Sociological Imagination

Sociological Imagination: Sociology

Sociological Imagination

One of the underpinning theoretical frameworks which guides the practices of youth work is that of Sociology. It helps us to look more deeply at the world our young people live, work and play within. One of the key thoughts within Sociology is the sociological imagination. The ability to look at an issue from an individual and social perspective. So lets find out more about this key framework.

C. Wright MILLS

Sociological ImaginationAmerican Philosopher and Sociologist, Charles Wright Mills was a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University from 1946 until his death in 1962, aged 45. Mills, a native Texan, was published widely throughout his career in popular and intellectual journals, and is a proponent of the conflict perspective within sociological thought. Mills was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War Two society, and advocated public and political engagement over disinterested observation.

Mills sociological work was heavily influenced by eminent German conflict theorists and fathers of sociology Karl Marx and Max Weber.

Mills is remembered for several books, among them ‘The Power Elite’, which introduced that term and describes the relationships and class alliances among the U.S. political, military, and economic elites; ‘White Collar’, on the American middle class; and ‘The Sociological Imagination’, where Mills presents a model of analysis for the interdependence of subjective experiences within a person’s biography, the general social structure and historical development.

Overview

The Sociological ImaginationIn 1959 one of the most important texts in sociological work was published by Oxford University Press. The book by American Sociologist C. Wright Mills “The Sociological Imagination” changed the landscape of sociological thought and research forever.

Mills conveyed that the core undertaking for sociology as a discipline and sociologists particularly was to discover and express the connections between the particular social environments of individuals (also known as “milieu”) and the wider social and historical forces in which they are embroiled. This approach challenges the structural functionalist approach to Sociology, as it opens new positions for the individual to occupy with regard to the larger social structure. Individual function that reproduces larger social structure is only one of many possible roles, and is not necessarily the most important. In Mills own words, “The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That’s its task and its promise”.

In ‘The Sociological Imagination’, Mills endeavored to reconcile two abstract conceptions of social reality—the “individual” and “society”—and thereby confronted the dominant sociological discourse of functionalism. In essence he asked where the convergence point is between an individual’s ‘personal troubles’ and societies ‘public issues’.

Private issues

Mill work on the sociological imagination looked at the dominant discourse of individuality and sought to understand the framework of an individual’s ‘personal troubles’. These private issues which are said to have nothing to do with the rest of society such as what you eat, who you vote for, which religion you follow or what type of job you have. For Mills these private issues were not just the sole purview of the individual, but a complex system of interweaving thought and ideas from everywhere.

Public issues

This interweaving system is what Mills coined as public issues. Why is it that individuals in poor communities seem to have children who follow in the same footsteps as their parents? Mills argues that it has little to do with the individual’s choices and much more to do with the systems and the power of the elites which guide the forces around the individual. There is an intricate relationship between the individual and society.

Examples

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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The sociological imagination and youth work

The sociological imaginationsociological imagination

As one of the main sociologists in history C. Wright Mills has contributed much to the study of humanity. Perhaps though nothing as important as the ‘sociological imagination’. The ability for people to see an issues from another’s point of view. Literally to imagine yourself in their shoes. The sociological imagination asks us to think about the world through the experience of individuals other than yourself. A core process that most people in society have never engaged in.

Currently governments around the world are spruiking the individualised perspective of society. That we are all responsible for our own destiny and the free market will even things out for us all. The big society supposedly looking out for the good of all. However the focus of these ideas is often either individual or societal focused. Rarely do we someone with an understanding of the individual and of society. This leads to things falling apart as we are seeing in the UK, Europe union and many other nations.

Enter youth work. We are trained to understand individual young people and the society they live in. We seek understanding of the societal issues which cause concern for our young people and we understand their individual concerns and wants. Youth workers have a great sociological imagination! For us it is beyond stupidity to focus on a person without looking at the context of their life. We look at the structures of inequality and the individuals strengths. We provide advocacy at a macro level and develop relationship with our young people at the micro level. Youth workers are awesome.

If you find your work focusing on one area more than the other I implore you to refocus your sociological imagination. If you are focusing too much on the individual begin to look at the societal. If you look at the societal side begin to look at individuals.

It is the only way we can understand fully.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Youth work students becoming youth work staff

The future of a youth work student.

