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About this book

Social work is a discipline committed to social justice and human rights, and to improving the well—being of individuals, families, communities and societies. But the world is changing, with environmental disasters, an increase in violent conflict and the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis impacting negatively on human and ecological well-being. Social workers are often working at the forefront of these and other challenging situations, and they must apply knowledge and skills to their practice in a thoughtful and ethical way. What kind of knowledge and skills will social workers need to succeed in this intellectually and emotionally demanding job?

Broad-ranging in scope and depth, this highly readable text introduces readers to the key concepts in social work – such as empathy, reflective practice and notions of risk – and provides both a focus on the theory and research literature that informs each one, and an examination of how each will aid practitioners in their day-to-day work. With the help of engaging practice examples that contextualize the topics under discussion, the book also draws on ideas and literature from other disciplines – including philosophy, sociology and psychology – in order to promote the open-mindedness and depth of understanding required for practice with people from all walks of life.

An accessible text that brings all of the major social work concepts together in one place, Key Concepts and Theory in Social Work is an essential book for students and practitioners alike.

Table of Contents

1. INTRODUCTION

Abstract
Social work is an important role, and one well worth pursuing. It is committed to social justice and human rights, and improving human well-being for individuals, families, communities and societies (International Federation of Social Workers, 2014). Social work is a diverse profession working with different groups and individuals and it operates across many different arrangements for the delivery of welfare and social care. Social work largely grew up within the ambit of the many welfare states of advanced liberal nations and has since spread as a profession across the world. We think the diversity of activities we can call social work is to be celebrated, and given the wonderful variety of ways in which human beings live, work and create communities, we cannot see that it could be any other way. What unites social work across the world, however, is a commitment to the realisation of social justice for all people, and the fact that our work is primarily with people who experience exclusion, disadvantage, stigma and marginalisation. Our professional commitment to social justice amidst the situation of increasing global change was a theme recently raised by Professor Alastair Christie (Child and Family Research Centre & Christie, 2014) in a keynote presented at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway. We agree with him that in the last few years there have been enormous political changes to Nation-states, of all political persuasions.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

2. THEORY AND PRACTICE

Abstract
Social work utilises numerous theories about people, problems and society, and these ideally inform how social workers practice. Social work has not been immune to various developments in theory and research methodology across the social sciences that have occurred in fields such as sociology, psychology, political science and anthropology. These social sciences are what might be called informing disciplines to the profession of social work (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015). Each of these disciplines has different orientations to building theory and they use a variety of methods for conducting social research about people, groups, cultures and societies. As you can imagine, this introduces a range of complexities when we consider the social work theoretical landscape. Consequently, there are many textbooks that discuss the different theories developed within the discipline of social work (Adams, Dominelli & Payne, 2009a; Healy, 2014; Howe, 2009; Payne, 2014; Trevithick, 2011; Turner, 2011), and others sources that explore the incorporation of theories into the field of social work (Beresford, 2000; Hudson, 1997; Osmond, 2006). In learning about social work theory, you may feel that you are confronted with a vast array of theoretical ideas, concepts and arguments. Further, you will find that many of these theories offer differing, and at times, competing views and explanations for something. This raises important questions for social work practice. How can we know which theories are useful to understanding or explaining the phenomena we might see in practice? And how can theories help us to know what to do in practice?
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

3. RISK

Abstract
It seems that as we go about our daily lives we often hear about how risky life has become, how we should be aware of the risks for this or that, and how important it is for people to manage and respond to an increasing number of risks associated with lifestyle, travel, our finances, and our health. The idea of risk has permeated social work too. It is a major organising concept that shapes the way that services operate, and how they assess and respond to human need (Green, 2007). This use of the term ‘risk’ also presupposes a particular set of assumptions about people, and where responsibility for managing risk sits (Green, 2007). Yet, the definitions of risk, resilience, vulnerability, and so on are plagued by conceptual differences and some confusion (Kaplan, 1999). This chapter draws on social work and other literature to conceptualise risk as a form of knowledge that is used in social work practice and explains the development of the risk management paradigm in social work. At the same time, it critically examines the implications this has for how social workers think, talk and act in relation to their work. The chapter examines different theories of risk to highlight some of the theoretical and practical limitations of risk management that social workers must grasp and think critically about.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

