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  • Author or Editor: Paul Michael Garrett x
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Marxism is frequently regarded in a disdainful and dismissive way in social work education. However, often drawing on Marx’s own words, this article argues that many of his focal ideas have continuing resonance for contemporary social work. Three key themes are briefly examined: Marx’s analysis of labour and working lives in a capitalist society; neoliberalism and the voraciousness of capital; and the role of the state and dominating ideology. Finally, the discussion will turn from theory to praxis, illustrating how practitioners and educators within the field of social work might endeavour not only to ‘interpret’ the world, but also to ‘change’ it.

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Drawing on Raymond Williams’ approach, the article examines ‘welfare dependency’ as one of the most pernicious ‘keywords’ in neoliberal discourse and encourages those located within the field of social work to be sceptical about its uncritical usage. Bolstered by conservative scholarship, the forging of a new ‘common sense’ on welfare may have contributed to the harsh public perceptions referred to in a significant British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. Problematising the widespread usage of ‘welfare dependency’, the article provides a critical resource for social work educators, practitioners, students and users of services.

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In 2010 it became apparent that no reliable data were available on the deaths of children in contact with social workers in the Republic of Ireland. As a result of this lacuna, in 2011–12, the Independent Child Death Review Group (ICDRG) and the National Review Panel (NRP) published official reports tabulating and partly describing these deaths. A close reading of the reports indicates that practitioner involvement is frequently enmeshed in factors associated with neoliberal imperatives connected to unfilled vacancies, related staffing problems and the rationing and curtailment of services. Following the appearance of the reports, an emerging ‘change agenda’, partly influenced by New Labour in the UK, has sought to chart a way forward. Nevertheless, given that the state remains committed to a more embracing programme of intensive neoliberalisation, efforts seeking ‘reform’ are likely to fail.

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It has been categorically asserted that Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy, dwelling on accepting responsibility for the ‘Other’, can be used to bolster the theorisation of ‘critical social work’. Furthermore, a number of social work academics maintain that his complex contributions create a new framework for working across ‘differences’. In contrast, this article will challenge these assertions, shedding light on an array of deeply problematic aspects of Levinas’s philosophy and politics. These have so far been omitted in the way he has been presented to a social work readership. Particular attention will be paid to Levinas’s self-proclaimed Euro-centrism and racist condescension toward those beyond Europe. The discussion will then turn to explore his ethnic nationalism which functions to conceptually misrecognise, disrespect and discursively delete Palestinians.

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The article stresses the continuing significance of keyword-anchored theorising in critical social work. Paying particular attention to England and Wales, the focus is on care as a keyword. Care is central within a range of discourses impinging on social work and social policy in connection with the evolution of community care, the long-term care of the increasing proportions of older people, the treatment of children and young people in the public care system, and debates about unpaid carers. While not claiming to be exhaustive, the article maintains that dwelling on care, as a keyword, can illuminate how, at least, three connected dimensions are significant: care and neoliberal globalism; care and neoliberal labour processes; and care, commodification and corruption.

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Noting current postcolonial critiques and endeavours to ‘decolonise the university’ and its various disciplines, the article points to the importance of the work of Frantz Fanon and especially his Studies in a dying colonialism and The wretched of the earth. The focus is on Fanon’s interrogation of the use of the veil in Algeria and how he perceived that, subject to ongoing revolutionary turbulence, family relations were being progressively transformed. Moreover, it is suggested that his views on violence warrant further exploration than is ordinarily provided in mainstream and conventional accounts of his work. While pessimistic, Fanon’s concerns about the evolution of postcolonial societies were also timely and prescient.

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Since 2004, the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) has restricted access to the welfare state and ‘safety net’ social protection for those who cannot prove their ‘connection’ to the Republic of Ireland. For many, this has resulted in poverty and social exclusion. Informed by Badiou’s promulgation of ‘one world’ politics, the article focuses on social workers’ experiences of the HRC in two cities. A preliminary study, with a small group of practitioners, highlights the way they are responding to the HRC. Common themes relate to: inequality of access to the welfare ‘safety net’; ambivalent social work attitudes towards the HRC; the role of practitioners in opposing the HRC; the personal cost of challenging the inflexible operation of the HRC; and bureaucracy and the HRC. Located in an ambivalent position, on account of the demands of both the state and more progressive aspects of the profession’s value base, social workers are resisting the HRC but not on a collective basis.

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Social workers, broadly conceived, are engaged in assisting asylum seekers. Grounded in a small empirical study encompassing the Republic of Ireland and Switzerland, the article comments on the wider context and issues relating to asylum, migration and social work. The findings incorporate themes stretching across six interrelated dimensions: the practitioners’ own backgrounds; the lack of professional social workers; the dependence on volunteers; inadequate resourcing and high caseloads; inadequate supervision; and categorisation. All these issues are significant for social work education and for a profession that needs to exhibit more interest in questions of migration and more of a commitment to human rights.

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