‘Not easily put into a box’: constructing professional identity

Wiles, Fran (2013). ‘Not easily put into a box’: constructing professional identity. Social Work Education, 32(7) pp. 854–866.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02615479.2012.705273


Researching the interplay between social work students' personal and professional identities, I found that, in talking about becoming professionals, students drew on a wide range of discourses. Three common usages of the term ‘professional identity’ are explored here: it can be thought of in relation to desired traits; it can also be used in a collective sense to convey the ‘identity of the profession’. Taking a more subjective approach, professional identity can be regarded as a process in which each individual comes to have a sense of themselves as a social worker. I argue that the variations in students' talk reflect a wide range of cultural understandings that are prevalent within the social work community and society in general, and conclude that professional identity is more complicated than adopting certain traits or values, or even demonstrating competence. The different meanings of professional identity all have something to offer, providing resources for students as they construct themselves as social workers. This is important for social work education because it acknowledges the dynamic nature of professional identity, highlights the difficult identity work which each student must undertake, and prompts us to consider how this process might best be supported.

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