4. POWER

Abstract
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.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

5. POVERTY AND DISADVANTAGE

Abstract
These powerful words by Dr John Falzon, CEO of The Australian Council of Social Services, reminds us that poverty, inequality and disadvantage are structural, moral and political issues, inasmuch as they point to suffering and hardship. Poverty is a problem because it is linked to deprivation and exclusion, and poverty is typically a marker of unacceptable levels of inequality that requires action (Alcock, 2006). Further, entrenched poverty is something that arises out of a deficient social and economic system, because even within wealthy and prosperous nations, poverty may be created and sustained through various social and economic policies and ideologies (Alcock, 2006). Hence, poverty is a moral and political issue. It is a moral issue because it is bound up within judgements about poverty being wrong and something undesirable, and it is political because of the way that the social and economic order in prosperous nations actually creates the conditions for poverty to grow. Social work has a long tradition of working with poverty and disadvantage in case practice, group work, community development and social activism. In fact, what has historically set social work apart from other helping professions is its focus on addressing both the conditions and consequences of various forms of social, political, economic and other disadvantage. The terms poverty and disadvantage, however commonplace they may be, are not without complications. The chapter will explain what poverty means and give an overview of the extent, scope and theories of poverty.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

6. DIFFERENCE

Abstract
Grappling with the differences between individuals and groups is an important component in social work efforts to address discrimination and oppression. But how can we understand difference and diversity, and its impact for social work practice? What does it mean to practise social work in ways that are anti-discriminatory? Moreover, how does this relate to the need to demonstrate culturally appropriate practice and sensitivity to the many and varied identities, cultures and conditions affecting people in their everyday lives. We start from the premise that contemporary society is unequal and there are a range of social divisions that contribute to people experiencing discrimination. The history of contemporary societies, their relative placement within the many forms of colonialism and imperialism from globalisation will be formative with regard to discourses of difference and culture (Connell, 2007). For example, Australia can be seen as having a ‘settler majority culture’ (Hosken & Goldingay, 2016, p. 53), meaning that some members of society are thus contrasted in relation to the majority as belonging to minorities. How people are positioned in this relation of majority-minority cultures is a complex matter and different in each society. What it means for someone positioned in this way also depends on particular historical, cultural and social arrangements. With this in mind we can see that ethnicity and culture may be just one kind of diversity that social workers must grapple with throughout their practice.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

7. RESPECT AND DIGNITY

Abstract
Respect is an important aspect of everyday life. It is part of the things most of us learn as children (‘respect your elders, teachers, others’) and we are expected to demonstrate respect for others in our dealings with people at work, school, on the roads, whilst we are shopping, and in our dealings with public institutions. We expect, too, that we should enjoy recognition and regard from others in turn. Chenoweth and McAuliffe (2015) consider respect for persons to be a core value of professional social work practice. Moreover, they consider this value as part of a system of ethics that informs the social work profession. The value of respect is also often placed in the context of human rights and social justice (British Association of Social Workers, 2014; International Federation of Social Workers, 2012; National Association of Social Workers, 2016). We see respect and its fellow term, dignity, as a foundational value for human rights (Chapter 9, this volume) and ideas about social justice and injustice (Chapter 8, this volume). Likewise, Chenoweth and McAuliffe (2015, p. 69) suggest that respect for persons sits alongside other values also important for social work. These are values about respecting difference and diversity; maintaining a belief in the ability of people to make positive change; values about the rights of people to make choices about their circumstances and decisions; the right of people to privacy and confidentiality; valuing the environment; and the rights of people to be able to access services that have integrity.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

