Current projects

I am currently focused on three main projects. Scroll down to read more about each project and feel free to contact me if you have comments or questions.

Decolonizing ways of knowing

Structural social work

Social memory

Decolonizing ways of knowing

Extractive capitalism and settler colonialism have fundamentally shaped the world we live in today. The Doctrine of Discovery gave license to European imperialism to invade other lands and commit genocide on native peoples to plunder their resources (see Patrick Wolfe). These economic and colonial processes have transformed over the centuries, but their essential power dynamic has been reinforced through interconnected systems of scientific knowledge and institutional power.

 

Ways of understanding progress, development, and our identities are deeply rooted in the ongoing legacy of settler colonialism. How do we challenge knowledge that legitimizes hierarchies and inequalities? How can we decolonize our ways of being and thinking?

 

My work in this area has focused on organizing dialogical events where community members, students, and professionals can have a critical conversation about decolonization, social justice issues, and activism. 

I organized a retreat series in Fresno, California between 2014-2017. The series focused on how to collaboratively practice community-centered, trusting, and transparent advocacy on social justice issues. Retreat page coming soon...

Structural social work

My teaching and research centers on structural social work issues from the perspective of human rights. Structural social work focuses on how the more powerful in society use policies, institutions, and practices to reinforce relations of dominance and oppression. Structural social work applies a critical theory lens to practice.

 

 

Decolonizing social work

In recent decades, decolonizing social work has emerged to broaden and critique the agenda of universalizing international Western-oriented social work (Razack, 2009). Important texts, such as Decolonizing Methodologies (Smith, 2012) and Indigenous Social Work around the World (Gray, Coates and Yellow Bird, 2010) have developed new vocabularies, perspectives and approaches to address some of the most significant global trends in contemporary social work relating to global diversity and indigenous peoples. Rooted in indigenous world views and postcolonial theory (Gray, Coates, Yellow Bird & Hetherington, 2013), decolonizing social work explores the tacit world of colonialism that is hidden in many of the assumptions, standards and definitions of social work that promote what James Midgely terms "professional imperialism" by questioning the construction of expertise over others' lives as well as focusing the content of many international social work classes on the deprivation of developing countries (Midgely, 2010; Razack, 2009). Decolonizing social work brings to the fore the significance of culturally appropriate and engaged critical political practice in diverse local settings (Smith, 2012). Decolonizing social work opens the door to a much more holistic understanding of the role and purpose of social work by including underrepresented aspects of social work practice such as diverse values of spirituality and alternative ways of healing. It also values the complexity of local and Indigenous communities, family structures, and practices.

  • Gray, M., Coates, J., Yellow Bird, M. & Hetherington T. (2013) (eds.) Decolonizing Social Work. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

  • Gray, M., Coates, J. & Hetherington T. (2012) Environmental Social Work. London: Routledge.

  • Kovach, M. (2009) Indigenous methodologies: Characteristics, conversations and contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

  • Midgely, J. (2008) "Promoting reciprocal international social work exchanges: professional imperialism revisited." In Indigenous Social Work Around the World: Towards Culturally Relevant Education and Practice. Gray, M., Coates, J. & Yellow Bird, M. (eds). Ashgate Publishing.

  • Razack, N. (2009) Decolonizing the pedagogy and practice of international social work. International Social Work, 52(1), 9-21.

  • Smith, L. T. (2012) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London: Zed Books.

Queering social work

Queering social work explores how queer theory can inform our understanding of structural social work practice, particularly when understanding how categories of gender and sexual identities have an impact on our work with individuals, families, and diverse communities. I use queering as an approach to unpacking how the field uses dominant discourses on sexuality and gender identity and expression to inform how we teach social work and critically practice it. I have taught autoethnography as a pedagogical tool to help students explore the layers of their experiences and identities, and apply them to how they reflect on their social work practice. I have also developed a mixed methods study in collaboration with Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland to examine how students report their views on sexual identity and social work ethics. Finally, I have organized seminars and workshops that address various aspects of queering social work.

Historically, the profession of social work has often implicitly reinforced homophobic and heteronormative policies and practices. It wasn’t until 1973 that Dr. Evelyn Hooker successfully campaigned to remove the definition of homosexuality as a mental illness from the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (see article and the LGBT Mental Health Syllabus). Current DSM categories of gender dysphoria, gender incongruence, and gender identity disorder perpetuate the myth that gender diversity is a mental illness (read more here). Despite the fact that social work has come a long way in recognizing the rights and diversity of LGBTQ+ communities, it nonetheless often essentializes sexual identity and gender when thinking about service needs. The American Council on Social Work Education CSWE has a Council on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression, which promotes the development of social work curricula and materials. However, there is still a need for social work education, curriculum development, and practice evaluation on the diversity of sexual and gender identities.

