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About this book

This path-breaking text constructs a new way of thinking about social work based on contemporary social theory. Working in a counter-tradition that is suspicious of a number of governing ideas and practices in social work, it draws on themes from Beck, Giddens, Rose to explore the impact of risk society and neo liberalism on social work.

Table of Contents

Setting the Scene

Abstract
This opening chapter sets out the themes of the book highlighting my central preoccupation with the relation between current and past social work practice and the ever present phenomenon of risk. It is clear that social work needs to look for a new model of practice; one that is ethically valid as well as functionally accountable in terms of reasonable decision making procedures and interventions. There is a not entirely inappropriate perception that current social work has sunk into a ‘managerialism’ that is increasingly afraid of the complexity of risky situations and has become highly defensive. The latter has resulted in increasing dependence upon adherence to more and more elaborate rule systems, procedures and rule following. Thus there is a reduction of scope for social workers to develop competences of judgment, ethical insight, and holistic forms of practice. In effect social work is under threat of becoming a de-skilled profession. This book provides a diagnosis of the reasons for this vitiating process. But it is not merely cast in immediate terms of social work circumstances; rather it is located within an ecology of higher and lower level historical and contemporary political forces. Because of this we need to be tolerant of having to draw on social theory and sociology as well as material from professional and applied spheres. Here we will pay attention to the concepts of risk, governmentality, neo-liberalism and late modernity. The meaning and relations between these often opaque terms in relation to social work will it is hoped become apparent throughout the book.
Stephen A. Webb

1. Social Work, Risk Society and Modernity

Abstract
The concept of risk is one of the most significant in modern times. We live in a world saturated with and preoccupied by risk. Despite unparalleled degrees of social stability and affluence, we are living through a period of acute personal insecurity, anxiety and change. The speed of change, pace of life, choices available and vast flows of information undercut solid foundations in our risk-dominated lives. Many people find it increasingly difficult to trust others or even themselves. Our decisions are often fraught with perceived threats and we wonder what will turn out for the best. We are constantly reflecting on what to do next in our ceaseless chase after success and recognition. In a world of lifestyle consumerism the practical organisation of our daily and future activities has become a preoccupation. Mass society has resulted in an enormous pluralisation of needs, desires, choices and identities. Constructing personal life-plans or having other people help us has become central to our way of coping with life. They help us satisfy our need for fulfilment, map the kind of relations we seek and provide our personal identity with an anchor. This prepares us for decisions and choices during what Giddens calls ‘fateful moments’. Life-plans also help us shape a chosen life as a meaningful and authentic one based on our own intrinsic potentials within a vast range of potential.
Stephen A. Webb

2. Risk, Regulation and Neo-liberalism

Abstract
This chapter focuses on contemporary aspects of risk regulation in social work as indicative of changes taking place in politics in late modernity. In doing so it contends that social work is situated between the rationality of risk and neo-liberal regulatory politics. The chapter examines how the regulation of risk reflects broader economic and political change in the advancement of neo-liberal welfarism. Whilst the analysis concentrates on changes in the UK the findings are generalisable, showing how principles of welfare shift from concerns with social solidarity in the post-war period to preoccupations with economic individualism from the early 1980s onwards. This exposition of the social handling of risk in advanced liberalism draws on the writings of Nikolas Rose who demonstrates how neo-liberal political rule is the dominant ideology of public policy in risk society. Not only do advanced liberal democracies construct new forms of freedom, security and autonomy for individuals but also deploy complex means of regulation, authoritarianism, exclusion and normalisation of social life. We’ll see how neo-liberalism engages with social work as a fundamental datum from which to enforce public policy on the basis of economic market rationality.
Stephen A. Webb

