Skip to main content
main-content
Top

About this book

This book brings sociological and neuroscientific perspectives on the body together to inform a new understanding of person-in-environment. It offers important new ways of working with people in various social work and social care settings from child protection to aged care, mental health and work with drug and alcohol use.

Table of Contents

The Body in Social Work

Frontmatter

1. The Body in Social Work

Abstract
When in early 2003 we discussed with colleagues, students and social work practitioners our idea of placing the body at the centre of our thinking and practice, we were met with arguments and anxieties that this was a backward step — a reductionist approach and an attempt to go into domains which were ‘not social work’s concern’. These anxieties and concerns are, in our view, manifestly misguided, but the voicing of such concerns does alert us to the importance of demonstrating just how and in what ways the human body does indeed lie at the centre of social work thinking and practice. It is our contention that only by placing the body at the centre will we achieve both a unity within social work theorizing and practice and ensure that its unique contribution to the human sciences — and to human lives — will be maintained.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

2. The View from Neuroscience

Abstract
If the ‘social body’ comes into and recedes from focus in social work literature, the physiological body is even harder to find. The major practice theories upon which social work is reliant have provided little consideration of biology, and there are few professional journal articles that focus exclusively on the relevance of the physiological for social work. This provides some indication that social workers, in their daily practice, are largely unmindful of the physical body. In particular, social work lacks a strong literature on physiological aspects of phenomena such as emotion, cognition and sensation. It is on this set of concerns that this chapter focuses.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

3. Social Bodies

Abstract
We began this book with an exploration of how the human body has been understood within social work theory, arguing that the focus has been ‘all around’ rather than centred on the body. We argued that social work theory and practice can be seen as underpinned by four preoccupations or themes: (1) a view of human beings as individuals, active agents in their own lives; (2) a recognition of the influence of social structures in constraining and enabling human action; (3) an awareness of inequalities which characterize social life; and (4) an interest in and focus on working to ameliorate the situation of those who are marginalized, excluded and vulnerable. However, in the ways in which these themes have been analysed, the body remains hard to find, assumed and taken-for-granted with emphasis on understanding the nature of ‘being human’ rather than on the flesh and blood material body. We noted that recognition is given to the necessity of understanding human beings within their environmental context, but the nature of this relationship with the environment remains relatively unconsidered, and definitions of what constitutes environment are somewhat unclear, except in so far as person and environment are considered separate, although interacting, entities. Social work theory, we argued, does place emphasis on the effect of stressors impacting persons as they grow and develop and the importance of resilience in enabling the best adaptation to life’s challenges, but this is largely in relation to social constructionist and critical theory perspectives.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

4. Social Work and the Body: Towards a Theoretical Framework

Abstract
In the previous three chapters we have discussed the human body as theorized within contemporary sociology/social theory and biology. Our argument has been that the body, and in particular the biological body as studied within the neurosciences, is largely absent within social work theory. At the same time, there is continuing emphasis within social work on person-in-environment or person-in-psychosocial situation which struggles to account for the lived bodily implications of such a concept.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

5. The Body Cognizant Social Worker in Action

Abstract
In this chapter, we provide a description of how corporeal capacity can be made use of by social workers in practice. A social worker working from a corporeal capacity framework will see the world through the three ‘lenses’ we have described in Chapter 4 — widescreen, middle-range, close-up — recognizing the interpenetration of those broad ‘levels’ of social and material reality which are simultaneously and continuously ‘producing’ the immediate situation which we are trying to understand and to work with.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

Implications for Practice

Frontmatter

6. Social Work, the Body and Mental Health

Abstract
The main roles of social work are to promote social justice and enhance the quality of life of individuals and communities. Quality of life is determined by a number of things including individuals’ material circumstances, social relationships or sense of group belonging, and general health. Particularly important to quality of life is psychological health and, in particular, emotional well-being. Emotional well-being may be influenced by a range of broad environmental factors but is also a significant determinant of how one experiences or copes with circumstances throughout life. Given the great importance of emotional health to all individuals — social work clients, as well as social workers — we place particular emphasis on mental health and the body in this second part of the book.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

7. Social Work, the Body and Child Protection

Abstract
Within social work practice, the body of the child is most visible when it bears the evidence of abuse, in the form of physical injuries or through body language exhibited by the child. Conceptualizing individuals as embodied beings, we argue throughout this book, assists our understanding of human need and attempts to limit suffering. Considering children, also, in terms of their corporeality allows us to better grasp their immediate and future needs and the range of factors that influence their development.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

8. Social Work, the Body and Aged Care

Abstract
Age as a chronological marker is of central importance in our society. The question ‘how old are you?’ is a primary reference point for thinking about ourselves and others. We assume that the answer will enable us to identify, categorize and classify someone in terms of their likely physical health, the nature of their experiences, their eligibility for services, the extent to which their behaviour and social capacities are ‘normal’ and so on. Age then, matters because it carries the assumption that ageing follows a typical and predictable course and a course to which labels such as ‘child’, ‘adolescent’, ‘old person’ can be applied. Around these categories, our beliefs and social practices are constructed and organized (Witkin 2000). Age, as Kunkel (2003: 131) points out, serves often as a proxy for a stage or transition in the life course, in particular, however, as a proxy for identifying increased risk of health problems.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

9. Social Work, the Body and Health Care

Abstract
From the earliest days of the profession, social work has evidenced recognition of the impact of poor economic and social conditions in the generation of health problems, disease and illness (Schlesinger 1985, Finger and Abramson 2002). It was through recognition of the central role that poverty and material conditions play in affecting (if not determining) the life chances and opportunities of people that social work’s predominant concern with the person in their psychosocial situation had its genesis.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

10. Social Work, the Body and Alcohol and Other Drugs

Abstract
In almost all fields of social work practice, issues concerning the abuse or problematic usage of Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) arise. Whilst social workers might work in specialist services or agencies specifically addressing the needs of people with problematic AOD use, in other settings such as health, mental health, prisons, child protection, family work, work with young people, aged care, the behavioural and practical difficulties that frequently arise in relation to the problematic use of AOD may require consideration as they impact on the service user and/or their family and social relationships. The frequency with which complications relating to the problematic use of AOD are encountered within social work agencies reflects the ubiquity of their influence in the wider community.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott

Conclusion

Abstract
Throughout this book we have argued that social work — being a profession concerned with the enhancement of human potential — needs to consider that which determines the quality of our humanness, the body. Thinking about the body, or the human as a biological organism, helps us better understand what it means to be an emotional, thinking being that is in constant interaction with its environment. Contemplation of how we use and relate to our bodies assists our understanding of how we form and modify our identities, or senses of self.
Nadine Cameron, Fiona McDermott
Additional information