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Making connections

Drawing on a range of theorists and competing perspectives, this substantially updated and expanded second edition places social theory at the heart of social work pedagogy.

This book imaginatively explores ways in which practitioners and social work educators might develop more critical and radical ways of theorising and working. It is an invaluable resource for students and contains features, such as Reflection and Talk Boxes, to encourage classroom and workplace discussions.

This new edition includes:

· An extensive additional chapter on Foucault

· Reworked and expanded versions of the chapters featured in the highly-praised first edition

· Revised Reflection and Talk Boxes

· New and updated references to stimulate further reading and research

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Historical and contemporary responses to Irish children and families

Dominant social work and social care discourses on ‘race’ and ethnicity often fail to incorporate an Irish dimension. This book challenges this omission and provides new insights into how social work has engaged with Irish children and their families, historically and to the present day. The book provides the first detailed exploration social work with Irish children and families in Britain; examines archival materials to illuminate historical patterns of engagement; provides an account of how social services departments in England and Wales are currently responding to the needs of Irish children and families; incorporates the views of Irish social workers and acts as a timely intervention in the debate on social work’s ‘modernisation’ agenda. The book will be valuable to social workers, social work educators and students. Its key themes will also fascinate those interested in ‘race’ and ethnicity in Britain in the early 21st century.

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Recent years have witnessed a number of 'child protection' scandals where children, often from the poorest and most marginalised communities, have been on the receiving end of violence, abuse and social harm. In this short form book, part of the Critical and Radical Debates in Social Work series, Paul Michael Garrett looks at the impact of marketisation of social work services in both Ireland and England. He argues that marketisation has had a negative impact on policy regimes, working conditions, social work practices and on the services for vulnerable children and young people. Leading researchers from across the globe contribute to the debate and provide additional evidence from a range of policy regimes that catalogue the negative impact neoliberalism has had on children's services.

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Social work education and interventions with Black African families are frequently impaired because of structural discrimination, racism and the structuring priorities of neoliberalism.

Rooted in rich and fascinating empirical work with practitioners and educators, this urgent, scholarly and accessible book emphasises that ‘Black Lives Matter’. Intent on nurturing more progressive and pluralistic practices in pedagogy and practice, the book is a timely and significant contribution seeking to re-make social work approaches to issues of ‘race’, racism and social justice.

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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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NUI Galway set up the first social work programme in the west of Ireland in 2004. A member of the first cohort of an enthusiastic and engaging group of students had a firm opinion on the role of theory in social work. After having undertaken a range of social work-related activities prior to her becoming a postgraduate student, she pronounced with some confidence: ‘theory won’t get you through the door’. Angela’s succinct declaration, which resulted in lively exchanges during a module on social theory and social work, echoes an opinion widely held in and beyond the profession. On one level, her view may appear convincing and connect to our intuitive understanding, our ‘common sense’ (and, perhaps, personal experience) of social work. Arguably, on difficult home visits, where social workers have to ask troubling questions or convey upsetting news, theoretical knowledge may not seem to be of much help. Although it may have sparked animated discussions at university, when the real work of social work has to be undertaken, theory becomes redundant, if not something of a hindrance. Some of the content of the module I was teaching Angela and her class may have seemed somewhat challenging. It may be understandable how student participants doubted the usefulness of wading through Bourdieu’s dense and complex prose. He never had to plot his way across the varied topography of social work practice. He never had to complete a late Friday-night visit to an ‘unknown’ family subjected to a child abuse investigation. He never experienced the feeling of trepidation, the dry mouth and the queasy tummy while climbing out of his car trying to find a flat number on an ill-lit estate (see also Ferguson, 2010a).

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Most theoretical perspectives derived from sociology and social theory tend to argue that modernity – itself a contested term – has not yet been exhausted. ‘What is the nature of the modernity which we inhabit?’ is a key question preoccupying many theorists, giving rise to a plethora of competing views on what it is to be ‘modern’ and on how moderns think, feel and act (Garrett, 2008). Deliberating on these matters is inescapably political: sociologists and social theorists should not be perceived as providing ‘scientific’ or ‘objective’ accounts of how we are evolving because they all, more or less explicitly, owe allegiances to particular political projects intent on remaking the world in particular ways. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Giddens, who appeared to provide a sociological ‘road map’ for the politics of New Labour. With his revealingly titled Beyond Left and Right, he furnished a ‘book full of sneers at social democracy and the welfare state’ and was to ‘become the ‘theoretician of the [former] British Prime Minister [Blair] and his New Labour regime, giving an intellectual gloss to a party that had lost – or rather severed – any connection to “first wave” social democracy’ (Therborn, 2007, p 100).

It was postmodernists who ‘stimulated an awareness of and a debate about modernity’, and this chapter will begin by briefly looking at their contribution (Therborn, 2011, p 55). After briefly examining the derivation and definition of ‘modernity’, the focus will be on postcolonial theory. Important here is the failure of many theorists to locate modernity in the context of European expansion and the domination of subjugated populations (Connell, 2007; De Sousa Santos, 2012).

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In recent years, questions related to modernity have, on occasions, dwelt on the notion that we have shifted from a period of ‘solid modernity’ to one of ‘liquid modernity’. The main sociologist associated with this theorisation is Zygmunt Bauman. He was born in Poland in 1925 but left in the late 1960s and arrived – after short stays in Israel, Canada and Australia – at the University of Leeds, where, from 1990, he was an Emeritus Professor.

Until his death, in early 2017, Bauman was an exceptionally prolific, influential and, in his final years, controversial sociologist (Tester, 2004). Attention was directed to his having worked for Poland’s intelligence services from the end of the Second World War until 1953 (Edemariam, 2007; Ramesh, 2010). Irrespective of the precise accuracy of such reports, it is impossible to comprehend Bauman’s role without locating it in the context of the civil war that erupted in Poland following liberation from Nazi rule (Tester and Jacobsen, 2005). However, he was also criticised for an alleged lack of scholarly detail in his later work. Derbyshire (2004, p 49), for example, criticised Bauman’s ‘theoretical impressionism’, maintaining that his apparent reliance on ‘nothing more substantial than articles in the Guardian and the Observer colour supplements’ was ‘objectionable’. Perhaps there is some truth in this critique, but Bauman’s ‘defence of a morally committed sociology’ was compelling and serious. Indeed, his contributions should be taken into account, albeit critically, in any book seeking to address social theory and social work (see also Smith, M., 2011).

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