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  • Author or Editor: John Harris x
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Neoliberalism asserts that it is applicable in domains beyond private sector business. With regard to social work it has three main propositions that it sees as the key to social work’s transformation and three processes that correspond to them: markets are efficient and effective (marketisation); individuals should be responsible for themselves and run their own lives (consumerisation); and the private sector can supply management knowledge and techniques to the public and voluntary sectors (managerialisation). The extent to which these processes have taken hold and the precise combinations in which they appear vary but they constitute a direction of travel in many countries. In this article each process is considered in turn with regard to its impact on social work.

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‘Social work values’ are a feature of contemporary English social work and social work education that, over time, have become so established that they are now accepted with little questioning. This lack of reflection about social work values is probed, beginning with a historical excavation to reveal the background to their emergence from the social democratic welfare state, via critical and radical perspectives, and the process that led to their official embrace. After completing the historical excavation, the enduring influence of their historical origins is noted, their nature is interrogated and the problems they pose are explored.

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In a previous edition of Critical and Radical Social Work, Filipe Duarte provided a full account of Marshall’s model of citizenship and argued for the continuing relevance of social citizenship in public welfare provision. Questions are raised about the adequacy of this exposition of Marshall’s model and the significant absences that result from the failure to critique it. The need for an understanding of social citizenship that goes beyond Marshall’s model is explored.

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Performance management is usually presented as a technical tool to monitor policies and programmes. Performance indicators are presented as neutral and as having been developed in pursuit of economy, efficiency and effectiveness. According to this approach, if properly conceptualised and constructed, performance indicators illuminate the extent to which agencies or services are achieving goals and provide accountability. In contrast, understanding performance indicators as political requires examination of their social as well as their technical aspects. From this perspective, the effectiveness of an indicator as a means to measure performance is not as important as other roles, such as embedding policy and shaping practice. Accordingly, performance management represents a significant technology of control over social work. It acts as a powerful determinant of which forms of practice are approved by deciding which of them are drawn into the accountability framework and are therefore authorised.

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When we think and talk about ‘social work’, we mostly focus on the first word. We read, discuss and write about the social problems and social issues addressed by social work or the social processes that are the focus of social work’s intervention in people’s lives and the vehicle through which that intervention takes place. In mainstream accounts of the development of social work after the Second World War, it was depicted as a demonstration of social responsibility: ‘As the accepted areas of social obligation widened, as injustice became less tolerable, new services were separately organised around individual need’ (Titmuss 1963: 21). In such accounts, social work, as part of the wider social services, was also extolled as the material expression of the social rights of citizenship:

By the social element [of citizenship] I mean the whole range from the right to a modicum of economic welfare and security to the right to share to the full in the social heritage and to live the life of a civilised being according to the standards prevailing in the society. The institutions most closely connected with it are the educational system and the social services. (Marshall 1963: 74)

However, despite its embeddedness in many and various aspects of ‘the social’, social work is also a job. As a job it involves work and the focus of this chapter is on how the work of social work has been and can be understood from a critical perspective.

The conceptualisation of social work as work was developed in response to its organisational location in Social Services Departments (SSDs) and this is, therefore, the starting point in what follows.

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Over the last 10 years, UK government funding for research channelled through the UK’s seven research councils has substantially increased. Over the same time period there has been a renewed emphasis on the more effective use of evidence in UK policy making. Concerns remain, however, that these two initiatives have not been sufficiently well linked, and that the research councils could be more effective in supporting the development and communication of the evidence base for UK policy making. This paper examines the current ‘state of play’, concludes that many of the knowledge transfer initiatives that have been put in place do not reach sufficiently deeply into the research funding system, and recommends 10 changes to the planning, management and structure of research funding in order to enhance the policy value of UK research. A brief review of research funding issues in other countries points to the potential relevance of these conclusions and recommendations.

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Governmental social work refers to a new ‘settlement’ for social work and social work education. A critical discourse analysis of Putting children first (Department for Education, 2016) – considered the foundational text of governmental social work – is undertaken. The analysis suggests the ways in which the transformative strategy of governmental social work seeks to achieve outcomes or objectives within existing structures and practices, especially by changing them in particular ways. Social workers are called on to become free progressive professionals as long as they comply with the form of professionalism that is legitimated by governmental social work. The reforms are represented as the only morally and professionally right responses for those who care about children. This involves a double shuffle: a process of de-professionalisation and re-professionalisation that involves identity change and subjugation for social workers in a compliant profession that increasingly ‘governs itself’ in the required ways and maintains a silence on the circumstances of children’s lives.

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A previous article considered a new ‘settlement’ for social work and social work education through a critical discourse analysis of Putting children first (Department for Education, 2016). This was treated as the foundational text of what was designated ‘governmental social work’. Here, three dimensions of governmental social work are identified in Putting children first: enactment – changed ways of acting and interacting; inculcation – changed beliefs and ways of being; and materialisation – changes in organisations and structures. These three dimensions suggest the ways in which the transformative strategy of governmental social work seeks to achieve outcomes or objectives within existing structures and practices and, especially, by changing them in particular ways. Being seen as a progressive social worker involves the acceptance of and involvement in governmental social work’s changed practices, beliefs and institutional frameworks.

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