Dr Susan Goodwin: working to increase social inclusion

University of Sydney researchers like Dr Susan Goodwin, a senior lecturer in policy studies in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, are making their own contribution to the University’s social inclusion objectives.

Dr Susan Goodwin

Dr Goodwin’s research focuses on social structures, inequalities and social justice in Australian society. Projects in which she is currently involved aim at theorising and effecting positive practical change for people living in social housing communities and those who are homeless, and increasing social inclusion through education. She is also part of a drive to establish a social inclusion research network within the University.

Dr Goodwin’s projects are varied but a large proportion of them share the broad common theme of what is now termed ‘social inclusion’.

“Social inclusion is a contested term, used to signify a variety of things in different contexts and is often employed in a catch-all way to articulate a range of hopes and desires for enhancing the lives of individuals and groups. The taking up of social inclusion as a policy agenda in Australia signals a renewed attention to issues of equality and social justice. It has shifted the policy focus on the kinds of opportunities people have to participate fully in the economic, social, political and cultural life of the society”, said Dr Goodwin.

“Social inclusion, however, can also have what we call ‘normalising’ tendencies, by holding up the activities of some groups of society - usually the most advantaged - as the kinds of activities that all people should be included in, rather than addressing the reasons for inequalities between groups”.

Dr Goodwin is contributing to Working from the Ground Up (WFGU), an ARC Linkage project partnership between University of Sydney, University of New South Wales, Housing NSW, Health and TAFE. WFGU is aimed at tackling entrenched social exclusion and disadvantage in two social housing estates in south-eastern Sydney through community development initiatives. The estates house more than 3000 people. Researchers are working with the residents and services in the area to create opportunities which will improve health and well-being.

“The research is identifying and trialling ways of working with communities that can bring about sustainable changes in social housing estates using an action research approach. It aims to generate new knowledge and models of community regeneration” said Dr Goodwin.

Residents are actively involved in identifying problems within their neighbourhood and formulating solutions.

The Schools, Communities and Social Inclusion project is propagating research in the emerging field of school-community interaction for social inclusion. Dr Goodwin and her colleagues are looking to develop stronger relationships between researchers and practitioners working on social transformation through changes in the relationships between schools and communities.

“This work challenges the idea of schools – and universities – as stand-alone institutions that can be charged with the primary responsibility for preparing children for adult roles. Initiatives that ‘open the school gate’ to families and cultural communities, for example, so they become important places in local neighbourhoods, are effective ways of reducing social exclusion “ said Dr Goodwin.

The first step in this program was to bring together insights from key people working in the area in a new book, Schools, Communities and Social Inclusion co-edited with Dr Dorothy Bottrell.

A third project in which Dr Goodwin is involved, the PLACE project, is providing creative placed-based solutions to address barriers to employment and community engagement for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming so.

Initiatives include TAFE Outreach courses for work and skill development, such as landscaping, basic construction, digital media and website development) and the development of mentoring and social enterprise programs.

Dr Goodwin is also playing a part in the drive propelled by the University’s Social Policy Research Network (SPRN) to set up a collaborative research initiative on social inequality and social inclusion.

The proposed group, based at the University of Sydney, will work with non-Government organisations and the philanthropic community to create a network of researchers for shared knowledge building. It will bring together researchers from a broad range of disciplines working in the area of social inclusion, who may not previously had contact.

This initiative will give University researchers the opportunity to work with the NGO sectors in defining the social inclusion environment, helping to shape policy and furthering research in the area in a sustained way that project work often does not allow.