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Social Work: Theory and Practice for Changing Profession



Social Work: Theory and Practice for Changing Profession

Lena Dominelli

ISBN: 978-0-745-62382-5 February 2004 Polity 320 Pages

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Social work is facing fundamental changes and challenges. Neo-liberalism, globalization, corporate management and the mixed economy of welfare have transformed the profession by undermining former certainties of practice. ‘Clients’ have added their own voice to the need for new models of service delivery. Social Work engages with the dilemmas and opportunities emanating from the contested nature of practice. Using a broad range of theories, this book outlines the knowledge, skills and values that enable practitioners to respond more effectively to the demands of working in fluid and constantly changing contexts. Underpinning the approach that it takes is the idea that ‘clients’ are citizens with social and human rights which have to be respected. This provides the intellectual basis for a practice rooted in the ideas of citizenship, solidarity and reciprocity, thus reformulating the relationship between ‘clients’ and society.

This important new textbook provides a comprehensive introduction to the dilemmas and tensions that practitioners are compelled to resolve in their daily work. It will be invaluable for students taking courses in social work, social welfare and applied sociology as well as nursing and health professionals, social work practitioners and policymakers.


1. Introduction.


Rethinking Social Work: Interrogating Practice in and Uncertain and Difficult Clime.

The Philanthropic Gaze: Privileging Residual Welfare Provisions.

Continuities and Discontinuities in Practice.

Unity and Fragmentation in Social Work.

Structure of the Book.

2. Social Work: A Profession in Changing Contexts.


Macro-Level Contexts.

The Impact of Globalizing Forces on Welfare Provisions.

Quality Assurance.

The Internationalization of Social Problems.

Meso-Level Contexts.

National Policy Frameworks: Social Inclusion and Exclusion.

Micro-level Contexts.

Power and Authority.

A Technology of Governmentality: The ‘Social’ Divides Clients into ‘Deserving’ and ‘Undeserving’ Groups and Rations Resources.

Defining Moments in Professional Social Work: Shifting Contexts for Practice.

A New Profession Makes its Claims: The Early Beginnings of Social Work.

Professional Consolidation.

A Brief Period of Consensus Around the Welfare State.

The Consensus Unravels.

A New Consensus Forms Around the Precepts of Neo-Liberal Market Ideologies.

Globalization Reframes the Social Work Agenda.


3. Values, Ethics and Empowerment.


Practising Social Work Values: Reconfiguring Continuities and Discontinuities.

Stability and Change in Values.


A Commitment to Social Justice: A Contested Value.

Reconfiguring the Ethic of Care.

Rethinking the Life-course within Identity.


Processes of Intervention.

The Dance of Competing Values in the Major Approaches to Social Work.

Casework: Individualizing Social Problems.

Groupwork: The Acknowledgment of Systems.

Community Work: A Concern with Structural Inequalities.

Competence-Based Social Work: Fragmenting and Technocratising Social Problems.

Valuing Social Justice and Social Change: A human Rights Context for Practice.

Training is No Longer the Preserve of the Academy.

Changing Agendas.


4 Social Work intervention with Children and Families.


Familialist Discourses/Understanding Diverse Conceptualisations of ‘the Family’.

Adultist Paradigms in Child Welfare.

Power, Control and Governmentality.

Constructing Childhood Through Practice.

Policing Deviant Families: Children on the ‘at Risk Register’.

Risk Assessment and Management in Child Welfare Work.

Failing Children.

Revitalising Communities: Approaching Child Welfare as a Collective Responsibility.

Assimilation as Exclusionary Practice.


5 Social Work Intervention with Older People.


Mobilizing to Challenge Negative Images of Older People.

Constructing the Older Person in Social Work Practice.

Community Care.

Commodifying Social Work with Older People.

Elder Abuse.

Insecurity and Loss in Older People’s Lives.

Young Careers Providing Services for Older People.

Services for Older People.


6 Social Work with Offenders.


(Re)configuring Environments of Crime and Control.

Differentiated Responses to Offenders.

Women Offenders.

Class-based Offenders.

Racialized Discourse on Crime: Black Offenders.

Young Offenders.

Children’s Offending Behaviour Brings Poor Parenting Under Fire.

Authoritarian Populism Targets Parents.

Risk Assessment and Risk Management.

Managing Crime Statistics.

Managing Offending Behaviour.

Working with offending Behaviour.

Working With Offenders: Changing Roles and Directions.

Probation: The Link with Social Work.

Breaking the Link with Social Work.

Market Incentives.

Privatizing Parts of the Criminal Justice System.

From a Social Work Activity to a Corrections-based One.

The Rise of Victims’ Rights.

Citizenship and Offenders’ Rights to Rehabilitation.


7 Social Work Interventions in Communities.


(Re)Defining Communities.

Post-war Community Work in Britain.

Reconfiguring Community Work in Britan.

Exclusionary Community Relations.

Control or Liberation?.

Communities in Social Work.

Vulnerability: a Factor in Oppressing Diverse Communities.


8 New Directions for Social Work: Interdependence, Reciprocity, Citizenship and Social Justice.


Social Justice and Citizenship.

Different Visions for Social Work.

Interdependence and Solidarity.

Reciprocity and Entitlements.

Modelling New Directions for Social Work.

Education and Training.


9 Conclusions: Social Work: A Force for Change at Individual and Structural Levels.


Practice is thinking and doing.






"Dominelli's excellent book examines the neo-liberal political traditions that have resulted in social work becoming such a 'troubled and troubling profession'."

Health Service Journal

"This is an ambitious and challenging book. It recognizes that contemporary social work is in some difficulty in the face of the ascendancy of neo-liberalism. Social work has been deeply affected by such reactionary pressures both locally and internationally. Dominelli does not shrink away from these challenges and in Social Work provides critical information and analysis which will help all those working for a resurgent social work practice committed to social justice and human rights."

Chris Jones, University of Liverpool

"Dominelli applies a critical and creative perspective to social work in our current global environment. She challenges our conventional assumptions regarding the role and practice of social work and social workers to propose ways in which we can rethink our purpose. This book makes a major contribution to social work theory and practice."

Lorraine Gutierrez, University of Michigan

  • explores the dilemmas and tensions that social workers are compelled to resolve in their daily work;
  • draws on a broad range of theories, to outline the knowledge, skills and values that enable practitioners to respond more effectively to the demands made of them;
  • examines the impact of neo-liberalism, corporate management and the mixed economy of welfare on social work practice;
  • situates local practice within a globalising world.