8. SOCIAL JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS

Abstract
Social justice is a core part of the social work profession. Many people enter the social work profession because they have a strong commitment to making things better for people, communities and society, and they bring with them an already formed commitment to social justice (Gardner, 2006). Some organisations profess a commitment to social justice as part of their statement of philosophy or mission (Gardner, 2006) and this commitment can align with service users and community groups who may be pursuing social justice aims too (Chenoweth & McAuliffe, 2015, p. 38). This chapter explores the concept of social justice and examines its place in the ethics and theory of social work, including the kinds of things that a social justice approach to social work seeks to address. We will explore two main theories of social justice, those of philosophers John Rawls and Iris Marion Young. Each of these theories can contribute an understanding of the principles of fair and just distribution of resources and opportunities, as well as the many aspects of oppression and marginalisation that are at the root of so much injustice. Finally, we draw a comparison between social justice and fairness, and outline an example of how injustice and unfairness can deeply affect people’s well-being. The point we make here is that unfairness and injustice account for why people may experience distress and conflict, and negative effects on resilience and health overall (Siegrist, 2005).
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

9. HUMAN RIGHTS

Abstract
It matters to people how they are treated by others. We established the importance of dignity as a foundation to respectful practice in an earlier chapter (Chapter 7, this volume). In this chapter our intention is to make links between the values of respect and dignity and notions of human rights and social work practice. Thus, we are considering human rights as an expression of certain values about human beings. We do this in line with a point made by Tasioulas (2015), that these rights ‘are grounded in the universal interests of their holders, all of whom possess the equal moral status of human dignity’ (Tasioulas, 2015, p. 70, our emphasis). Connolly and Ward (2007, p. 16) also make a point that there needs to be a moral foundation to human rights, and they consider that ‘moral rights are a more extensive category than human rights … human rights are a subset of moral rights.’ While the philosophical foundations to human rights appears less than settled amongst philosophers, for our purposes we will ground our discussion of them in respect to certain moral claims. These are claims ‘that human beings make on one another, and in particular on states and institutions and officials, even (or especially) when existing institutional structures fail to protect or secure those claims’ (O’Neill, 2015, p. 71).
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

10. SPIRITUALITY AND HOPE

Abstract
This chapter is organised into two main sections. The first discusses spirituality. Rather than focus on religion, our concern in this chapter is to focus on the broader notion of spirituality, which is connected with existential questions of meaning, purpose, and how these relate to well-being, resilience and healing. The background, key concepts, critiques and debates are presented before outlining how spirituality can be incorporated into a social work perspective. The second section discusses hope. The relationship of hope to social work is explained, along with two theories of hope: a cognitive theory of hope, and a critical perspective. Like spirituality, hope is also emerging as a site of social work research and practice, and like spirituality, hope has been considered an essential part of human nature. Hope can be seen as a need, a state, and sometimes a philosophy. In social work, hope is associated with perspectives that emphasise a person’s resources and connections to community as a way of thinking about how people are resilient in the face of great difficulties. Both spirituality and hope are important concepts to critically examine in relation to meaningful and purposeful social work practice.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

11. ORGANISATIONAL CONTEXTS

Abstract
Social work practice generally occurs within organisations. These organisations range from small non-government agencies to large statutory bodies that may employ hundreds and even thousands of people. Organisational structures can vary. The day-to-day practices and procedures of workers within these organisations also vary enormously. What these organisations have in common is their focus on the delivery of social care. Social work as a profession has developed wide ranging analyses of the way in which organisations and bureaucracies impact on and shape practice (Gardner, 2006; Hughes & Wearing, 2007; Ife, 1997; McDonald et al., 2011). Social workers often state that their work with service users sometimes feels like it is the easier part of the job. What is it about working in organisations that contributes to the negative experiences of workers? What kinds of skills and knowledge does it take to work well in teams, collaborate on projects, network effectively for service users and thrive in your work as a social worker?
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

