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- Author or Editor: Joanne Warner x
For several decades, social work and child protection systems have been subject to accelerating cycles of crisis and reform, with each crisis involving intense media and political scrutiny. In understanding the nature and causes of this cycle, little attention has been paid to the importance of collective emotions.
Using a range of cases from the UK, and also considering cases from the Netherlands, the US and New Zealand, this book introduces the concept of emotional politics. It shows how collective emotions, such as anger, shame, fear and disgust, are central to constructions of risk and blame, and are generated and reflected by official documents, politicians and the media. The book considers strategies for challenging these ‘emotional politics’, including identifying models for a more politically engaged stance for the social work profession.
This chapter begins with a brief analysis of the ‘changing work paradigm’ in globalised economies and the evidence for the impact of this on mental health outcomes, particularly in terms of those who are or may become ‘precariously distressed’. This is followed by an account of structural stigma within mainstream mental health policies and the way in which they continue to reflect a risk agenda. The chapter then identifies the relationship between networks of risk in mental health and the networks of trust that have been negotiated between major constituencies, particularly between the state and relatives of victims of so-called ‘community care homicides’. The fourth and final section analyses in more depth the power of the lobby that broadly represents the latter group through the ‘organising power of grief’. The chapter concludes by explicating the circular and paradoxical nature of current policies. It is argued that they are liable to fail not only those citizens who require mainstream mental health services, but also the much larger number of people who, regardless of the reality of the risks, consider their lives and livelihoods as precarious and insecure.
After briefly setting out the background and context for the book, this chapter considers in detail how the concept of emotional politics can be understood in theoretical terms. As in the book as a whole, the chapter draws on literature from a wide range of sources and disciplines, including social work, sociology, cultural studies, politics, social policy, and criminology. The chapter shows how the concept of emotional politics relates to other key conceptual and theoretical areas including risk, social class, gender and ‘race’. It highlights how emotions are political by analysing the meaning and cultural significance of collective responses to a child’s suffering. It argues that news stories about children’s deaths can be understood as myths that have a particular meaning in cultural terms. Politics is emotional, the chapter argues, by virtue of the increased emotionalisation of politics and the premium placed on empathy with voters. Political leaders play a key role in reflecting or generating emotional responses to events. The chapter also analyses the relationship between politics, the emotions and risk; particularly the concern of politicians to manage reputation risk arising from policy failures. The final section of the chapter outlines the structure of the book as a whole.
The focus of this chapter is anger as a political emotion which facilitates the creation of binary moral categories of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The chapter analyses political and press reaction to the death of 17 month old ‘Baby P’ (Peter Connelly). It begins with a critical analysis of the relationship between politics and the media – particularly the press – drawing on the findings of the UKs Leveson Inquiry into press ethics. The chapter shows how anger was generated by establishing a set of moral feeling rules, the principle one being that compassion or pity for Peter Connelly’s suffering must logically entail anger towards those who had been charged with protecting him. Social workers were constructed by politicians and the media as bureaucratic, unfeeling outsiders in a nation which was in turn represented as being engaged in collective expressions of compassion/pity and grief. The chapter argues that while the emotional politics at work after the death of Peter Connelly served the interests of individual politicians and the press, it can also be understood at a deeper cultural level as an attempt to define a nation’s idealised sense of who ‘we’ are collectively in the face of a child’s suffering.
In this chapter the focus is the emotions of disgust and contempt that are discernible in newspaper accounts of the mothers, families and communities of children who die from extreme abuse or neglect. Drawing on critical moral panic theory, the chapter argues that media coverage reflects wider social and cultural anxieties about certain groups who are otherwise hidden from view; particularly the so-called ‘underclass’ and those categorised as Other. The chapter outlines the link between social work and attitudes to people living in poverty. The chapter shows how hostile coverage of social workers as bureaucratic folk-devils reflected contempt for their apparent lack of empathy for the child’s suffering. Social workers were portrayed as lacking a natural, common sense instinct to rescue children. But coverage also reflected deep anxiety about social work’s failure to engage punitively with mothers who stood out as shameless, not only because of what they had done, but because of who they were as moral subjects. Moral regulation by social work as constructed in the newspaper accounts involved surveillance necessitating close proximity to families who invoke disgust. Crucially, this proximity entails forceful interventions in the private space of the family home.
