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About this book

This timely and much needed text book presents an innovative, theoretically based approach that helps students, practitioners and researchers alike orientate their view and sensibilities in a rapidly evolving modern world. Traditional social work approaches are often ill-equipped to take into account the emerging social change which has resulted from technological change, globalisation and mobilities, as well as environmental change. By bringing sociological social work perspectives to contemporary practice, it draws on concepts from a range of disciplines in recognition that we are collective thinkers and actors and that our ideas are shaped by what we read and build upon.

Whether taking a social work theory module or preparing for placement, this sociological perspective provides a crucial foundation for practice and puts the ‘social’ back in to ‘social work’.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
Draw yourself away from your everyday existence. You may be reading this book in a library, at home or during a ride on public transport. Think about floating away from where you are right now, up and above your location, above your local community, above your country, above seas and landscapes, and imagine that you are able to travel into space. Now imagine that you are a visitor in space, spending time on the International Space Station (ISS) as it orbits the globe and that on board is a machine called the ‘Social Viewer’. This machine allows you to observe and compare social worlds as the Space Station does its rotation around the Earth. What might you see from this incredibly distant perspective? How is the world characterised? You will begin to see patterns in time and space. Patterns which shape people’s everyday experiences. Patterns which are located in culture and societies. It might be generational patterns in the use of social media; robotic technologies and changes in industrial processes and workplaces; the impact of climate change on people’s security, health and roots; cities with regular daily rhythms and patterns of shopping and consumption; people engaging with friends, families and communities and the everyday rituals and activities within homes and households.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

2. Who Are We and What Do We Do?

Abstract
In this chapter we trace the contours of a sociological perspective and approach in social work, back to a time when indeed social work and sociology were new practices. We will explore this by looking through windows to the lives of three social workers. Each contributed to social work knowledge, and wrote about their social work practice and motivations. Jane Addams (1860–1935) from the United States and Alice Salomon (1872–1948) from Germany were active in pioneering social work. Both did so with an acute consciousness of social, economic and political contexts, displaying lively habits of imagination and intellect. These women lived and worked in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when sociology as a discipline was in its infancy (Giddens, 1989; Willis, 1999; MacLean and Williams, 2012). The third social worker we introduce is Clare Britton Winnicott (1906–1984), an influential English social worker whose casework during the Second World War was a response to the needs of displaced children. Clare Winnicott was influenced by and in turn, contributed to, psychoanalytical ideas and social work. She worked at a time in human history where the scale of events was to shift every conceivable underpinning in societies across the world.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

3. Imagination in Practising Social Work Sociologically

Abstract
When you think of the word ‘imagination’, what comes to mind? You might associate it with a personal characteristic such as being curious or creative; perhaps you think in the abstract about images, or it is an image itself that comes to mind. Maybe you associate imagination with creativity and the arts. We also often associate the use of imagination in relation to children. If you have been around pre-school- and primary-school-aged children, for example, you would see imagination in use through play. The ways in which children take on roles of others – such as police person, super hero, doctor – requires the suspension of concrete reality through the application of imagination which creates imaginary worlds, characters and events. Throughout this book runs a thread of the value of sociological ideas to understanding and appreciating possibilities in a transforming world. How do we imagine and understand this transformation? As social workers, how do we see the possibilities for the realisation of core values of social justice and human rights, which are at the heart of social work? This is where we believe an explicit attention to imagination comes into play, to support a move towards thinking not about these questions, not just in the abstract but in a practical and applied sense. This is an exercise of imagination where sociological theories can inform our thoughts and interpretations, where alternative thinking can emerge, and out of which new ways of action can come to be.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

4. Imaginative Sensibilities and Habits

Abstract
A habit of imagination and social work practice is the focus of this next chapter, which extends and builds on what we have discussed in Chapter 3. In this chapter we outline how an imaginative sensibility might become a habit in our social work. Social work pioneer Alice Salomon used the wonderful expression ‘habitual attitudes’ to designate a quality in her character which called her to action. C. Wright Mills also wrote about the purposeful development of habits. He writes ‘The Sociological Imagination can also be cultivated; certainly it seldom occurs without a great deal of often routine work’ (1970, p. 233). Following their lead, and in tune with a broader literature on enabling the release of creativity, in this chapter we come from the position that such habits are a process of rehearsing and fine-tuning to more deeply embed ‘imagining’ in what we do as social workers.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

