This opening chapter sets out the themes of the book highlighting my central preoccupation with the relation between current and past social work practice and the ever present phenomenon of risk. It is clear that social work needs to look for a new model of practice; one that is ethically valid as well as functionally accountable in terms of reasonable decision making procedures and interventions. There is a not entirely inappropriate perception that current social work has sunk into a ‘managerialism’ that is increasingly afraid of the complexity of risky situations and has become highly defensive. The latter has resulted in increasing dependence upon adherence to more and more elaborate rule systems, procedures and rule following. Thus there is a reduction of scope for social workers to develop competences of judgment, ethical insight, and holistic forms of practice. In effect social work is under threat of becoming a de-skilled profession. This book provides a diagnosis of the reasons for this vitiating process. But it is not merely cast in immediate terms of social work circumstances; rather it is located within an ecology of higher and lower level historical and contemporary political forces. Because of this we need to be tolerant of having to draw on social theory and sociology as well as material from professional and applied spheres. Here we will pay attention to the concepts of risk, governmentality, neo-liberalism and late modernity. The meaning and relations between these often opaque terms in relation to social work will it is hoped become apparent throughout the book.
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- Setting the Scene
Stephen A. Webb
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