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About this book

Taking account of the political, economic and cultural changes that have impacted on social work over recent years, this book explores the challenges and presents the realities of practice. Using an international range of examples, McDonald makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the character and purpose of social work.

Table of Contents

The Context of Change

Frontmatter

1. The Professional Project in the Context of Change

Abstract
It is almost passé these days to note that the circumstances in which social work is practiced have changed considerably and that the seeming certainties of the past have largely vanished. Nevertheless change is the reality, particularly in the cases of what were once thought of as the advanced welfare states of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States. A brief tour through the professional social work journals produced in those countries readily illustrates that this notion of change, in particular destabilizing and perhaps transforming change is widespread. Some American commentators adopt an apocalyptic tone (see Meinert, Pardeck, and Kreuger, 2000; Kreuger, 1997; Stoesz, 2002), suggesting that forces of discontinuity arising from institutional transformation are so great that they fatally undermine the very future of the profession. Others are less pessimistic, but still propose that social work in the United States and in other countries such as Australia, Canada and Britain is at a critical juncture (Finn and Jacobson, 2003; Hil, 2001; Leonard, 2001; Lymbery, 2001; Sowers and Ellis, 2001; McDonald and Jones, 2000). Irrespective of the specific position adopted, the core message promoted is that social work as a collective enterprise (and individual social work practitioners and people thinking about becoming social workers) should, at a minimum, take stock of what has been occurring. Social workers need to evaluate the impact of developments in the environment, to think about the realities of the present and the implications for the future, and to fashion individual and collective directions forward.
Catherine McDonald

2. Modernity, Social Work and the Welfare State

Abstract
Most social work practitioners and scholars hold an enduring but often unrecognized attachment to the welfare state; the institutional arrangements of welfare developed over the 20th century to manage the problems modern society created. As indicated in Chapter 1, some authors accuse social work of failing to adjust to the inevitability of economic, political and social change; all of which are promoting institutional instability and change. These criticisms join a chorus of claims from across the political spectrum that post-World War II welfare statism has come to the end of its natural (and in the eyes of many, unnatural) life, that the various welfare reform processes of the advanced welfare states are essential, and that further ‘reform’ may well prove necessary. This theme is not new as the welfare state has been considered to be in ‘crisis’ for some time (OECD, 1981; Mishra, 1984; Offe, 1984).
Catherine McDonald

3. Challenging Social Work: The Economics of Change

Abstract
Everyone knows that the economy is important, but few of us understand why. In the main, social workers (like most people) are not necessarily as informed as perhaps they should be about the economic context in which they practice, a deficit which this chapter attempts to remedy if only to a very limited extent. It does so within a framework drawn from the discipline of political economy. I have located the discussion within this body of analysis so as to make clear the institutional linkages between economics and politics, a theme which constitutes the substance of this and the next chapter. Much of what I consider here is related to the ubiquitous processes of economic globalization, which in recent times have taken on heightened significance and are of great consequence because of the institutional effects within state systems around the world. Reverberating out to the subject populations of virtually all states, economic globalization brings diverse populations in equally diverse regions of the world into the realm of a common global dynamic. The consequences for different nations, however, vary drastically.
Catherine McDonald

4. Challenging Social Work: The Politics of Change

Abstract
Economic globalization has political dimensions as well as political implications. It is both reality and rhetoric. As has been suggested in Chapter 3, associated with economic globalization are very real sets of developments which have placed considerable pressure on sovereign states. But it has a rhetorical dimension as well in that some states and some governments couch their responses in terms of urgency and inevitability, and in doing so, position those responses as the sole policy option available to them. The form of politics that has emerged and become dominant in some (but by no means all) countries has been dubbed ‘conviction politics’ of the ‘no alternative’ school (Peck, 2001, p. 445), drawing on a highly contested analysis promoted by the ‘business school globalization thesis’ (Watson and Hay, 2003, p. 291). As an upshot of this, we can see quite different policy trajectories developed to manage states and their economies in the current era, evident in the varying responses of the European countries to those of the Anglo countries of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In this chapter, I focus specifically on the political responses and policy orientations commonly found in the latter group; on the overall dominant political assemblage of neoliberalism, on associated developments in how the state is both managed and transformed, and on the consequences of those processes.
Catherine McDonald