Last week was youth work week. A time for us to reflect as a profession on how awesome we are and how we change the lives of young people. I think we did it pretty well this year… But I hope next year we do it bigger and louder. But enough about how awesome we are now. I was reflecting today that we are coming to the end of another year and that soon in Australia there will be close to 1000 youth work students graduating a Certificate IV, Diploma or Degree in youth work. November see the end of most courses and with it a vast array of new talent added to the pool.

As staff in the field we need to embrace these newbies with arms outstretched and hearts wide open. The likelihood is that half of them will not last a year because of the trauma, lack of support and meagre pay conditions. The sad fact is that we are losing such talent and passion because of things which can be managed and fixed. We know why people leave the sector. It has been documented extensively, spoken about at conferences and plans have been made… we just haven’t done anything to address it.

consulting-1

With this in mind here are our top 5 ways you can support a youth work student to succeed as a youth worker in your agency:

  1. Get to know them. This seems pretty straight forward for most of us, but it is the number one reason we hear over and over again in supervision sessions for conflict in the workplace. Managers, get to know your staff on a personal level as well as professionally. Find out what makes them tick, about their family and their aspirations for the future. If you are a colleague, invite them out for a drink, have peer supervision sessions, mentor them, perhaps you could even take them under your wing and support them for the first month or two.
  2. Give them a good orientation. There is no amount of leg work you can do later in their work than to give them a good orientation. Make sure they understand their role, other peoples roles, where the bathrooms are, the best place for coffee, how to work the photocopier, emergency procedures, the person to call if they lose their keys… everything you can think of. Make sure they take notes too. Its a pain in the butt and a massive amount of knowledge to take on board, but it will save you heaps in the long run.
  3. Allow them time to ask questions. Im sure you can remember starting a new job, I know I can. I had heaps of questions and they came in fits and spurts. Sometimes one question a day, other times one question a minute. Allow space in your schedule and the teams schedule for this to happen.
  4. Recognise limitations. We all want someone who can start a role on the run. The fact is even the best staff member will need to start slowly. recognise that they will not know how to do the job in the way your organisation wants it done straight away. They will not know how to use your systems, your resources or your language. This comes with time and support. Give them this. Remember they are new.
  5. Celebrate the newbie. Have a bit of a party at the end of the week. Make a fuss over them to the team and the wider organisation. Write a bit in the staff newsletter. Congratulate them for lasting the distance through interviews, checks and their first day. Make sure everyone knows their name!

This holds true for those new graduates that will be starting in your organisation soon. However, it also holds true for any new hire. Provide them with support, care and encouragement from the start and you will have amazing workers supporting your young people.

Leave a comment below if you can think of any other ways to support new youth work student graduates.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Student placements: youth work training ground

Over the course of my studies I have completed close on 200 days of field placement. As a youth work student this consisted of a 30 day and a 35 day direct service provision placement. I worked with some amazing youth work practitioners and I worked with some really poor ones. I got coffee and photocopied documents. I ran programs for young people and youth workers. I even got the chance to reflect on my practice. Overall I give these placements a seven out of ten for preparing me for the world of youth work. But that still leaves three points for a perfect score.

Student placements

Student placements are a great learning environment

So here are my thoughts on how to get those extra three points.

  1. Have something for your placement students to do. Since becoming a lecturer I have worked with over fifty students on placement. The one thing that is guaranteed to stuff a placement up is if the student has no key tasks to do. If you offer student placements, have a project in mind. Make sure you speak to the student to see what they need and want to get out of their placements. Its better for them and it is good for you.
  2. More communication is better. On one of my student placements I had seen my supervisor three times in 44 days. It was infuriating. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I had questions that weren’t answered. I didn’t trust him and didn’t get the chance to develop rapport. You should touch base at least twice a week. Once to make sure tasks are being completed and once to reflect on their placement. Communication is the most important task you have.
  3. Understand your student. Ask them lots of questions. Do a DISC profile with them. help them to reflect on who they are. Jan Fook has some great reflective tools in her books. Find out what makes them tick and drive that in them.

If you do this during student placements you will get a lot out of your students and they will get a lot out of you.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Youth mental health

Youth workers as mental health gatekeepers

We’ve been asked a fair bit over the last month what our stance is on mental health. There seems to be two camps growing up in the youth sector. Those who see us as generalist youth workers who do not need to know about mental health except that we should refer on to more qualified help and those who believe that as one of the biggest issues facing our young people is something we should know about…mental health. One camp is ignoring issues for the sake of the profession, the other is seeking to adapt with the times.

