Partager l'article ! Imagination in social work - CFI analyse [eng]: Après avoir effectué une interview auprès d'un travailleur social dans la médiation culturell ...
We all belong to communities, it can be work, it can be school, it can be our origins, the politic we choose, our choices. Most of us agrees that only one of these communities can’t capture who we are, because we construct ourselves in each of these, and this is how we construct our identity. So we are defined by all these communities gathered. We represent ourselves as belonging to these random communities. None of it entirely captures who we are, but all of it does. We can see it as a puzzle. We can’t be belittled to one community because it’s too restricted. But every one of these communities can partially explains who we are, put together. And I think this puzzle has no end. Our imagination positions us in life. What we imagine being us and the others, where we stand, it what makes social work a kind of job where everything is not clearly defined. We are strangers to strangers because we don’t have all the same background; we imagine we are all different in some ways. In society, communities can be prisons. People see you only through the glasses of communities. They can categorize you without any dialogue, only by seeing where you come from, what you like to do, where you study. Their imagination does the math. A big wall that is hard to climb. Respecting differences is a valuable principle, but it can also be negative if you push it too far. That can lead us to think “we are so different from them, that we could never cross them, meet them, or understand them. Our differences are impermeable.”
Imagination and its representations are also part of the daily life, and make us do things, change things, or take decisions.
« Je voulais être utile mais pas au point d'aller en médecine par peur de mettre la vie des gens en danger. » (I wanted to be useful, but not to the point of being a doctor because I was afraid to rick people's life)
This person has her own idea of what is medicine, and what it’s required to be a doctor. Imagination changes life and career. What you think of a job may change your aspiration. It’s the same in the social work; imagination may lead you in a path where things are untruth. Stereotypies, illusion, dreams, you might see what you want to see, not the reality. Being doctor implies a possibility of death. And to be responsible of such thing was not possible for her. She sees things from a certain angle.
« A dix-sept ans j'ai pris conscience d'avoir beaucoup de chance d'être en quelque sorte une privilégiée. C'est à dire d'être dans un pays en paix, de pouvoir parler, marcher, de n'avoir manqué de rien sans pour autant être riche. Je me suis donc dis que c'était la moindre des choses d'aider les autres et en faire profiter ceux qui n'avaient pas eu la même chance. » (At 17, I realised that I was lucky and privileged. To be in a peaceful country, being able to talk, walk, I never lacked of anything without being rich. So I thought that it was the least of all to help people that didn't have my luck)
She thinks being French allows you freedom and rights, and this advantage, you have to give it back. It’s a projection. An idea of what is France: the country of freedom and rights, a privileged country of peace and democracy. Some may not agree. The idea of giving back the charity that you received can be associated to a religious way of thinking, even if of course, it’s not always the case.
« Le fait d'avoir grandi dans un milieu digne et respectueux de l'autre a surement joué un rôle. »
(The fact that I grew up in a ambience worthy and respectful certainly played a role.)
It’s clearly an image of her identity, what she imagines her family looks like. She thinks that her familial environment made her who she is, that it has constructed herself. Family is one community, a country could be another. What are the possible representations in a nation?
In the book of Philippe d'Iribarne, Les immigrés de la République , we can see that this kind of representations, about a country, about the people who lives in it, comes from the long history of men. We were, since decades, categorized and classified by our social position. Integration in a society is integrated a new word with its code, its laws, its symbols. Some of the interview shows that the interviewed people where positioning themselves integrated to the French society, even thought they were not all from France. Sometimes, these social workers have no intercultural background so they might be frozen in a schematic vision of the situations, related to their own imagination. Sometimes, culture is an idea which traps people in projections. Social workers may want to help, but without previous knowledge, they might go to the wrong way. They project themselves in other’s situation, and so they are empathetic, not in reality, but in imagination. Because, like Margalit Cohen‐Emerique said, “Culture is not frozen, it’s consistently in motion”. You can’t picture others like a photography which shows you a unique image, but hides from you the living moment, with its changes and feelings. Everyone has his own references framework, but migrant have to adapt their own to understand the new references of their new country, if not, they may be isolated. According to Margalit Cohen-Emerique, exoticism is one of the imagination’s schemes which can deprive the situation of its true reality. It’s like a dream of a faraway culture, an idealized (but other) civilization. This kind of thinking puts the other very far from our own culture, and makes him something that is absolutely, and irrevocably, different. It brings prejudices. We can see it in some part of the interview, where people said “he is from here, so he will react like that, we have to be careful on this matter”. There is a tiny line between intercultural preoccupations and clichés in social work. Indeed, where is the boundary between stereotypies and adapting to one’s culture (imagining that his culture is like that and not otherwise) to not disturb the person? Valorizing the other is not always making him comfortable. It creates a certain distance. Margalit Cohen‐Emerique explains that this mechanics are the product of ethnocentrism, but also, in social work, the product of the conception, the image we put on the face of a person, which blocks the understanding of situation with non-occidental migrants. It’s ignorance that leads to the choc of communities, according to Philippe d’Iribarne. In France, he thinks that even if we are the country of equality and fraternity, we still love our differences, our hierarchy, our social order… We put distances. So the politic equality never reaches the social inequality. And our imagination is partially built by these images of the society in which we were born and where we live. So, how to adapt to one’s culture without making it irrevocably opposed, when differences still exist, inside and outside the juncture of countries ?
There is no law to adapt to another culture, no recipe, it’s very complex and it depends on a lot of variant things. Social workers have to decenter themselves, to get away from their own imagination to understand these complex situations without prior thought. To communicate, the respect of the other culture and its understanding are very important. In the world, we do not all speak the same way, our languages are different as our customs, and to adapt is primordial. Sometimes, we have to wear a mask because society requires us to do so. There are rules, and we have to deal with it, to adapt to avoid being stereotyped, classified or categorized because everyone is different, including inside one’s culture. We can compare every intercultural conversation to the interview we had to do. Interviewing is not easy, because we have to adapt to a person that we don’t know, different from us, we have to adapt to the change quickly, and to adjust ourselves to the different situations that it may bring. Being intuitive is essential. It’s also like working with teammate: observing what others can or cannot do, adapt to the situation and change it if it’s necessary. All of it can be a metaphor of intercultural dilemma.
We could see in the interviews that every cultural problem is delicate, and imagination sometimes rules the mind. To avoid being trapped, intercultural dialogue seems to be one of the best options.
Photo : Boy_Wonder on Flickr.
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