1. Lay or/and professional: Those who are affected by the issue from the public

In some contexts, we all are potentially excluded, marginalised and powerless. In many cases, we are (not) the experts. As a professional, it is important to develop an awareness of the historical (re)configuration of one's professional identity and public mandate. Part of this awareness is also to think through how history impacts how society at large and the citizens as potential service users perceive specific health and social services and how we recognise the life knowledge and capacities of "lay" people. When dealing with such complex issues, in situations of vulnerability, we can reach out to those affected, raise our voices, and require change. Complex issues enable public involvement in politics and make it possible to deal with them democratically (Marres 2005).  

  • Is there a stigma attached to requiring and getting social support/services, or is it considered a right and entitlement of all citizens?
  • How might this impact the (democratic) practice of social and health services, and how to deal with this?
  • What are the burning issues that call for the creation of devoted public consisting of actors from different social worlds?

Case study (Belgium): Reflexivity in representation efforts in participative anti-poverty policymaking and practice development: a historical perspective on the rhetoric of self-advocacy organisations of people in poverty 

A historical study of the rhetoric of self-advocacy organisations of people in poverty in Belgium reveals the necessity to employ reflexivity in shaping a politics of representation in policy and practice development (see Degerickx et al., 2022). The study focused on how, since the 1990s, a paradigm of participation has gained prominence in anti-poverty policymaking and social work practice development in Europe, implying that people in poverty should participate as equal citizens in political decision-making processes. Based on a historical case study, questions were raised about who actually participates in such processes. Relying on a set of ideas of the French philosopher Jacques Rancière to theorise different notions of participation, the study identified four different understandings of participation that can emerge in social policy and social work practice development: (1) consultation with an emphasis on harvesting testimonies of people in poverty without their involvement in framing collective concerns, (2) inclusion as part of an emancipatory project to include people in poverty in the social order, (3) confrontation in which poor and non-poor stakeholders are committed to debating the issue of equality in the process and in our societies, and (4) mobilisation in which poor and non-poor stakeholders actively engage the broader society in the development of anti-poverty policies and strategies. The study's main researcher, Heidi Degerickx, currently works as the coordinator of the Network Against Poverty in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, where she is actively involved in shaping the politics of participation and representation. The central question she addresses concerning each of these approaches is whether participatory efforts produce moments of democracy in which a power shift actually takes place and might lead to a more socially just and equal society. As such, a plea has been made for an "ignorant" or reflexive position of social work and social policy actors: "giving voice" is not enough, and they need to create organisational and institutional circumstances for and with people in poverty for such political participation. It requires the opening up a democratic space in which the values of equality and dissensus are embraced and an awareness of the complexity and uncertainty of such participatory ventures.