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The Renewal of Critical Social Work

Christine Morley, Phillip Ablett, Carolyn Noble, Jim Ife, Sonia Magdalena Tascón, Athena Lathouras, Emma Tseris, Bob Pease, Selma Macfarlane, Tina Kostecki, Jane Thomson, Sue Green, Bindi Bennett, Sonia Betteridge, Linda Briskman, Jane Doe, Susie Latham, Merlinda Weinberg, Iain Ferguson, Alexander Forbes, Bridget Backhaus, Jane Downing, Linda Adair, Lizz Murphy, Siobhan Hodge, Robbie Coburn, David Adès, Zalehah Turner

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Social work is unfortunately not a term that most people associate with movements for social justice, human rights, environmental sustainability or significant social reforms. If the public have any abiding impressions or stereotypes about social work, they are at best ambivalent (Staniforth et al. 2014: 48) or vaguely negative (Condie et al. 1978: 47), possibly associated with misguided ‘do-gooding’, the removal of children (LeCroy and Stinson 2004: 164), subordinate professionals in hospital hierarchies (Viegel 2009) or impersonal bureaucrats policing declining social payments (Meagher and Parton 2004). In short, mainstream social work is often identified with the management of the poor or vulnerable; fitting ‘dysfunctional’ individuals into the social order rather than challenging the social conditions and policies that produce disadvantage. Perhaps there is more than a little truth to these stereotypes in mainstream social work theory and practice. As the social work and human service contributors to this edition would agree, social work has predominantly been a project of Western capitalist modernity and consequently complicit in perpetuating many of its oppressive features (Margolin 1997: 4). However, they would also protest that this is not the only story. Social work, as our first article in this edition argues, has also always been a contested project, emerging from a range of informal practices addressing and reflecting the contradictions of liberal (and now neoliberal) capitalism as it colonised the globe from the nineteenth century onwards.


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