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About this book

With contributions from those at the forefront of modern social work thought, this edited volume reflects the growing eminence of critical social work in the 21st Century. Taking a truly global outlook, this text advocates the promotion of equality through a range of radical perspectives and provides a blueprint for the future of practice

Table of Contents

New Agendas for Social Work


1. Towards a ‘New Politics’ of Social Work

Undoubtedly, one of the great virtues of social work is that it continues to think politically in these difficult times of crisis and austerity. Its foundational values of equality and justice have always been compounded with freedom as core political ideals and ‘right principles’. The search for structures that might realize these moral standards has been a consistent feature of critical social work. Taking a political stance in defence of these values is the risk that social work must take. The objective would be twofold: a renewal of a progressive Left agenda in social work and, secondly, articulating social work’s role in contributing to the abolition of exploitative and despotic regimes maintained by the capitalist class and its neoliberal economic order (Badiou, 2012). As Warren Buffett, ‘The Sage of Omaha’, has observed, ‘there’s class warfare, all right but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning’.
Mel Gray, Stephen A. Webb

2. A History of Critical and Radical Social Work

Many books on radical and critical social work begin with a historical account of progressive practice in the early settlement movement of the Victorian era. Most, however, focus on the 1970s and early 1980s, when radical social work was at the forefront of debates on the future of the profession and its place in modern society. Contemporary forms of critical social work face challenges reminiscent of these earlier debates, with ongoing concerns about the applicability of social change theories for direct practice in social work. This chapter offers a thematic engagement with the origins of critical social work rather than a strict historically linear account of its development, for which there are already many published works available in North America (Reisch & Andrews, 2001), the UK (Lavalette, 2011; McLaughlin, 2008) and Australia (McDonald, 2007; Mendes, 2009; Pease, 2009a).
Bob Pease

3. Mapping the Theoretical and Political Terrain of Social Work

Possibly, Joe’s remarks on how a concern with the ‘wider issues, the wider aspects’ of social work resonate with other recent comments by contemporary writers on how their personal attempts to develop more sociologically informed, radical ways of thinking and working have resulted in pressures within the workplace. Rogowski (2010), for example, has exposed the less than positive response of his local office to his attendance at a conference on the future direction of social work. In a less overtly political manner, another respected author of textbooks for students remarks that, when he began his career, he was ‘discouraged from asking questions or developing’ his knowledge base:
I mean it’s almost like you need less and less bright people doing social work because actually what you don’t want them to do is to kind of really think too much about the wider issues, the wider aspects of what they’re doing, what you want them to do really is to do what they’re told. (Joe, a social work team manager who works with disabled children and their families, in Thomas & Davies, 2005, p. 724)
I was simply urged to ‘get on with the job’, without any real clarity about what the job actually was or how to go about it. It was largely a case of copying what other staff did and doing the best I could without any real depth of understanding. (Thompson, 2010, p. xi)
Paul Michael Garrett

4. Social Work and the Politics of Recognition

The indomitable presence of ‘turbo’ capitalism, and its claim to be ‘the only and hottest game in town’, has been radically undermined by recent events on the world stage. The manifest failures of corporate accounting systems — as exemplified in the Enron and WorldCom scandals — and reckless investments in speculative offshore hedge accounts, along with corporate greed, have shaken neoliberalism to its core. Accumulative, acquisitive and consumptive (over)drives have threatened the normative basis of the existing political economy.
Stan Houston

Politically Informed Social Work Practices


5. Critically Reflective Practice

The concept of reflective practice is embedded within professional education for health and social work in Anglophone countries (Gould & Taylor, 1996; Johns & Freshwater, 1998; Taylor, 2010) and elsewhere (Nordman, Kasén, & Eriksson, 1998; Yip, 2006). It has been presented as a ‘new epistemology of practice’, a rejection of attempts within professions such as social work to emulate the natural sciences in their quest for definitive positivist knowledge on which to base practice (Napier & Fook, 2000).
Carolyn Taylor

6. Critical Management

This chapter discusses recent developments on the management of social work services, particularly focusing on the role and functions of social work managers and the issues that impact upon the firstline management of practice. It summarizes the development of managerialism and markets, and outlines the position of managers and the dilemmas they face. The chapter discusses the potential contribution of critical management studies (CMS) to the understanding of management and managers in social work. It concludes by advocating a more critical understanding of social work managers through the application of Bourdieu’s (1990) concept of habitus.
John Lawler

7. Critical Best Practice

In this chapter, two claims are made. First, whatever a new politics of social work is founded upon, it can only have credibility if it focuses on practice, on what social workers actually do. Despite the huge literature that exists on social work, virtually none of it is based on evaluations of what social workers do, especially how they practise when face-to-face with service users. An aim of this chapter is to contribute to correcting this by drawing on data from a participant observation study of social work practice in child protection. The second claim the chapter makes is that, while it is appropriate to focus on the things that go wrong and how systems fail in social work, one important emphasis for critical analysis needs to be on what constitutes best practice. The mass of data that a research study generates needs to be allowed to speak for itself in the sense of revealing whatever the findings are, whether that be in showing good, bad or average practice. How such things are defined and assessments made are, of course, contested issues, and need to be part of the critical discussion and justified through the use of theory. I attempt to show how it is possible to identify practice that is ‘best’, and the basis upon which such claims might be made.
Harry Ferguson

