Journal Article

Risk Rationalities in Contemporary Social Work Policy and Practice

Hazel Kemshall

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 40, issue 4, pages 1247-1262
Published in print June 2010 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online January 2010 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Risk Rationalities in Contemporary Social Work Policy and Practice

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Social work and risk have become increasingly linked, and contemporary social work has been significantly influenced by the risk paradigm. However, the concept of ‘risk’ in social work is by no means uniform or uncontested. This paper will review the varying rationalities of risk currently deployed in social work, and will contrast the differing policy responses and practices such differing rationalities of risk give rise to. Differing rationalities of risk constitute the social work subject differently, as ‘the rational actor’ or the ‘responsibilised’ user, although the extent to which subsequent practice responses actually differ is a moot point. Limits to the prudential actor are explored, for both users and practitioners, and the notion of situated rationality is offered as a more useful concept for understanding responses to risk in social work. In addition, risk rationalities are rarely translated into policy or practice in pure form; various ‘firewalls’ and barriers to transfer mediate such transference, and the paper will identify the most salient in contemporary policy.

Keywords: Risk; prudentialism; rational actor; situated actor; situated rationality

Journal Article.  5938 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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