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Social work, politics and society

Social work, politics and society: From radicalism to orthodoxy

Kenneth McLaughlin
Copyright Date: 2008
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  • Book Info
    Social work, politics and society
    Book Description:

    This original and stimulating book examines contemporary issues in social work, particularly exploring the politicisation of the profession from the 1970s onwards. Detailing the wider social and political influences on the development of social work, the book argues that underlying much social theory and practice is a pessimistic and degraded view of humanity. The author discusses different areas of social work in relation to this diminished view of the human subject, exploring the rise of the concept of abuse, the focus on individual vulnerability and the fear of the other, as well as the threat to civil liberties and privacy that has influenced changes in mental health legislation and the introduction of the Social Care Register. The book highlights the need for a new approach to social work that has a more optimistic view of both individuals and society, and of their capacity to overcome problems. It is essential reading for students of sociology, politics and social work and for those involved in social policy and social care practice.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-355-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iii-iii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. iv-iv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. v-xiv)

    Most of us, at some point in our lives will have contact with social services. This may be directly, as a user of social services, as a carer for such a recipient, as a result of working in a related profession, or indirectly through conversation or media representation. Whichever the case may be, each of us will probably harbour some ideas, prejudices and misconceptions of who social workers are and what they do.

    While all communities have informal and formal arrangements for looking after their members, for the purpose of this book it is when such care becomes organised at...

  5. ONE Understandings of and developments within social work
    (pp. 1-22)

    If social work is seen as an attempt to help people who are in need, and human beings are seen as naturally social and empathetic, then it could be argued that social work is an extension of our natural humanity. This was the view favoured by the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS) in 1982, who acknowledged that social care has always existed, being done by friends, family, neighbours and volunteers. For the ADSS, ‘a civilized society could not survive without the concrete expression of goodwill in myriad ways by the vast majority of the profession’ (1982, p 1)....

  6. TWO Politicising social work
    (pp. 23-40)

    The 1970s saw increasing attempts to organise social work as a profession. In 1971 there was both the publication of the first issue ofSocial Work Today,a trade magazine for the profession, and the setting up of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW). The following year saw the inaugural edition of theBritish Journal of Social Work(BJSW) arguably still, in academic terms at least, the most prestigious of the many social work journals. The BJSW was linked with the newly formed BASW, a link that was expected to draw criticism from some quarters, according to the inaugural...

  7. THREE ‘Depoliticising’ social work
    (pp. 41-60)

    The General Social Care Council (GSCC) set up under the 2000 Care Standards Act replaced the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) as the governing body of the social work profession. A search of its website ( in June 2007 with the keyword ‘oppression’ found a mere five results, only two of which are in policy documents (the other mentions were in two literature-based discussion documents, and one speaker biography). This hardly constitutes an obsession with the concept and appears to indicate that the new body has shed the more political outlook of its predecessor, lacking...

  8. FOUR Agency, pathology and abuse
    (pp. 61-80)

    The preceding chapters have documented some important trends within social work, in particular the politicisation and institutionalisation of radical-based theories. Without disputing the insights and practical applications of such developments, the point was made that the discourse changed from one where people were seen as active subjects with the means to overcome their oppression, to one in which they were to be viewed with suspicion as they were — whether aware of it or not — likely to be oppressing others. The politicisation of social work was influenced by a general sense of pessimism for wider social change. Whereas many argue that...

  9. FIVE The politics of risk and mental health
    (pp. 81-100)

    The contemporary individual subject is increasingly presented as one that is not in control of their destiny; rather than agents acting on the external world, the tendency is to view people as objects at the mercy of forces over which they have no control. This loss of control can contribute to a sense of fear and vulnerability, of susceptibility to moral panics and a demand for protection from some omnipresent threat.

    This chapter will discuss the contemporary societal obsession with danger and risk minimisation, analysing its effect on social work policy and practice, with specific reference to the statutory mental...

  10. SIX The subject of stress
    (pp. 101-120)

    The general concern with risk and its minimisation, as discussed in the previous chapter, affects both social policy and social work practice; a preoccupation with the risk psychiatric patients pose to life and limb is exaggerated, contributes to societal anxiety, and has implications for policy makers, practitioners and those on the receiving end of further statutory measures. Feelings of vulnerability, of being at risk, have influenced the mental health debate at the level of coercive legislation whereby someone’s liberty and autonomy can be compromised because a preoccupation with risk avoidance influences the extension of professional power over patients, and of...

  11. SEVEN From at risk to a risk: regulating social work
    (pp. 121-138)

    This chapter discusses the drive towards registration of the social care workforce, detailing the rationale for, and implications of, such measures. These developments should not be seen in isolation; rather they are part of the process discussed in preceding chapters, in which the discourse of risk, vulnerability and abuse is widespread. Chapter Five looked at how this concern with risk minimisation influences both policy and practice in relation to statutory mental health work. Social workers were shown here to be charged with the assessment of risk. Chapter Six further developed this by showing how social workers themselves are presented as...

  12. EIGHT Politics and social work
    (pp. 139-148)

    The ‘radical social work’ movement of the 1970s highlighted the class struggle in British society at the time, and the way in which social work acted in the interests of the ruling class (Bailey and Brake, 1975). In the 1980s, social work embraced other factors such as sexuality, race and gender as areas where oppression occurred, either in association with, or irrespective of, social class (Langan and Lee, 1989). Today, there are also voices calling for social work to awaken from its slumber and recognise areas of current practice that do not fit well with its egalitarian principles. In this...

  13. References
    (pp. 149-168)
  14. Index
    (pp. 169-178)