12. EMPATHY

Abstract
The ability to experience and demonstrate empathy is said to be key to effective social work practice (Engelberg & Limbach-Reich, 2015; Gerdes, Segal, Jackson & Mullins, 2011; Grant, 2014; King, 2011). If asked, most social workers and social work students would consider themselves to be naturally empathic. Furthermore, most people would assume that empathy is morally virtuous. When asked what empathy means, many would answer by saying that it means seeing things from another’s perspective, feeling what another feels, or attempting to understand another person’s situation and experience, and that empathy is a good thing and therefore desirable. This would be a fairly reasonable answer. But it is more complicated than that. Many questions can be raised about the forms and functions of empathy. Can someone empathise without feeling anything, and can the other person tell? What role does imagination play in empathy? In what ways are empathy, sympathy and compassion the same, and how are they different? Can empathy be taught and learnt? How would a social worker develop empathy and why is this important for action and for guiding social work practice? Are there limits to empathy?
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

13. PROFESSIONAL JUDGEMENT AND DECISION-MAKING

Abstract
All people form judgements – they can’t help it. It is part of the way the human brain works (in/out, like/not like, and so on). The important point for social workers is to know when a judgement is being made, how, and what its content is. To do this involves skills in problem definition and clarification, planning, strategic thinking, an ability to work with ill-structured problems, metacognition, statistical and abstract reasoning, developing and using heuristics, and skills in comparing and contrasting (Billing, 2007). Of particular importance is the ability to develop an aptitude for working with novel or perplexing situations of increasing challenge and complexity (King & Kitchener, 2004). Judgement is deliberation on various alternatives, whereas decision-making is more about the actions taken as a result of these deliberations. Social workers are required to make a whole range of judgements and their judgements and actions are (and should be) open to scrutiny. Within the complexity and uncertainty of practice, social workers need to be able to suspend their initial gut reactions and moments of judgement in order to be able understand the factors that are influencing their judgement. This is not an easy thing to do generally, or in professional practice for that matter.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

14. ASSESSMENT

Abstract
Social workers engage in assessment in every role in which they work. From policy advocacy through to working with families and children, social workers have to be able to do the complex work of assessment. Assessment has many functions. It assists in engagement and way of working with and for service users and systems, helps to identify problems, forms the foundation for planning interventions and actions and, lastly, assessment is a way of making sense of information and situations. Therefore, it is fair to say that assessment is a generic skill in social work (Crisp, Anderson, Orme & Lister, 2006) and it involves lots of other skills too: interpersonal skills; interviewing techniques; and data collection and analysis. Good assessments involve classifying and organising phenomena and ideas, creating hypotheses and theory building. Thus, assessments mean working with multiple perspectives and are used for decision- making and planning. This chapter defines the meaning and stages of assessment before exploring the way that theory is used in assessments. Here, we particularly focus on strength-based assessment and risk assessments. The importance of hypothesising and critical thinking are explained, demonstrating the centrality of the social worker’s thinking and judgement in the course of doing assessments.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts

15. REFLEXIVITY, REFLECTIVE PRACTICE AND CRITICAL REFLECTION

Abstract
Reflecting on and in practice is one of those ideas that is widely used and accepted in social work (D’Cruz, Gillingham & Melendez, 2007; Gould & Taylor, 1996; Gursansky, Quinn & Le Sueur, 2010; Kessl, 2009; Milner, 2009; Ruch, 2007). Many say that reflecting is not enough – that in fact one must not just reflect but do so critically (Fook & Askeland, 2007; Fook & Gardner, 2007; Thompson & Thompson, 2008; White, Fook & Gardner, 2006). But what does it mean to be critical? What does it mean to reflect? And how do these two things relate to each other? Being critical means to break something down into component parts and understand the relationship between the parts. This is sometimes also referred to as critical thinking. In social work, critical is often code for a variety of theoretically received ideas associated with the radical and critical theory traditions in social work. Therefore, when social work students are asked to critically reflect, they may be expected to import a particular theoretical basis of criticism to their reflection on something.
David Hodgson, Lynelle Watts
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