By Nicole Ashworth
I recently completed a course called “Developing Relationship-Centred Practice”. During this course, we were introduced to different social pedagogical concepts. I would like to focus further on one of those concepts, as this one really resonated with me.
The concept of the “Relational Universe” is based on using the universe as a metaphor of someone’s relationships and support systems. It is linked to systems theory. Maclean and Harrison (2015) suggest that systems theory incorporates the forming of a web, or system. The person is connected to other people who can be family, friends and wider organisations. This system should sustain and enrich people. However, it is also recognised that someone’s support system can be placed under strain due to ever changing circumstances.
We were asked to draw the relational universe of someone we are working with. I chose to draw the universe of someone I have recently supported. For the purpose of the activity, I called her Marie, which is not her real name. Marie has experienced abusive relationships which have led to longstanding problems with drinking alcohol to excess.
In Marie’s universe, I placed her at the centre as the glowing force in this. She can be fiery at times, but also she is naturally the central focal point. Marie lives on her own. Her husband passed away years ago, and their children were removed when they were young. I depicted them as stars in the distance. Whilst they are no longer physically there, they continue to shine for Marie in her memories. Marie’s most important factor in her life is her dog, which I drew close to her. A little further along in the constellation is her friend, who I imagined as a small red planet. The reason why I chose red, an alarming colour, is because her friend has her own issues, and she and Marie can negatively influence each other. They appear to have a symbiotic relationship (although it is not for me to judge this). Marie would have probably not chosen red to describe her friend! Further down in the universe, there are two black holes which represent the alcohol. They have a strong pull on Marie and influence her a lot. In the left hand corner we have a beautiful, sparkling and rare shooting star. The shooting star in Marie’s universe stands for previous professionals who were involved in her life, and there were lots of them! Initially they were keen to support her, but Marie finds it difficult to build and maintain relationships. She easily withdraws her engagement. So, these shooting stars appear in her life or “knock on her door” and, as quickly as they appear, they disappear again; if you blink you miss them. Shooting stars are seen as something amazing and rare, something you’re lucky to have seen. People make a wish and wait for it to come true. How many times did Marie wish for someone to come along and understand her? And I don’t mean: “Yeah, I totally get you. Let’s get you sorted!” No, what I mean is for professionals to use their empathy to fully explore Marie’s feelings and thoughts and her reasons for non-engagement with professionals. The new social worker is depicted as a small blue planet, almost blending into the background and sitting on the periphery for now, until Marie invites them to move closer into her universe’s constellation.
I found the concept of the “Relational Universe” extremely valuable in order to explore relationships. It really made think about how I perceive the relationships someone has, and how the person, in this case Marie, would view them. I have no doubt that she would have had a very different constellation of planets and forces if she would have drawn her own universe. As professionals, we sometimes want to feel as if we are the most important person in someone’s life, as we want to be the agents of change. However, looking at our own universe, do we perceive our GP or dentist to be a big influencing factor in our lives? Of course not, they are metaphorically on a different planet! This concept really helped me to analyse relationships more deeply, and it acts as a stark reminder of how privileged we are to be part of someone’s universe.
Nicole Ashworth is a Social Worker, ASYE and Student Lead at Middlesbrough Council
Human Learning Systems: Public Service for the Real World
In association with Dr Toby Lowe and the wider Human Learning Systems Collaborative, we have come together to write and launch a new e-book Human Learning Systems: Public Service for the Real World, a resource and guide for organisations or teams working in public service who feel they want to change the current way they’re working. Human Learning Systems offers an alternative approach to funding, leading and managing all forms of social intervention and public service and features nearly 50 case studies from across the world.
If you design, deliver or work with people and are dissatisfied with the current processes and ways of working, HLS offers an alternative approach to public management based on being human, continuously learning and nurturing healthy systems. It fits really well with social pedagogy and, as the case studies by Empowerment and Lighthouse show, HLS can create the organisational conditions for social pedagogical practice to thrive.
Ahead of the e-book launch, you can sign up to join us for an exclusive webinar on the 17th June. At the webinar, you will hear from practitioners on how they have been using the Human Learning Systems approach to transform the way in which they work. Click here to register.
‘Creating Hope in Dystopia’ is the conference for you if you are concerned or even overwhelmed by the increasing social inequalities and divisions we’re all confronted with in day-to-day practice. How can we create hope, not just for the people who are most affected by these challenges, but also for ourselves? And how can we face these seemingly insurmountable issues with a sense of resilience, hopefulness and energy, clearer insights into the complex conditions, and inspirational ideas of how we can contribute to positive change? To help us explore meaningful answers to these questions, we’re bringing together an excellent line-up of keynote presenters:
- Towards a Planetary Social Pedagogy: Arto Salonen (Professor for Social Pedagogy, University of Eastern Finland) on extending our perspective to encompass the ecosystem that we’re part of (see details).
- Social Pedagogy and Social Education: Karla Villaseñor (Autonomous University of Puebla) on what we can learn from the current situation in Mexico.
- Play in an Anxious World: Carrie Lobman (Rutgers University) on the role of creativity and playfulness in thriving amidst uncertainty (see details).
- Rehumanising Public Service through Human Learning Systems: Toby Lowe (Centre for Public Impact) on the paradigm shift away from New Public Management to create space for social pedagogy (see details).
- Working with Complexity and Gut Instinct: Lotte Harbo and Charlotte Vange Løvstad (VIA University College Aarhus) on the role of intuition and evidence-based manuals (see details).
Add to that a broad range of interactive workshops, roundtable conversations and presentation sessions, as well as lots of interaction and networking opportunities, and you’ll find yourself in highly stimulating surroundings!
If you know us, you’ll be aware that we want to make a genuine positive difference in the world – we’re a social enterprise for a reason. That’s why many of our learning resources are free and why we try hard to keep any charges for longer learning events as low as we can. As a member of the SPDN, you get $25 off the full conference fee. And until the end of May, you can still receive the early bird rate of just $110 for the full 3-day programme (including all recordings). Best of all, if your organisation won’t be funding your conference fee, you only pay the $65 self-funder rate (that’s just over £45). So there’s every reason to join us!
The SPDN is back with a free virtual open space event as part of the international online conference ‘Creating Hope in Dystopia’
We warmly invite you to join our next virtual Social Pedagogy Development Network event on June 23rd, 2021 from 10.00am-12.00pm. The virtual gathering offers a forum for practitioners, students, service managers and academics alike to find out how organisations are developing social pedagogy within their services, to share ideas and to connect with other professionals who have a similar passion for their practice. We hold two free events each year, which aim to increase our collective understandings of social pedagogy in ways that are inspiring, practice-relevant and reflective of social pedagogical principles and values. We aim to stimulate reflection on how you can further develop your practice and thus make an even greater difference to the individuals, groups or communities you engage with.
Thanks to the diversity of participants, the SPDN offers you a real flavour of what social pedagogical practice looks like in children’s homes, fostering services, family support services, communities for adults with disabilities, residential schools and many other settings. For us it’s about enabling a thousand flowers to bloom – so instead of the conformity of monocultures you’ll get a flavour of the rich diversity in which social pedagogy is growing in different practice settings.
The virtual gathering offers an open space for you to talk about what matters most to you with people who share your interest and thus help shape the social pedagogy discourse. If you’re interested in learning a lot more about social pedagogy, then join one of our experiential online courses or register for the international online conference ‘Creating Hope in Dystopia’, which this event is part of.