When Amartya met Paulo: Social Work, Human Capabilities and Critical Pedagogy
Dr Gurnam Singh an Associate Professor of Social Work and Post Graduate Research Degrees Lead at Coventry University. He is also Visiting Professor of Social Work at the University of Chester and Visiting Fellow in Race and Education at the University of Arts, London. Before entering academia, he worked as a professional Social Worker in Bradford. Dr Singh completed his PhD from the University of Warwick in 2004; his thesis looked at the development of anti-racist social work in the UK. In 2009 he was awarded a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy for his work on inclusion in Higher Education and more recently became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA).
He has an extensive international research profile and has published widely on themes related to social justice and anti-oppression within the fields of social work and higher education. Along with his academic work, Dr Singh, is involved in community activism and has an extensive media profile particularly within community TV broadcasting.
The term human capability is closely related to a much wider scholarship within human and international development and the ‘basics needs’ approach. An important underpinning aspect of this approaches is the growing influence of human rights and social justice that emerged from the mid part of the 20th century in what could be characterized as the post-colonial era. This period represents the emergence of a wide range of social movements that sought to establish a critical break from the past characterised by spurious associations between human biological differences and human functioning and abilities. These developments have been instrumental in shaping to contemporary landscape of international social work as well as other fields of development in terms of the duty to promote liberation and human rights. However, much of the social work literature foregrounds psychosocial models of human functioning that tend to locate the problem with the individual. This presentation seeks to offer a radically different model of social work based on combining the ‘human capabilities’ approach developed by Amartya Sen with ideas from ‘critical pedagogy’ and the work of Paulo Freire. Specifically, the presentation looks at how Sen and Freire deploy the concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘development’ and how these can be unified into developing dynamic and holistic approaches to social work but also more broadly to other spheres of practice, concerned with human liberation and empowerment.