8. Critical Discourse Analysis

This chapter outlines the reasons why discourse analysis is an important dimension of critical social work practice. It brings to the forefront the very significant new contributions that sociologists focusing on the politics of recognition and redistribution, such as Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth, can make in casting a New Left politics of social work (see also Chapters 2 and 4). In making this case, it begins by discussing some key developments in discourse theory and analysis within the social sciences and how they relate to the normative concerns of social work, specifically social justice and its multiple interpretations. Developing an appropriate analytical framework for critical social work practice can be difficult because there are conflicting and overlapping definitions of discourse formulated from various theoretical and disciplinary standpoints (Fairclough, 1992; Macdonell, 1991). Many different accounts of discourse have developed in the social sciences, partly due to recent interest in discourse theory among a wide range of academic disciplines. Whether language has assumed a more central focus as a result of this, or whether there has been an increase in the social importance of language in the operations of power, is open to question. In Discourse and Social Change, Norman Fairclough (1992) argues that it is more the latter:
I believe there has been a significant shift in the social functioning of language, a shift reflected in the salience of language in the major social changes that have been taking place over the last few decades. Many of these social changes do not just involve language, but are constituted to a significant extent by changes in language practices. In many countries there has been an upsurge in the extension of the market to new areas of social life, such as education and health care. A major part of this impact comprises changes in discourse practices, that is, changes in language. (p. 6)
Greg Marston

Transformative Social Work Practices


9. New Practices of Empowerment

We are living in dangerous times. The world is becoming an ever-more risky place for those on the margins, in the developing and developed world (Bauman, 2007; Beck, 1999). Just as drought, famine and war are forcing millions of people in the developing world to leave their homes in search of safety, so the economic recession and austerity cuts in public services are hitting hardest those most need in the developed world (Ferguson & Woodward, 2009; Hugman, 2010). It is tempting, in such difficult times, to latch onto a concept which seems to offer something positive: empowerment is one such idea. Who could fail to agree that it is a ‘good idea’? And yet, like so many commonly used terms in social work — advocacy, participation, human rights, anti-oppressive practice — it has not been sufficiently scrutinized or analysed. To seek to empower others seems a noble aspiration, and one which is self-evidently appropriate for social workers. But it is not at all clear what it is and how social workers might do it. Saleebey (2006) goes so far as to suggest that empowerment is ‘rapidly becoming hackneyed’ (p. 9). Nevertheless, this chapter argues that empowerment remains a valuable concept for social work today and must be understood as part of a radical response to the problems faced by individuals, groups and communities. In this respect, it cannot offer a ‘cheap and cheerful’ solution to tough economic times. Moreover, social workers cannot give power to anyone.
Viviene E. Cree

10. Rights-based International Social Work Practice

Human rights and social justice are claimed as major principles providing the foundation for social work, as stated by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) (IFSW/IASSW, 2004). These principles bind together the twin objectives of ‘problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to promote human well-being’ (IFSW/IASSW, 2004). That is, the principle of human rights, along with that of social justice, underpins both micro- and macro-level practices.
Richard Hugman

11. Femocratic Childcare Governance

This chapter sees childcare as a ‘zone of political engagement’ in which childcare policy is analysed within a framework of democratic governance. Like critical social work generally, femocratic childcare values the perspectives of service users and envisions a childcare system designed around the needs and interest of children and families. Through the lens of feminist Nancy Fraser’s critical social theory, the chapter examines what a democratic-feminist, or femocratic childcare system might look like by exploring two of Fraser’s central conceptual pairings: (1) redistribution and recognition; and (2) étatism and contra étatism. Sharing Fraser’s interest in reconciling principles existing in tension with one another, the chapter analyses the gendered contradictions inherent in two models of childcare governance in Canada: school-based and community-based models.
Tammy Findlay

12. Social Workers as Agents of Change

In hindsight, very few radical social workers during the Progressive Era [the decade before the First World War] had consciously revolutionary goals in their daily work. A hundred years later, their achievements seem far more reformist than radical. Yet their emphasis on social justice, their analysis of socioeconomic conditions in structural or systemic terms, their focus on issues of social class, their links to movements organized by feminists and African Americans, and their ties to radical trade unionists and left-wing political parties represented a threat to the established political order that contemporaries could not ignore. (Reisch & Andrews, 2002, p. 35)
Iain Ferguson

13. The Speculative Left and New Politics of Social Work

Modern-day politics has much to learn from social work values. It is well understood in our field that cooperation is a craft and its foundations lay in learning to listen well and discuss rather than simply win an argument. Social workers know that dialogue does not erase differences, but amicably puts them into play. They know that sharing is valued over selfishness: it is a form of generosity, a way of giving that may mean a loss to oneself. As social workers, we have the skill set to deploy practical methods by which to cement a social glue and weave connections through our common ties. In order to confront the dilemmas and tragedies of the contemporary political situation, however, more must be done. Much more. How does social work exemplify and construct possible ways to live together? As the chapters in this book have shown, it starts by taking a stance and exerting itself in fresh and meaningful ways. In this final chapter, we sketch a framework for what taking a stance in social work might look like under the banner of what we call the ‘New Social Work Left’.
Mel Gray, Stephen A. Webb
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