5. Self, Agency and Structure

Abstract
In this chapter we examine the social work concept of agency or self-determination, alongside identity. We also examine the concept of social structure and the role of society in shaping individual experiences and choices. Firstly, we explore the meaning of the term ‘identity’ as it relates to the ways in which social workers think about the world around them, alongside the meaning of this for their work with clients. The notion of reflexivity is examined as it relates to social work identity. We argue that existing theories of reflexivity, as they relate to social work learning, draw from a particular framework. Symbolic Interactionist theories of identity are therefore explored as they relate to identity development in social work. We then move on to consider the concept of agency or self-determination. The tension between the individual and the social is a focus of this chapter and the complexity between these two terms is explored. The chapter concludes by outlining the ways in which the tension between agency and structure are borne out in social work practice.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

6. Social Relationships and ‘Capital’

Abstract
In this chapter we examine the relationship between individuals, the multiple ‘communities’ and social groupings in which they are located and at the same time consider the role that broader society has in shaping individual experience. Locating the individual within their social contexts and systems is important in social work, as was evident in our discussion of social work pioneers, Alice Salomon, Clare Winnicott and Jane Addams. In exploring the relation between human experience and the constitution of society, early sociologist Georg Simmel makes the point that ‘Individuals and society are, both for historical understanding and for normative judgement, methodological concepts’ (1971, p. 37). Yet what does this mean for social work? We believe that it is important for social workers to be able to locate the individual alongside others. This tradition is inherent to social work historically, and reflects a broader interest not only in the individual, but an interest in society which is always present in social work.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

7. Time and Space in Social Work

Abstract
So why are time and space important? These notions may seem somewhat philosophical yet it is important to understand these through a sociological lens. These concepts help to orient practice in the contemporary world. It is only in mapping some of the key issues in contemporary social work practice that we are able to think critically about the particular contexts in which social work takes place. Untangling the social, political, national and local practices and ways of working helps us to better inform and work positively with our clients/service users as well as take a structural approach to tackle inequalities. Using concepts from critical thinking, the roles that time and space play in shaping contemporary social work become less opaque and better understood. Social theory helps us draw away from and then back to day-to-day practice to better understand the social and historical significance of the challenges we face, rather as we did in the imaginary exercise on the International Space Station.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

8. Organisations and Sociological Social Work

Abstract
A theme central to this book is the value of theoretical reference points which are strongly aligned with both the interpersonal dimension of social work and the political and socio-economic conditions within which social work is located. With this in mind, our attention in this chapter moves to the organisational contexts of social work practice. The challenges created by evolving managerialist and economic rationalist discourses and practices, coupled with variants of risk management and ‘austerity’ policies run deep (Dominelli, 1997; Ife, 1997; Crimeen and Wilson, 1997; Froggett, 2002; Ferguson and Lavalette, 2013). In some contexts it is not unusual for social workers to work within an ever-narrowing frame of reference (Ferguson and Lavalette, 2013). ‘Risk adverse’ organisational systems and cultures also have impacted on social work practice in ways that are limiting (Dunk-West and Verity, 2013). How do we see and understand what takes place in the organisations in which we work? How does this knowledge inform and animate a social justice practice? How do we conceptualise organisations; in other words, what concepts do we use in our frameworks for analysis.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

9. Using Research in Practice

Abstract
Research always aims to increase knowledge in a particular area in response to a question or focus of investigation. Social research is specifically concerned with social worlds and humans and can include all matter of topics, social issues, human experiences, social movements and societal phenomena. Although the concept of social research may seem somewhat broad, it shares something that is common to all types of research: that is, social research represents a very specific and narrowed-down area of systematic investigation or inquiry. In this chapter, we argue that a sociological social work practice in research helps to frame what we explore and how we do this in a critical and contextual way. Yet we need to extend our critical lens to better understand who has had the dominant voice in research, and why. Gayle Letherby succinctly articulates this when she states: ‘Sociology, my own academic discipline, clearly demonstrates male bias’ (Letherby, 2003, p. 20).
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity

10. Conclusions and Future Directions

Abstract
In this concluding chapter, we re-visit the key ideas presented in this book and look to the future to envisage how sociological social work might help in navigating challenges. Sociological social work, we argue, is vital for practice in an increasingly complex world in which inequalities and injustice endure and in a world which is rapidly changing in the face of technological developments and emerging dynamics of globalisation. It is also a world full of hopes and inventiveness, and where there are numerous examples of social solidarity, spirits of reform and justice that also shape our collective social imaginary. Throughout this book, we encourage a critical perspective in which our national and international perspectives are compared and examined in the light of social, economic and political shifts. We have highlighted the need to think differently about taken-for-granted assumptions and to employ sociological perspectives in order to enrich our practice. John Berger articulates why it is crucial to ‘see’ what we ‘look at’.
Priscilla Dunk-West, Fiona Verity
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