add your favorites in the comments section!

There are countless awesome songs about our Golden State:

~ "California Love" by 2Pac (

~ "California Girls" by the Beach Boys (

~ "Freeport Blvd" by Jackie Greene (couldn't find a video, but you can check it out on his website under "Gone Wandrin'" here:

~ Joni Mitchell - California - chock full of places other than CA, too!! (

~ "Sweet Home Alabama (I like the Counting Crows version better than Lynard Skynard's.) I can't find a video of Counting Crows' version... but also have the mp3 of that if you want it! Sometimes I change the lyrics so that I sing "Sweet Home El Dorado" instead of "Alabama," which is why I'm putting it under CA songs. :)

~ "Goin' to California" - Led Zeppelin (

~ "Lights" by Journey (

East Coast/NYC:

~ "On Broadway" by George Benson - a personal fave for me on karaoke nights! LOL! (

~ "Empire State of Mind" by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z (

Midwest/Rocky Mountains:

~ "Omaha" by Counting Crows, ( (Hehe - mentions "heather" in the first verse!)

~ "Ohio" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young ( - about the 1970 Kent State Massacre, as you probably know.

~ "Rocky Mountain High" by John Denver. I remember insisting on putting this on the stereo on a road trip when we entered Colorado! (

~ "Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens. (


~ "Kashmir" by Led Zepp (")

~ "Kathmandu" by Cat Stevens (

~ "Ivory Coast" by Rancid (

~ "China" by Tori Amos ( (very sad but beautiful)

~ "A Day In The Life" by the Beatles ( - I put this in here because when I was visiting a friend in Blackburn, Lancashire, in the UK, her mother told me that when this song came out, her town went nuts with visitors trying to figure out the lyrics... ("Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire/ And though the holes were rather small,/ I had to count them all/ Now I know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall.")

The South:

~ "Leavin on a Midnight Train to Georgia" by Gladys Knight and the Pips (

US in general:

~ "Peace Frog" by the Doors

Three "place songs" I like by Creedence Clearwater Revival are:

~ "Proud Mary" (

~ "Green River" ( Did you know "Green River" was written about Winters, CA? (; and, of course:

~ "Lodi" (

If I had to choose one artist for road trips/traveling, I'd choose Simon and Garfunkel. Their songs are sometimes about specific places:

~ "Bleecker Street" (

Sometimes just about traveling, seeing new places, dreaming of home:

~ "America" (

~ "Homeward Bound" (

~ "American Tune" (

Another great artist for "place songs" is Frank Sinatra:

~ "New York, New York" with Tony Bennett (;

~ "My Kind of Town" (;

~ "California" (couldn't find a good video for it, but let me know if you want to hear the song - I have it on mp3);

~ Two songs of his about Brasil: "The Girl from Ipanema" with Antonio Carlos Jobim (

"The Coffee Song" (