It will come as no surprise to our long term readers that we sit in the later camp. We believe that youth workers provide a first responder service to young people experiencing mental health issues in the same way that paramedics provide physical health services. We often provide gatekeeper services to mental health support through triaging the case and providing support until a mental health professional can take them on. We do this now, and with little or no specific mental health training. We believe that by our inaction in dealing with our young peoples mental health we are, by default, causing harm to them.

We are not advocating that all youth workers become mental health clinicians. We are saying that we need more than a mental health first aid certificate. A two day course is not enough. We need to faithfully support our young people in all their trails and tribulations. We need to come to grips with the fact that our training programs written decades ago have lost their relevance and we need to update our frameworks. It is up to the academics to change the course structures. It is up to the sector to demand this. It is every youth workers responsibility to become better than they are right now. Mental health is only one area we need to become more proficient in.

Youth mental health

Youth worker mental health gatekeepers

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Corruption in education is hurting young people

There is currently an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) investigating corrupt spending within the Victorian department of education. It appears that there has been significant funds misappropriated from head office to the principals in schools. many of these people on $100, 000+ salaries already but they take from funds which could be used for support services.

Recently, the department has changed the classification of roles of support staff such as psychologists and social workers to pay them less. They also gave schools the opportunity to use the funds for these services in any way they wanted. Young people miss out again. The education system is not designed for supporting young people and then you have people who rort the system and hurt them even further. The commission has heard many stories of schools hiding invoices and being invoiced for work never supplied. More money being siphoned from where it needs to go.

Courtesy of www.theage.com.au

Courtesy of www.theage.com.au

It has been our observation that the more power people have the more likely they are to abuse it. With the education department spreading their power to the principals we are seeing many more issues with this power abuse. With this power came no accountability, and with no accountability we see abuse and corruption. These schools cry poor for funds to help their students but then…

This isn’t a new story by any stretch of the imagination. It is one that comes up time and time again. Every time it does we hear nothing of the services that are lost or the young people that have been hurt by these corrupt individuals. The education department needs to focus more on their internal accountability and good service provision and much less on penny pinching. Governments need to step in and have the guts to make a clean sweep and start again. These individuals are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corruption and poor service delivery.

In the words of the human headline; Shame, Shame, Shame.

For more on this see: this article.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Youth work career development: Qualifications, depth and breadth

One of the most often cited reasons for staff turnover in the youth sector is the lack of promotion opportunities. Whether it is leading teams or projects many youth workers want to move up the ladder. However we also have a relatively low entry point to becoming a youth worker with over 50% of the Australian youth sector having a Certificate IV or less. This lack of career progression options has been an issue within the sector for many years with the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition recently bringing it t the forefront again. It also forms the basis for one of the most frequently asked questions I get from students at university and TAFE… how do we get a decent job in the youth sector?

youth-work-degree

So with limited opportunities and a limited pool of highly qualified youth workers, what is a youth worker to do??? Plan their career!

Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, it is important to realise that no one other than you is looking out for your career progression. Most youth work organisations do not do succession planning or if they do it is mainly focussed on the top job. So if you thought that your manager was getting you ready for or had a focus on developing you for your next role, the chances are you are wrong. There are a few managers and organisations who take very seriously the idea of staff development and succession planning. However for the most part you are on your own.

[Tweet “Whether you are just starting your career or you are years into it, you need to think about career progression.”]

If there are limited opportunities for you to progress upwards in your organisation (usually because you are in a small or medium sized organisation) then you may need to think laterally. What other organisations do work you want to be involved in? What requirements do they have for staff? What qualifications do they want you to have? Is there specific knowledge or experience you need for the roles? In our experience you will need depth of knowledge about young people and a breadth of experience if you are to stand out for the roles you want.

If you imagine a Certificate IV as the minimum standard and a PhD as the maximum depth that your qualifications can have, look at the depth of your qualifications. More depth provides you more opportunity to get promoted. The other axis to look into is breadth. If all you have focused on is youth work you may have great depth (which is fantastic for an academic) but you will have no breadth. Now if you choose to gain some qualifications in the peripheries then you begin to gain some breadth. Drug and Alcohol, Mental Health, Management, Business, Family Therapy, Education; all of these periphery qualifications and more can give you more options for your career.

