Mind the gap

    M  A R K    D O E L

Mark Doel   The Gap

I’m a child of Seebohm (I did wonder about proposing the Seebohm Report as an Object) – I qualified just as those recommendations were being put into practice, so I was generic, working with the whole community “from cradle to grave” in a geographical patch. Apart from spells in Suffolk, Wigan and Philadelphia all my practice has been in Sheffield, a city I love with a passion.

I’ve occupied many spaces – as well as knocking on doors, I’ve supervised students, taught and learned with them in class, been an academic manager (a challenging role made joyous by a wonderful team of people), project manager (again, lots of lovely colleagues) and a researcher. Apart from writing, some of my most fulfilling work is leading training workshops.

I chose Mind The Gap because…

 … I was in London last week, on the Circle line, and at every station I heard the familiar litany, “Mind the Gap” – a warning, yet made reassuring through constant repetition.  With ’40 Objects’ on my mind, this ‘gap’ that is to be minded interested me, in at least two ways: first as a metaphor (maybe even a cliché, but I don’t mind) for the gap between idealism and reality, student experience and life as a Newly Qualified, between the public’s expectations of public services, social work include, and their apparent willingness to resource them. And the even greater gaps, those between rich and poor, between enriched and impoverished parts of the planet.

The second facet of ‘the gap’ that teased me was whether it can be considered ‘an object’? The more I thought about it, the more interesting the phenomenon of a gap became. In the first analysis it is a nothingness, yet it is only identified as a gap because of the somethings that lie on either side of it. I’ve heard some of my service users describe themselves in similar terms – that they feel defined by others rather than by themselves, that they are somehow ‘a gap’. Social workers frequently see existential angst, if they can but recognise it. Can social work as a profession be assertive in preventing itself being defined by others (people, organisations) more powerful than itself?  And then, working as a social worker, it sometimes felt like we worked with ‘the gap’ – situations that didn’t fall into others’ neat categories. I rather liked that, working with the human condition, unconfined.

A gap is something that joins as well as separates; on the Underground it is the transition from train to platform. Social work, more than any other profession I think, works at these edges, finding ways to make two different worlds connect. Toynbee Hall describes itself as having ‘one foot in the establishment and the other amongst the poor’; I guess Toynbee Hall has taught itself to be mindful of the gap.

However, it is not simply ‘the gap’ that I am proposing as one of these Objects, but Mind the Gap – the notion that the gap is to be minded and the wonderful ambiguity therein. Could that gentle but authoritative voice that tells us to Mind the gap on the London tube be exhorting us to take care of the gap? Mind your profession. Mind others. Mind yourself. Be mindful of that gap. It’s telling us something, yes?

(I’m still not sure what the passengers at Temple station thought about this bloke, me, leaning over to photograph – what?)

One thought on “Mind the gap”

  1. What if social work is a profession of ‘the gap’? What if its existence relies on social fragmentation, injustice, social exclusion, etc, and the harm caused by these gaps to individuals? And there are nit just gaps, but emotional distances between people. These ‘separations’ are Ok for some, even needed by some, whilst others experience them as painful, a source of imbalance. Sometimes the gaps cannot be naturally filled and the objects separated through the gap have to be kept ‘in order’ (if not together) through forms of social control – which is a ‘force’. This is the negative, contentious facet of social work. So, minding the gap could have different meanings: taking care to narrow the gap through what we do; allowing some gaps to exist (they are inevitable, whilst others are useful); jumping over the gaps with our understanding and empathy, to ‘exercise our muscles’ when dealing with the incredibly dynamic society, its changes.

    Liked by 1 person

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