My name is Jadwiga Leigh and I am a lecturer in social work at Sheffield University. I qualified as a social worker in 2005 and have always worked in child protection. I’ve worked in various settings, statutory and voluntary. Wherever I have worked, I’ve always really enjoyed working with people but what I became most intrigued about was the identity of the people that I worked with in the office: how did they feel about being a social worker? What affected their thoughts and feelings? And how had this profession changed them?
I started my Masters in Social Research in 2008 and it was during the qualitative methods part of the course that I discovered ‘ethnography’. I was hooked instantly. This was a method I felt I could understand completely; I not only found it compelling but I realised that it was a method that allowed me a way in to exploring the world I was already situated in. It did not reject my insider status as a social worker, it accepted it, in fact it encouraged me to use it. And use it I would.
It was in 2010 that I started my PhD. Even though I chose the method of ‘ethnography’ initially, it developed as time went on into a ‘visual comparative ethnography’. The overarching aim of the project was to find out how social workers constructed their professional identity both here in England and Flanders, Northern Belgium. But as the project started to unfold I realised that identity construction wasn’t that simple. I couldn’t explore what the people I worked with felt about who they were as professionals without considering the organisation they were situated in….or for that matter the wider cultural discourses which they drew from and were subjected to.
I soon started to learn that the world of social work that I and others experienced changed its meaning depending on the setting within which they were located. These differences were particularly significant in Belgium. Going to Belgium once a month for a year made me realise that social work practice could be innovative, creative, inspiring and one which everyone could partake in without feeling anxious about being blamed or shamed by the media. Going to Belgium opened my eyes to a world that I had read about in story books but I did not really believe actually existed.
My PhD journey did not stop when I completed my viva in 2013. It was just the beginning of an experience which I hope will continue to unfold as time moves on and opportunities emerge or develop in this area of research. This site ‘experiencing the social work world’ has been created therefore so that I can start to collect visual data from projects that involve using visual and creative methods so that I can put them all in one place. It is my own visual diary of what I have learned along my travels. I hope you find it useful.