Depth and breadth of your qualifications are only one part of your career development plan. It gives you options. To begin the process though you have to have an area in mind that you want to end up in. At the beginning of my career I knew that I wanted to be the best at working with young people who were at the crisis end of the spectrum. That meant I had to Gain qualifications in these areas. I gained qualifications in Youth Work, AOD and Dual Diagnosis. Qualifications gave me some options. If you don’t have much depth or breadth November is always a great time to check out some options for building your qualifications.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Mental health

Mental health… Do you understand?

Mental health is the leading health issue of our time!

Mental health

Mental health is…

It is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the western world. One in four of our young people will have a diagnosed mental health issue by the age of 25. Many of the leading mental health diagnoses are most prevalent in adolescence. Most of all mental health is an issue of which youth workers must have a rock solid understanding. Unfortunately, most youth work education gives a youth worker a passing knowledge at best… and this is dangerous.

[Tweet “At Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that all youth workers should have a first responder understanding of mental health.”] At Ultimate Youth Worker we believe that all youth workers should have a first responder understanding of mental health. In the same way that paramedics have enough understanding of medicine to save your life and get you to hospital, we believe youth workers should have enough understanding about mental health to assess, triage and refer to mental health clinicians. We need more training. We need more education. We need more understanding.

Most young people are thankful for our empathy and care… but know how limited our knowledge of their issues are. Over the month of October we will be devoting time to help you understand more about mental health. October is mental health month and as a treat each week we will focus on one mental health issue and give you more depth than any course you have ever attended. We want you to be the best you could possibly be, and to do that we want you to have the best resources possible.

Organisations such as BeyondBlue and Headspace have fantastic resources aimed at young people and their families. They give a cursory understanding of the issues and provide a comforting nudge in the direction of support. As a tool for youth worker knowledge however they are limited. As youth workers we are often in a position to first identify mental health issues in young people and as such we need to have a better grasp of the issues. We must gain more than a mental health first aid certificate if we are to truly support our young people to recover their mental health.

Knowledge is power. It is also responsibility.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Become more educated: Youth work longevity requires it!


Over the past few years I have had the privilege of educating youth workers in a number of educational facilities throughout Victoria. I see highly passionate people with a clear understanding of the sector that they want to work in. I also know over 50% of them will not be in the sector in two years! As a qualified teacher in the TAFE system I know what the training package says should be taught to youth workers completing a certificate four or diploma course. I also know how lacking the courses are. The average youth work course is not equipping future youth workers to work effectively with young people in the current climate.

One of the biggest issues facing the future of youth work in Australia and throughout the world is lack of education. In Australia over 50% of youth workers have a certificate four (a one year course) or less. There are a large number unqualified people in our sector. Qualifications are a key indicator of intention to stay in the sector and they are an indicator of the level of support a young person can expect.

I know many unqualified people who provide great service to young people and I know they would all be even more exceptional with some qualification. I know many youth workers who have qualified with a one, two or three year qualification who need to get more qualifications. I know PhD holders who need more education. Read a Book. Do a short course. Get a lateral qualification. Educate yourself more! Read a youth work journal. Attend a conference or a webinar. Listen to a podcast. Educate yourself. 

It costs money but ignorance will cost you more.

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UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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Chaplains in schools: A youth workers thoughts

Chaplains in schools

One of the most contentious issues in youth work today is funding. We don’t have enough money and we don’t have enough positions. So when the Australian federal government released their budget last month an a number of youth work programs were defunded the sector cried out. One area that was at the forefront of the attack was the Government’s decision to remove funding for some school welfare staff who were funded under the National School Chaplaincy & Student Welfare Program. The Government decided to revert to an earlier version of the program which solely funded chaplains and not welfare workers. 

Many of the comments that have been floating around the ether have painted a picture of religious right winged fanatics taking over student welfare. Most of all they paint a picture of untrained, unqualified proselytisers who will damn us all to hell. To put it quite bluntly the public is being grossly misinformed. If your argument is about the ideology of having religious people in student welfare positions that is a very different discussion than the one about their ability and qualifications. Here are a few thoughts our Executive Director shared this morning.

UltimateYouthWorker

Aaron Garth is the Executive Director of Ultimate Youth Worker. Aaron has worked as a youth worker in a number of settings including local church, street drug and alcohol outreach, family services, residential care, local government and youth homelessness since 2003. Aaron is a regular speaker at camps, retreats, & youth work training events and is a dedicated to seeing a more professional youth sector in Australia. Aaron is a graduate of RMIT University and an alumnus of their youth work program. He lives in Melbourne with his wife Jennifer & their daughters Hope, Zoe and son Ezra.

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