3. Security, Trust and Care Pathways

Abstract
We’ve seen how risk regulation and expert mediation are inter-woven because of conditions of uncertainty in neo-liberal risk society. As a net effect security and trust have an increasingly dominant place in our risk-inflated daily lives (Bauman, 2001). This chapter examines how the relationship between security, trust and life planning in risk society impacts on care planning and pathways in social work. It is shown how life planning, as a kind of reflexive ordering, emerges around the need for security and order. This results in the development of expert forms of social protection with social work acting as a safety net. The argument runs that the concept of safety net is empirically grounded in an understanding of risk and vulnerability and is mobilised for those made transitorily vulnerable by livelihood shocks or fateful moments. Here social work is characterised as expert mediation that protects targeted populations against risk contingencies. Thus social work provides a kind of planned insurance against risk and undergoes significant transformations as a result of new demands for security, safety and trust within neoliberal political rule.
Stephen A. Webb

4. Direct Work, Knowledge and Intervention

Abstract
In risk society changes to professional knowledge should be understood in cultural as well as structural terms. In his book The System of Professions (1988) Abbott describes how professions define themselves by claiming certain bodies of knowledge. He describes how, for example, in America psychiatry lost ground to social work in the 1950s as social workers developed practice approaches to casework which psychiatrists had previously claimed for themselves. Risk society affects the institutional arrangements for providing social work with the legitimacy of certain knowledge claims, their status, relevance and points of application. It also shapes the professional identity of social workers as well as their psychological conceptions of how people are ‘made up’ (Hacking, 1986). Particular ‘reality constructs’ associated with risk and uncertainty are seen to affect psychological models used to predict and make sense of human behaviour in social work and their corresponding psycho-social realities. How professional knowledge and intervention change and what form they take depends on the various institutional, economic and social processes that have significance in risk society.
Stephen A. Webb

5. Technologies of Care

Abstract
The last chapter showed how the rationality of risk in social work signals an emerging actuarialism that impacts on the organisation and delivery of social services. The increasing predominance of actuarialism was seen as an effect of the reconfiguration of instrumental and economic rationality in advanced liberal risk society. It was suggested that the requirement to manage, channel and avert risk in social work alters relations between front-line practitioners and service users and between professionals, managers and administrators. Social work practice comes to resemble an executant and functional role that is accountable in moral and legal terms. We saw that a gradual shift from a preoccupation with social need to the handling of social risk occurs in determining eligibility criteria and resource allocation for service users. What I’ve called ‘technologies of care’ are, in part, a rational response to the changing nature of social work intervention in a risk-dominated organisational culture. In this chapter examples of technologies of care such as care management, risk assessment and evaluation, evidence-based practice, decision pathway models of practice, and networked communication technologies are examined to illustrate the impact of risk society on social work intervention.
Stephen A. Webb

6. Management and Organisation of Social Work

Abstract
Talk about risk is widespread in public sector management parlance. ‘Risk regulation’, ‘risk transfer’, ‘risk accountability’, ‘risk culture’, ‘risk management’, ‘risk tolerance’, ‘risk governance’ and ‘risk aversion’ are all common. In Britain the Association of Local Authority Risk Managers (ALARM) was formed in 1989 to ensure that a risk management culture was embedded throughout the public sector, and to avoid liabilities and increase trust and reputation. The British government published Risk: Improving Government’s Capability to Handle Risk and Uncertainty (Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, 2002) to help improve risk management in the public sector and to encourage managerial responsibility and choice in effective risk decision making. Lupton (1993) argues that risk assessment and risk communication have become growth industries in the management of public sector organisations. The argument developed in this chapter is that the management and organisation of social work is best understood as a risk regulation regime within neo-liberal welfare (Hood, 2001).
Stephen A. Webb

7. The Practice of Value

Abstract
In a society in which the narrow pursuit of material self-interest is the norm, adherence to an ethical stance is more radical than many people realise. This for me is one of the defining strengths of social work and something that makes it most distinctive. It holds on to values of compassion, justice and caring in the face of a culture of self-interest. Most significantly it retains a commitment to an ethical core. So far this book has concentrated on social-theoretical issues at the expense of moral and ontological issues, but the latter are very important for a project that aspires to recast social work along ethical lines. It is this ethical dimension to which I now turn.
Stephen A. Webb
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