Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

Feminist theories of social work have been criticised in recent years for treating women as a uniform category and displaying insufficient sensitivity to the complex ways in which other social divisions (those of race, age, disability, etc.) impact on gender relations. This major text by a leading writer in the field seeks to develop a new framework for feminist social work that takes on board postmodernist arguments to do with difference and power yet retains a commitment to collective solidarity and social change. As such, it will be essential reading for students, educators and practitioners alike in social work.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Feminism seems an old-fashioned word in today’s allegedly postmodern world. The media in Western countries has confidently asserted that feminism is passé by claiming that we have entered the post-feminist era. To women like me, this is a strange paradox. For as women experience the feminisation of poverty, increasing levels of sexual violence, the loss of welfare state benefits which women have accessed in the recent past, the threatened loss of livelihood and statehood, I marvel at the idea that feminist claims have been realised and need consume the energies of women and girls no longer.
Lena Dominelli

1. Theorising Feminist Social Work Practice

Abstract
Social work has been criticised for being an oppressive part of the modernist project of the nation state (Pierson, 1991). Leftwingers have criticized it for imposing bureaucratic forms of social control upon poor people living in working-class communities (Corrigan and Leonard, 1978). Those in the ‘new’ social movements have noted its capacity to reproduce oppressive social relations under the guise of providing care (Dominelli and McLeod, 1982; Dominelli, 1988; Hanmer and Statham, 1988; Oliver, 1990; Morris, 1991). Rightwing ideologues have complained about social workers’ capacity to throw money at social problems without producing the desired results. These they have identified as preventing families from breaking up, ensuring that parents take proper care of their children, keeping older people safe within the bosom of their families and controlling delinquent behaviour amongst juveniles (Murray, 1990, 1994).
Lena Dominelli

2. Contextualising Feminist Social Work Theory and Practice

Abstract
Feminist social work is being developed in the same context as other forms of social work — that of a culturally specific nation-state subject to the pressures of globalisation, privatisation and internationalisation of locally expressed policies and practices. Social policy declarations establish the parameters of professional practice in a given locality. In Britain, the government’s recent promotion of the mixed economy of care within state, voluntary, private and domestic sectors has profound implications for the roles ascribed to social work, the management of practice and social workers’ relationships with ‘clients’ and the organisations catering for welfare needs (Khan and Dominelli, 2000). Social policies also transfer women’s dependency on state funding to men in family settings and reflect a shift from public patriarchy to private patriarchy (see Walby, 1990).
Lena Dominelli

3. Redefining Professionalism

Abstract
Responding to an agenda of creating a welfare state that meets the needs of all peoples for a dignified existence in the 21st century calls for a redefinition of professionalism for the current dominant one has been found wanting, particularly by those involved in the ‘new’ social movements, including women, black activists and disabled people (Dominelli, 1992; Ahmed, 1990; Oliver, 1990). These critics give primacy to the ‘client’ as a key partner in the decision-making process and pursue the objectives of social justice. Their concerns should be taken seriously by social workers who are well placed to do so.
Lena Dominelli

4. Working with Men

Abstract
For too long, men have been absent partners within social work relationships. Although men have formed the major ‘client’ group in some areas of practice such as working with offenders, social workers engaging with men in family-based interventions have been the exception rather than the rule (O’Hagan and Dillenburger, 1995). As Wilson (1977) has pointed out, women usually act as intermediaries between officialdom and their families. Practitioners’ reluctance to involve men in their family-focused work has been evident on both sides of the gender divide. Social workers, the majority of whom have been women, have worried about their ability to deal with the men inhabiting the lives of women ‘clients’, particularly if they have been violent or abusive. Others have believed that men have little interest in dealing with the problems that women and children endure, so that there is little point in wasting time and resources working with them. The absent father or husband was just that, the absent father or husband. Men who have felt their authority challenged through statutory interventions have not been averse to being ignored by professionals who hold formal power over them.
Lena Dominelli

5. Working with Children and Families

Abstract
The bulk of social work practice occurs within family settings where interventions proceed as if the relationships that occur within them are unproblematic. But the family has re-emerged as a highly contested political institution and a key instrument of social policy. ‘The family’ is central to struggles over redefining families and women’s roles within them as feminists argue for diversity and forms that meet women’s aspirations whilst moralists and religious fundamentalists across the globe demand a return to patriarchal arrangements. The vociferous voices of patriarchal moralists have regendered women in neo-traditional ways to reassert their responsibility for ensuring that family life proceeds in accordance with patriarchal injunctions and retains its status as a safe haven. Alongside these developments is a conservative men’s critique that castigates feminists for exposing the family as a source of oppression for women and children (Clark et al., 1996; Brooks, 1996). The orthodoxies they proclaim fly in the face of evidence that indicates women endure gender-based hardships across cultural domains (Basu, 1997).
Lena Dominelli

6. Working with Adults

Abstract
Working with adults is another major arena for social work practice. The bulk of these are older people who have been incapacitated through disease and physical infirmity. They constitute the major ‘client’ group covered in this chapter. Adults, unless they are disabled or mentally ill, are not normally expected to receive assistance from the social services (Zucchino, 1997). Rather, they are expected to meet their own welfare needs, although they may be instrumental in seeking help for children or older dependents.’ In Britain, working with older people has traditionally been considered a Cinderella area because the work has low status and is done by women with little or no qualifications. Additionally, men wishing to rise rapidly through the ranks of practice have used residential care for older people as a springboard to child care and from there to rise up the career ladder to management (Howe, 1986).
Lena Dominelli

7. Working with Offenders

Abstract
The place of probation practice in the social work arena has been a contested one. In Britain, probation began as an activity with an interest in helping offenders change their behaviour — a matter definitively within the social work domain. It has now become an occupation concerned primarily with controlling and containing offenders in the community (Sone, 1995). Current attempts to locate it within the ‘corrections’ industry are not coincidental. Neither is the removal of probation training from the Diploma in Social Work (DipSW) and the university setting in parts of the United Kingdom. These events have been timed to signal a shift of emphasis in probation practice: providing community containment facilities (Home Office, 1998).
Lena Dominelli

8. Conclusions

Abstract
Feminist social work theory and practice has been developing apace in the past two decades bringing many innovations into the discipline. It has both friends and enemies within the system. And it has a considerable distance to go in reaching its objectives in tangible forms that permeate the broader society. With regard to social work, feminists have highlighted the importance of gender dynamics in a profession begun by women. The preponderance of women within its borders has not guaranteed that women’s interests as women are recognised and responded to. Thus, feminists have had to develop a theory and a practice that places women at the centre of its interventions. From there, feminists have ensured that their work ripples out to encompass all people, regardless of gender. Additionally, feminists have created theories and proposals for practice that respond to critiques from within women’s ranks to encompass the rich diversity of social divisions that women embrace. Feminists have developed analyses and social action whilst living in insider—outsider roles. That is, they have to work against being oppressed and being oppressive simultaneously.
Lena Dominelli
Additional information