After several months of university-based involvement in some consultancy with a group of carers and people using services, we seemed to be engaging in the work as an increasingly close-knit team. Then we encountered difficulties within our group. There were some tense meetings and written messages between us. The upshot was a particularly painful period of self-examination. It emerged that we had to accept the reality that we were not a homogeneous team who fundamentally shared our perspective on the health and social services but occasionally differed. On the contrary, despite our shared goals, we were fundamentally two groups, separated by the difference of structural power between the university employees and the carers/service users, who most of the time managed to patch over this division and work together. Outwardly, there may be nothing different about our behaviour to distinguish between these two perspectives. I am simply arguing that from my ‘conflict’ perspective, our underlying interests were in conflict, rather than being in consensus. This crucial distinction contributes to the theoretical perspective on empowering social work developed in the second part of this chapter.
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