Why should social workers care about power? Social work generally sees power as a determining factor in disadvantage and inequality. But power is also relational, networked and discursive. Power has been important to social work practice, so social workers need a good analysis of power that can be understood to be an effect of social arrangements and also interpersonal relations. In this chapter we look at power sociologically, but in two ways. First, we examine how power has been understood and developed in social work in the critical theory tradition, mainly in regard to structural and juridical accounts of power. Then, we draw on the work of philosopher Michel Foucault to explain how power is conceptualised in social work along post-structural lines. We will specifically focus on Foucault’s theory of governmentality in this respect. The chapter will facilitate ways to understand how power can be viewed in explanatory terms but also as a form of practice. The purpose of this chapter is to outline a way of conceptualising, interrogating and critiquing the operation of power within social and political systems. Doel and Shardlow make the point that power is something that will continually confront social workers.
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