more about ’40 objects’

The idea of representing personal, professional and social histories through artefacts is fascinating; the leap from abstract to concrete is demanding and rather satisfying. I’ve used a similar idea with powerpoint slides, to try to find a concrete image that represents the abstract thoughts on a slide, such as ‘participation’, ‘groundrules’, ‘change’ – I think it helps both the audience and me to see deeper into the abstract concept. It’s quite a challenge. Look at Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects for a successful example of telling an expansive story through a limited number of objects. I’ve also recently become acquainted with Sherry Turkle’s Evocative Objects, another good example.

How to achieve this with social work? Is it possible to evoke social work through a collection of objects and what would these be? A few years ago Community Care invited suggestions and these included a suit of armour, a mountain of paperwork, a blinking computer screen, a brick wall, a ball of tangled wool, and a two-headed coin (Mother Teresa on one side, Hitler the other). For this project I’m continuing to collect objects as facets of social work’s past, present and possible future.

In order to collect a broad variety of objects that speak to the diverse nature of social work the website is open to whoever wants to join in. At the point at which I was putting the book together (Social Work in 42 Objects and more) there were 127 objects and stories on the site. Although I highlighted 41 of them, I managed to include all 127 in various ‘Collections’. The ’42nd Object’ is an invitation to the reader to stick their own object and text into the last page of the book to become a part of the collection.

Like the best stories, the hope is that this collection speaks to everyone: people who have been immersed in social work for a long time in various ways as practitioners, service users, managers, researchers, educators and policy makers; people who are new to it, like students; and others who know very little about social work at all. Since the website was first opened I have introduced numerous audiences to the Collection and have been heartened to see that it has spoken to people across geographical and cultural boundaries.

Again, thank you for your interest in 40 Objects. I’m looking forward to seeing the story continue to unfold.