This chapter extends the concept of emotional politics to three other processes: collective remembering; the myth of political control through policy reform; and emotional interest representation. It is argued that collective remembering can be understood as a form of social action through commemoration, which drives the impetus for reform. Through commemoration, particular ways of making sense of the past – and therefore, implicitly, the future – are sustained. The rhetorical device of the ‘roll-call’ of names of children who have died is analysed, together with processes of inquiry and case review. The myth of political control is evident through analysis of political speech. Binary discourse is used to code reforms in moral terms that link them to the prevention of any future deaths. References in speeches to the personal experience of the politician suggest they are a form of emotional labour. Reforms involving the creation of a newly idealised, heroic social worker are seen as the antidote to the toxic, folk-devil social worker that was constructed in previous episodes of crisis. In emotional interest representation, Members of Parliament are understood as envoys of emotions that are felt and expressed among their constituents, which are converted into political action in a national context.
The focus of this chapter is the subject position of ‘respectability’ which is counterpoised with the emotion of disgust explored in Chapter 3. The chapter draws on cultural class analysis to explore how social class can be understood as relational and as a process of constant comparison against others. In the same moment that disgust, contempt and shame act as mechanisms to construct an objectified, disgusting ‘them’, a respectable ‘us’ is produced. The chapter argues that the potential for social work to focus its gaze onto any parent and enter any home looms large in the middle class imagination. Two main sources of anxiety for middle class parents are identified. First are apparent cultural shifts concerning parenting identity and what being a parent means, resulting in new uncertainties. Second is the mythological power of the ‘Cleveland affair’, where over 100 children were removed from their homes under circumstances which prompted a Public Inquiry and which received intensive media coverage over a long period in 1987. The chapter analyses the continuing power of politicians to act as tribunes of emotion in generating media attention and articulating anger and fear over the supposed threat posed by social workers to respectable family life.
This chapter is concerned with the emotional politics of documents, specifically serious case reviews. After providing background information, the chapter shows how case reviews can be understood as ‘active texts’ in concerting social action. It analyses their emotionality as documents that embody poignant feelings about ‘what might have been’ through counterfactual emotions. The chapter outlines the increasingly important role played by serious case reviews in media and political responses to the deaths of children. Case reviews have become textual news events, co-ordinating action through their intertextuality with other texts and documents. They have also been extracted from local rationalities of practice and learning. The chapter draws on three case studies. These case studies illustrate, firstly, the role of case reviews in activating certain forms of social work practice, particularly ‘new’ authoritative practice. Secondly, they illustrate the way counterfactual emotions – especially the ‘what might have been’ of regret – are embedded in such documents. This analysis exposes the link between the politics of risk and the infinite possibilities for prevention that hindsight most painfully exposes. Serious case review reports produce poignant moments in which different decisions could easily have been made, thereby activating profound anger at professionals.
This chapter draws on comparative research by others and analysis of four international case studies which further illustrate key features of emotional politics. In Australasia, the forces of colonialism are evident in the intensely painful intergenerational memories of Stolen Generations of Aboriginal children in Australia and in constructions of child abuse as a ‘Maori problem’ in New Zealand. These resonate with the themes of disgust and shame discussed in Chapter 3. In the Netherlands, a series of cases drew a strongly emotional national response and led to reforms to services. The status of Sweden as a model country is relevant for understanding the historical legacy of national shame from the ‘children’s Gulag’ of the 1980s and how this shapes contemporary services. New York City exemplifies the crisis-reform-crisis cycle driven by an intense political and media focus on children who have died. The political impossibility of risk and the role of successive city mayors in stamping their personal authority on reforms resonate with themes in Chapter 4. Reforms prioritised social control – particularly of Black mothers - with a pervasive regime of investigation that caused deep resentments. This anger fuelled parent-activism, where parents and allies fought to re-orientate services towards social justice.
The aim of this final chapter is to show how current forms of emotional politics can be challenged. The main focus is on the power of alliances and new forms of public and political engagement that have the power to create change. The chapter argues that social work has a vital role to play, but that change is only possible through alliances with other constituencies which have a stake in child protection. The main constituencies addressed are the media, the parents and children who come into contact with child welfare or protection services or who might do so in future, and politicians. The chapter argues that closer engagement between social work, parents and children, and the political sphere is of vital importance and suggests ways this might be achieved. It is further argued that the current formation of emotional politics in social work and child protection is symptomatic of a bigger crisis which lies in the relationship between the state and society, and the nature of democratic participation under neoliberalism. Social work has a public institutional role to play in relation to the politics of social suffering and compassion, and the prospect for new forms of participatory democracy.