Journal Article

Beyond Power Discourse: Alienation and Social Work

Iain Ferguson and Michael Lavalette

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 34, issue 3, pages 297-312
Published in print April 2004 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online April 2004 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Beyond Power Discourse: Alienation and Social Work

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This paper argues for the relevance of the Marxist concept of alienation to the development of an emancipatory social work practice. As the concept has often been misinterpreted within the social work literature to refer primarily to a psychological state, the first part of the paper seeks to establish the material basis of the theory as developed by Marx, and identifies four key aspects of alienation—from the product of labour, from the labour process, from our ‘human nature’ and from our fellow human beings. Alienation theory is then applied to the experience of both social workers and service users and it is argued that the notions of loss of control (in the case of social workers) and powerlessness (in the case of service users) have greater explanatory power, and provide a firmer basis for a radical practice, than currently fashionable power discourses, derived from postructuralism, which often mirror the individualism of the New Right approaches they seek to challenge. Finally, examples are given of the ways in which the concept of alienation might contribute towards the development of a new, emancipatory social work, central to which is likely to be the development of more collective approaches.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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