5. Challenging Social Work: The Ideas of Change

Abstract
As if the economic and political developments discussed in the previous chapters were not enough to contend with, a further challenge faces the profession; in this instance one which operates at a quite different level. Indeed, a very important question confronts social work. Does the emergence of a body of thought, loosely known as postmodernism (which claims to be a radical shift in the foundation of knowledge) have any relevance for the profession? It constitutes an epistemological challenge, in that it calls into question the profession’s knowledge base. It is also an ontological challenge if such a thing can be said to exist in relation to a profession. By this I mean that the notions that social workers might have about themselves as, for example, advocates and change agents for human betterment, are destabilized. At a minimum, developments in theory are critical of assumptions social workers might make about the progressive purposes and positive identities of social work, both collectively and individually. Originating largely with a group of French intellectuals in the 1970s, the challenges arising from this complex body of thought have, since then, spread into many disciplines and practices. It has spawned an intellectual project (or more accurately projects) of such breadth, depth and complexity that a single chapter cannot possibly hope to capture its dimensions, much less its import. It is even difficult to know what to call it. Is it, for example, most accurately represented as postmodernism or post-structuralism? Or has the oeuvre moved sufficiently to warrant an entirely new name? Given the lack of coherence within the total body of work, it is easier said than done to make clear distinctions, and for my purposes here, such distinctions are largely unnecessary. Rather, because of the pervasiveness of the genre and its rapid penetration into so many disciplines related to social work I shall, throughout this chapter, refer to it as contemporary theory.
Catherine McDonald

6. Re-constructing Practitioners

Abstract
During the high point of modernity the professions were the equivalent of the mandarins of the Chinese middle kingdom; the cadres that serviced the various formal institutions constituting and regulating modern societies. Social work aspired to be one of these, albeit in a fairly humble way and with less power and prestige than, say, the lawyers and medical practitioners. The contemporary position of the professions is somewhat different, particularly in the Anglo countries. With the exception perhaps of accountants, the relative power of most of the other professional groups has waned, but it must be said, to different degrees.
Catherine McDonald

7. Re-constructing Service Users

Abstract
Along with social work practitioners, service users have also been significantly affected by the developments charted in Chapters 2 to 5. The processes by which change has been wrought and the impact on service users can be captured through an analysis of their status. The various descriptive labels that have attached to people who use welfare services are particularly illustrative in that these labels conjure up specific identities, each of which have consequences. At one time (albeit quite a long time ago), a social worker, even one who was not necessarily working in a health-related setting, might have unselfconsciously referred to service users as ‘patients’. More latterly, the words ‘client’ or ‘service user’ predominate. Most recently and in many domains (but by no means all) another pair of labels or identities has been brought into play — that of consumer and customer. These developments signify an interesting and disturbing outcome, particularly of the political developments we discussed in Chapter 4. They suggest that the 20th century relations of citizenship — that is, relationships between individuals/groups and the state — are undergoing a transformation in ways that intimately involve people who use welfare services.
Catherine McDonald

Options for Social Work

Frontmatter

8. Entrepreneurial Social Work

Abstract
Fortunately, social workers are not passive victims waiting to be swamped by the successive waves of change identified and elaborated in Part 1. Rather, in different arenas and in quite diverse ways social workers are articulating, developing and promoting modes of practice which represent possible futures. Jones (2000) advances a specific program for the future of social work (which we will examine later), and his intent, as is mine, is to focus on all of the many developments in the profession which are attempting to adapt (either wittingly or unwittingly) to the developments in the contemporary environment. These attempts are, for the most part, a re-tooled version of the professional project attempting to create a better ‘fit’ between what social workers do and the emerging conditions of practice. The drive behind the various strands within this overall category of the entrepreneurial profession is essentially one of hard-nosed pragmatism and all variants hold out the message of ‘adapt or die’ — albeit with differing degrees of emphasis. In this chapter I focus on four main emphases, all of which to a greater or lesser degree are implicated in each other. The first of these is that which promotes the currently popular notions of social entrepreneurialism and social capital. The second version endorses a vigorous and opportunistic embracing of the new conditions of practice, while the third is inventing and engaging in new spaces and new modes of practice. Finally, the fourth version of entrepreneurial social work positions politically-inspired strategic engagement as the key mode of responding to change in the external environment.
Catherine McDonald

