Problematising social work: some reactions

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Michel Foucault had only little to say explicitly on social work – like he did in Discipline and punish, where he introduced education, public assistance and social work alongside medicine and psychology as pillars of normalisation mechanisms (Foucault, 1979, p 306). But Foucault's perspectives can be used to outline a methodological point of view, which Paul Michael Garrett calls for.

From a Foucauldian perspective, we can categorise Paul Michael Garrett's considerations as a radical and critical approach, as a way of problematising present social work. Problematisation is what Foucault called ‘the questioning by the philosopher of the present to which he belongs and in relation to which he has to situate himself ‘ (Foucault, 1988, p 88). This is what Paul Michael Garrett's considerations are all about: he is trying to answer the question of the present shape of social work by exemplifying it by social work with children and families in England and the Republic of Ireland.

So, what is social work currently like, according to Garrett? As he has already shown in his detailed study of 2009 (see Garrett, 2009), children's services are in a fundamental process of transformation, a process identified by Garrett through the analytical gaze of the French thinker Pierre Bourdieu as a ‘conservative revolution’. In a dialogue with the German writer Günther Grass in 1999, Bourdieu explained this diagnosis of the present in the following way (see Grass and Bourdieu, 2002 [1999]):

There is a connexion between this sense of having lost the traditions of the Enlightenment and the global triumph of the neoliberal vision.

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