Journal Article

Calling Social Work

Nigel Coleman and John Harris

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 38, issue 3, pages 580-599
Published in print April 2008 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online December 2006 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Calling Social Work

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New Labour has promoted the use of information and communication technology. Call centres are a key development in this strategy and are now in use for accessing social services. In official policy, the use of call centres is presented as an aspect of attempts to change the relationship between service users and the purchasers and providers of services. In contrast, we suggest that the use of call centres in social care does little to shift the balance of power. Call centres bring together four dimensions of New Labour discourse: learning from the private sector, cutting costs, technology and consumerism. Three issues emerge from their development: the undermining of social work’s sense of place; the circumscribing of service user participation; the rationalization of social workers. The call centre serves as a signifier of what, it is claimed, the combination of New Labour’s consumerism and technology can achieve. This signification disguises call centres’ properties of efficiency, calculability, predictability and control. Contrary to the rhetoric that accompanies them, call centres may be curtailing service user participation, as well as delimiting the social work role. Accordingly, their use has important, but as yet largely unresearched, implications for service users and social workers.

Keywords: call centres; consumerism; private sector; information and communication technology; cost-cutting

Journal Article.  9200 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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