A historic day for Social Work at the University

07 July 2017
Professor Fouché with one of the postgraduate students she recently supervised.
Professor Fouché with one of the postgraduate students she recently supervised.

Professor Christa Fouché is the University’s – and Auckland’s – first professor of social work. Christa’s inaugural professorial lecture on 25 July titled “Knotworking: Conceptualising effective practice” will be a historic event for the University.

“It is such an honour to have my scholarship acknowledged by this University and to have the opportunity to participate in the tradition of an inaugural address. I am excited to be able to talk about social work to a mixed audience and to share my beliefs and vision for our discipline,” Christa says. 

"Knotworking" as a concept

“Throughout my professional life I have been drawn to theories of collaboration and networking. I have most recently spent time on Engeström’s activity theory, as this seems to be a theory that is highly valued in social work internationally, but underutilised in New Zealand.

“The concept of ‘knotworking’ in this theory represents the ‘tying and untying’ of collaborative activities and seems very relevant to a presentation on the many opportunities and challenges that practice collaboration brings.

“In this lecture, I explore what it means to ‘do the right thing’ in an increasingly complex practice environment and with limited resources. I pose a challenge to academics and practitioners across disciplines and sectors, in micro and macro practice, to consider the elements of effective practice and their role in the ‘tying and untying’ that must be done to improve outcomes for the communities we serve.”

A professor’s journey

When Professor Christa Fouché joined the Faculty of Education and Social Work in 2008, she saw herself as “a migrant coming to a very established programme run by very competent people”. With her strong professional background as a social worker, educator, manager and consultant in the international arena, she soon found her place and calling within the academic world.

Over the next several years, Christa flourished in the faculty as a social work researcher and educator, demonstrating her advanced skills in leadership, teaching, and research scholarship and substantial expertise in the field of workforce development. She conducted research that made a difference in practice, and published widely.

Christa produced more than 100 scholarly publications, including books, journal articles, book chapters, and research reports, which generated more than 6,000 citations. She delivered more than 50 scholarly presentations, including many invited international presentations and lectures. She held positions as editorial board member of several professional journals and as member of organising and scientific committees for international conferences.

Christa has been a visiting scholar at the University of Melbourne, Helsinki University, City University of New York, and at Mt Sinai Medical Centre in Manhattan. She became Head of the School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work (Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland) in 2014 and served in that position until 2016. In December 2016, Christa was promoted to Professor at the University of Auckland.

Mentoring students

To Christa, the best part of her University career has been the opportunity to become a supervisor and mentor to a number of her postgraduate students.

“I just love walking alongside them to shape a question that matters and design a robust project that delivers surprising results for innovative practice. To see the development of their scholarship is amazing.

“In a way, those are the same things that excited me as a practitioner. To experience the change in people when life has kicked them around and you can connect them with the right services or do the right thing to make a big difference in their lives.”

“It is all about relationships. People will forget what you have done and will forgive you for what you have not done, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” Christa encapsulates an important lesson she learned from experience.

She herself has been fortunate to have “amazing lecturers and mentors” as a student and as a young academic. One in particular – Professor Annemie De Vos – had a passion for research and laid the foundations for Christa to become a researcher. Professor De Vos instilled in her students that all people can achieve amazing things with “dedication, self-belief and the support of one other”.

For “inspiring research-mindedness” in her, Christa dedicated her book Practice research partnerships in social work: Making a difference to Professor De Vos.

“(To become a Professor) is an honour, and I am humbled to be standing on the shoulders of those who went before me. It is an important time for social work at this University and for social work in New Zealand,” Christa says.

Register to attend the inaugural professorial lecture.