Can service users speak? Dissenting voices and subaltern speech in social work
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Service user involvement and participatory research are central concepts in social work practice and research. Inspired by Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern Speak,” this article draws on the poststructural and postcolonial theory to unpack the assumptions about essentialism, representation, and division of labor underlying the concepts of involvement, participation, and voice. The article combines Spivak’s theory about the subaltern and Rancière’s theory about politics as dissensus to shed light on how the space for authentic service user voice risks being minimized, corrupted, and co-opted. I discuss the challenges arising from this for understanding service user involvement and participatory knowledge production and suggest possible steps toward handling these challenges.