9. Evidence-Based Practice

Abstract
The various strategies representing the promotion of social work as an entrepreneurial profession attempting to re-make itself in the contemporary conditions do not, of course, represent the only option. The second strategic response we will examine is the contemporary resurgence of a long-standing orientation towards social work practice — variously called scientific practice, empirical clinical practice, research-based practice, or evidence-based practice (Trinder, 2000a). Occurring on a broader scale than social work, the renaissance of evidence or more particularly of a specific form of ‘evidence’ in the contemporary regime of welfare is entirely congruent with the times. As we will see, discussions about the delivery of social welfare as well as contemporary approaches to social policy in the advanced welfare states increasingly make reference to the proactive use of evidence.
Catherine McDonald

10. Critical Practice

Abstract
Entrepreneurial social work and evidence-based practice can be understood as attempts on the part of their advocates to respond to both the economics and the politics of change. In this chapter we turn to another complex stream of social work theory and practice which, in some recently developed forms, claims to have also engaged with the ideas of change, presented in Chapter 5 as the challenges posed by contemporary theory. My use of the omnibus term critical practice refers to the many and varied heirs of a long tradition of radical social work. According to Powell (2001), critical practice has had an astonishing impact on the profession’s consciousness somewhat at odds with the actual numbers of people adopting it as their referred mode of practice.
Catherine McDonald

11. Global Social Work

Abstract
The final strategic option, global social work, is one of the most interesting, and it is one which opens up a range of possible sites for practice. It is also an option which addresses the economics, the politics, and in some instances, the ideas of change. Paradoxically, it is a genre of social work which was once heralded to play a significant role in shaping the profession’s emerging identity in the 20th century. After World War II and under the auspice of the United Nations, social work was positioned as a (if not the) key occupation to undertake social development in the so called ‘developing’ nations. The paradox is that as the modernist western welfare states developed in the nations of what is known in development circles as the global North (Britain, Europe, the USA, and Canada, but which includes white Australia, white New Zealand and white South Africa), social work as a profession seemed to lose interest in (or at least failed to convincingly articulate) its potential role in social development. As those modernist welfare states weaken and are re-constituted into workfare regimes, the possibility re-emerges for social work to play a role in international social work and social development. That said, it must still be acknowledged that the long shadow of the welfare state remains. Organized along national lines and promoted by modernist professionalized and bureaucratized social welfare, the welfare state continues to inhibit the capacity of social work collectively and individually to think internationally and to imagine the full range of possibilities for global practice (for an example of this, see Webb, 2003).
Catherine McDonald

12. Thinking Our Way Forward

Abstract
In Part 11 considered the forces and processes of change at a pace and in a manner designed to create awareness on the part of readers of the scale of what has occurred in the various contexts where social workers find themselves. The message was (I hope) clear — there is no going back. The conditions under which social work was established, especially in the post-World War II modernist welfare regimes, have been utterly transformed. Economic globalization has had significant consequences and national economies (both North and South) have been reconstructed with a range of often devastating (but at a minimum, disturbing) costs. Similarly, the political consensus between capital and labor which developed in the post-war decades has broken down and the state has transformed itself, particularly the liberal ‘Anglo’ states. In those countries, the relationship between the state and the people, encapsulated metaphorically and practically in the notion of citizenship, has been fundamentally re-constructed, so much so that contemporary ‘citizens’ struggle to articulate, much less activate social rights. Instead, the ‘neo-citizens’ of neoliberal states are a divided lot, increasingly pitted against each other by governments more attuned to the needs of capital. Finally, the intellectual edifice which supported the project of modernity, of welfare and of social work has been destabilized by the criticisms of contemporary theory. In the eyes of its supporters, any comfort social workers might have drawn from the profession’s alleged humanist and emancipatory impulses is diminished in the face of its sceptical gaze.
Catherine McDonald
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