 

I have organized three events on different facets of queering social work: 1) Telling Our Stories: Former Foster LGBTQ Youth Experiences with Social Work, 2) Making the Invisible Visible: Stories of Everyday Street Harassment, and 3) Latin@ LGBTQ: Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Communities. Each event took place in Fresno, CA. Event page coming soon...

Social memory

How societies remember and forget is a complex process of social memory that is intimately connected to group relations of power, (in)equality, and social (in)justice. New challenges have emerged to constructing our individual and collective identities as many seemingly stable conceptions of the significance of belonging in the nation-state fragment under the weight of rapid socio-economic transformations. Counternarratives of social memory also emerge from disenfranchised and oppressed communities to reclaim histories of cultural trauma and resilience. Recognizing how the past has shaped the present, as well as how present power relations shape social memory, has become an area of scholarly interest and political activism. It is also a core area of decolonizing social work.

Japanese-American photo project

 

A large box of photographs of the Fresno Japanese-American community from the 1920’s - 1940’s was donated to Chinatown Revitalization Inc. Most of the photographs do not have any details such as names or dates to identify who was in the pictures. Some have a label indicating that they were shot or developed at Frank Kamiyama’s studio on 1413 Tulare Street in Fresno, CA. Many people in the photographs lived throughout the Central Valley. These are historic photographs depicting weddings, military ceremonies, graduations, theater productions, and the everyday lives of Japanese-Americans during that period.

 

In the Fall of 2016, Dr. Clarke assigned a class of undergraduate students in the social work program at Fresno State a community project with the goal of organizing an event for the general public to view the photographs in an effort to help identify the people in them. It was held at the Fresno Buddhist Temple - Family Dharma Center on November 6, 2016. The event was met with a positive response from the Japanese-American community which allowed these students to put a name to the number of photographs that have been identified so far. Students were able to not only transcribe notes from the attendants who recognized some of the individuals in the photographs, but they were also able to connect with the stories that were being told about the photographs and learn more about the Japanese-American culture.

 

We need your help to discover who these people were and to unfold the stories behind these photographs. If you would like to view the photos in the online gallery, please use the Contact form at the bottom of the page to let me know. Photos are property of Chinatown Revitalization Inc. and may not be copied without permission.

Stories of the San Joaquin Valley

 

The San Joaquin Valley is the breadbasket of the nation. More than 250 different crops are cultivated and the annual value of agricultural production exceeds $25 billion annually (United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2015). Despite the enormous productivity of its agriculture, the Valley has one of the highest rates of concentrated poverty and food insecurity in the United States (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 2012). It is also ranked among the lowest on the national human development index, which measures health, educational attainment, and standard of living (California Human Development Report, 2011). Environmental injustice in the form of air pollution, poor water quality, pesticide use, as well as water insecurity due to the drought, have made local health and social well-being precarious.

 

The first Europeans that arrived in the Valley after the Gold Rush found the Miwok and Yokut tribes, whose economies focused on hunting, fishing and gathering. With the encroachment of the railroads and yeoman cattle farming in the 1800s, the geography and socio-economic structure of the Valley changed dramatically. Indigenous peoples were forced to move as agriculture expanded. Small rural towns dotted the landscape with the Central Pacific railroad stop of Fresno, incorporated as a city in 1885, emerging as the largest metropolitan area in the region. 

 

California was originally part of Mexico, though few Californios resided in the San Joaquin Valley. However, a diversity of Latinos representing distinct migration histories have been a large part of the Valley population since the mid-1800s. They have arrived in successive waves as braceros, migrant labor, and now as displaced farmers, refugees, and migrating Indigenous peoples.  Among the other groups that have come to the San Joaquin Valley are Chinese laborers with the railroad, Japanese farmers, Armenian refugees fleeing the Turkish Genocide, German Russians, Italians, Greeks, Scandinavians, African Americans during the Great Migration, Okies in the wake of the Dust Bowl, Laotians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and the Hmong.

 

This project focuses on the stories of people in certain neighborhoods in the San Joaquin Valley to show, as novelist Chimamanda Adichie says (see video here): "Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories.” I am currently working on making a series of interviews on Valley history available soon on Vimeo.

Kris Clarke, Ph.D

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