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Norm-critical pedagogy – methods, resistance and learning by mistakes

Conference contribution
Authors Inger Kjellberg
Published in Social Work Education in Europe: towards 2025, Milan, Italy 29th June - 2nd July
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Social Work
Language en
Keywords norm-critical pedagogy, social work
Subject categories Pedagogical Work


In this paper I will discuss norm-critical pedagogy and the challenges of maintaining a critical approach to norm shaping processes in the classroom. Norm-critical pedagogy is grounded in the assumption that both students and teachers are taking part in the construction of social norms and are influenced by difference-shaping categories. The question of how to manage conflicts of power, group stereotyping and normative opinions in the classroom is highlighted with examples from a course on power relations and categorisations in the social work programme in Sweden. The course aims at questioning privilege and normative categorisation as well as to advocate a critique and transformation of hegemonic structures and ideologies. Different methods and strategies of challenging group stereotyping used in the course are explained and discussed. A self-assessment exercise was introduced in class to make the students aware of their own privileges and their experiences of friction in relation to gender, sexuality, skin colour, ethnic background, class, age, functional ability and body size. This exercise also made visible the blind spots in the group and the homogeneity of experiences shaping the discussions in class. The methods and strategies used evoked feelings of resentment and anger. The starting point for the discussion is that crisis in the classroom are a way of learning how norms are shaped and reproduced. The risk of simply reinforcing the binary use of ”us” and ”them” when considering group stereotyping is addressed through a reflection of the mistakes made during the teaching sessions. Mistakes are viewed as a resource in teaching which can help to form strategies and prevent problematic situations. The mistakes also indicate the teacher's participation in the reproduction of social norms.

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