October 20th 2023

Social work and you: Interview with Eva Fleischer

Retirement at the Department of Social Work | Time to say goodbye, Eva Fleischer

Under the motto "Social Work and You" we asked our esteemed colleague and university professor Mag.a Dr.in Eva Fleischer on the occasion of her retirement for an interview in which she also looks back with us on her past years at MCI | The Entrepreneurial School®.

Social Work and you - how did you start?

My first encounter with Social Work was a social worker who had invited a teacher to visit us at the commercial academy. I found the descriptions of her work very exciting at the time and this opened up a completely different career perspective, because I definitely did not want to become an accountant or bank clerk. I experienced the time of my training as very formative, both on a personal level and on a professional level. We dealt with anti-psychiatry, were able to plan courses ourselves, but were also confronted with the bureaucratic procedures of child and youth welfare or with very conservative views of some teachers. The early 1980s were a time of new beginnings in Social Work, and numerous projects were created that have long been established today. Even though I subsequently studied education and political science, I still identified with Social Work.

Who or what inspires you and why?

I was inspired above all by women, often pioneers in science and teaching, who combined feminist commitment to the further development of Social Work with an interest in scientific knowledge, took students seriously and challenged them to grow, and developed and implemented projects. Role models were especially those who also tried to implement the utopia that a doubly fulfilled life should be possible: a life with children and a life as an intellectual.

What did you do before you started working at the MCI?

During my studies in education and political science, I worked as a social worker in psychiatric care facilities, in the accompaniment of people with disabilities. Then in a research project on the topic of "Social and psychological implications of human medical reproductive technologies" at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Continuing Education in Klagenfurt. This was followed by the management of a family counseling center in Innsbruck and then a phase of a combination of diverse employed and self-employed activities: since 1997, lecturer at the Academy for Social Work in Innsbruck and at the University of Innsbruck, project work in projects at the Institute for Educational Sciences and at the Future Center Tyrol, where she was a coach, trainer in the field of "competence-oriented career counseling" and evaluator of the project "Career Counseling Tyrol", as well as activities as a research associate at the management consulting firm Hafelekar. The largest projects there were the development of counseling tools for competence-oriented career counseling of young people with migration biographies and the evaluation of elderly care and assistance structures for the province of Upper Austria. My first contact with the topic of care, which I subsequently dealt with in detail.

What made you decide to teach and work at the MCI?

As a lecturer at the Academy of Social Work, I very much welcomed the academization of Social Work education and was also on the development team for the new degree program at MCI. Initially as an external lecturer, then from 2009 as a lecturer, and later as a professor, I was able to contribute to the development of the degree program as part of the team around our then director of studies, Dr. Michael Klassen. The new institutional context opened up many new opportunities for international cooperation, networking with colleagues in practice, but also in academia.

What is your research focus?

My focus in research and teaching is multifaceted. On the one hand, I am very concerned with analyzing the structural framework of Social Work, reflecting on the effects on the lifeworld of users and practitioners, and taking political action based on this. In this area, my focus is on social policy, especially on paid and unpaid work and poverty prevention. On the other hand, I am interested in how the high ideal of Social Work as a human rights profession can be put into practice. From this, the focus of my work has developed into the study of theories of gender and diversity and their practical implementation in participatory research projects as well as in anti-discrimination trainings.  In parallel, I have worked for many years on how students can acquire competencies in scientific work, research ethics and qualitative research methods in an experiential way. How service design thinking methods can be used to (further) develop Social Work services together with users was the focus of the last project I helped to develop. This topic will continue to occupy me, as I see the question of user participation as a central pivot for the further development and democratization of Social Work.

What are your favorite tasks in your job?

For me, it is always particularly nice when I can initiate intensive processes in the group and with individuals in the courses on the topics of gender and diversity through my work. I also enjoy supporting students in their final theses and mentoring students and graduates. I also appreciate the joint development and reflection in networking in specialist groups; for example, as a working group on Social Work and age(s) within the framework of the Austrian Society for Social Work, we wrote a position paper on the "Significance of Social Work in a society of longevity", which was very positively received in the German-speaking world. The manifesto "Großputz! Redesigning Care according to Corona" by the scientists' group CareMachtMehr found international resonance.

What will you miss?

The suggestions from my colleagues and the impulses from the students; I was able to learn a lot here.

What was your highlight during your time in the Department of Social Work?

The development and implementation of the teaching/learning projects in the master's program were always highlights: on the one hand, a lot of work, but also the joy of seeing how students develop within the framework of the projects, can try things out, and then in the end the joint product that creates social added value and gives impetus to politics or also to organizations with which we have worked. Another highlight for me was the opportunity to broaden my horizons through participation in conferences and my guest residency at Fordham University in New York.

What do you wish for the MCI and/or the students?

I would like Social Work to be recognized in society as "system-relevant" and for this to be expressed by a professional law so that the standards of the profession and the discipline are also secured in practice. Here, in particular, the anchoring of one's own professional ethics in corresponding regulations and bodies is central, but also the recognition as a science of action. In its work, Social Work is directly confronted with the problem situations that arise as a result of social change. In order for these societal changes to go in a good direction and for human rights to be realized, it is also important that one's own actions are repeatedly reflected upon self-critically, both in training and in practice. This may sometimes be uncomfortable, because we are all part of power relations and bring our stories with us, but ultimately we can only gain in humanity through this.

Andrea Trenkwalder-Egger @ MCI

Eva Fleischer ©Eva Fleischer