Recent management practices seek to standardize and routinize practice through formulaic assessment processes and casework to ensure risk minimization and cost effectiveness. Such pressures have become entrenched in social work practice in Australia and other economically developed societies. Under such regimes cultural competence is rendered as expert knowledge about the other to be acquired and applied in ways to ensure maximum efficiency. But working effectively across racial and cultural differences demands critical reflection on one’s own position and the complex interactions between different aspects of identity. While some versions of cultural competence incorporate the need to examine our own values and behaviours, the paper argues that rather than focusing on knowledge of differences, social workers should concentrate on critically listening to our clients’ autobiographies to reveal over time what aspects of their social and cultural lives matter to them. The paper reviews findings from teaching Australian social work undergraduate and graduate students engaging with these challenges with particular reference to working effectively with Indigenous people.
Social Work Education / Vol. 32, No. 8, pp.1048-1060