Chapter Twelve: Conclusion: looking for the ‘blue’

For a theory to be ‘critical, it must be connected to the hope for some significantly better – more just, or at least less oppressive – society’ (Allen, 2016, p 12). This perception resonates with the view that theoretically critical approaches express a similar yearning for a ‘better way of being’ (Levitas, 2007, p 290). A core assumption of Social work and social theory is that a better social work can exist within an economic and social system that puts people before profit. Such a ‘utopian’ inclination or impulse – what Ruth Levitas (2007) calls ‘looking for the blue’ – is inseparable from an emancipatory politics whose steadfast commitment is to ‘destroy the appearance of a “natural order” … reveal what is presented as necessary and inevitable to be mere contingency’ and make what was previously ‘deemed to be impossible seem attainable’ (Fisher, 2009, p 17).

Currently, however, for some within the field of social work, critical social theory and the longing for something different constitutes an unwarranted challenge to what we might term unthinking neoliberalism (see also Schram and Pavlovskaya, 2018). In this sense, ‘looking for the blue’ is a threat that troubles many within the mainstream domains of social work and associated fields. This is not to argue that this ‘mainstream’ tends to be unequivocally defensive, arid and conservative. Rather, it perhaps shares some of the characteristics of ‘progressive neoliberalism’ referred to by Nancy Fraser (see Chapter Five). Here, one finds a heightened moralism and gestural celebration of ‘diversity’, but little meaningful interest in combating the hurt and hardships promoted and sustained by the ravages wrought by neoliberal economics.

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