Journal Article

Mission Impossible? Critical Practice in Social Work<sup>1</sup>

Paul Stepney

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 36, issue 8, pages 1289-1307
Published in print December 2006 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online November 2005 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Mission Impossible? Critical Practice in Social Work1

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In recent years, the capacity of social work to be a force for progressive policy and social change has been significantly eroded. Social work in the UK has been re-branded and reshaped within New Labour’s modernized welfare state, only to become politically compromised and compliant: ‘the dog that didn’t bark’ even when its soul appeared to be stripped out. This article offers a response to this predicament informed by a structural modernist analysis revitalized by elements of critical postmodernism (Fook, 2002). Without wishing to offer any definitive prescriptions, the concept of critical practice is worthy of consideration, as it offers the potential for combining the role of protection with prevention whilst embodying possibilities for critical reflection and change. This became the focus of a recent conference organized around the theme of celebrating social work (Torfaen, 2002). Further, it offers practitioners a means for critical engagement with the issues that lie at the root of injustice and exclusion, to develop a more emancipatory approach, whilst resisting pressures for more enforcement and control.

Keywords: critical practice; ‘third way’ welfare reform; ‘tough love’ social work; emancipation

Journal Article.  7952 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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