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The year 1968: the turning point when US social work failed to turn

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The year 1968 was a potential turning point in the history of US social work. After a generation of inward-looking conservatism, significant numbers of American social workers revived the radical tradition of the profession that the purges of the post-war McCarthy period had repressed. New social movements, particularly the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and secondwave feminism, as well as the efforts of activists outside of social work, from Saul Alinsky and Cesar Chavez to the National Welfare Rights Organization, inspired new approaches to advocacy, research, practice and education. Inside and outside professional organisations and social service agencies, social workers began to advocate for progressive policies, the use of more expansive and more democratic practice frameworks, and the inclusion of content on race, gender, class and sexuality in social work education. For a brief period, it appeared that a major transformation of the profession was possible, even inevitable. Although the events of this critical year produced some important changes in social work practice and education, they did not change its fundamental orientation. Ironically, both the ultimate failure of the era's radical activism and the introduction of identity-based content into the profession's vocabulary and mission made US social work more vulnerable to conservative attacks over the following half-century. The developments that resulted from the 'year of the barricades' also made it more difficult for the profession to articulate a unified vision for a rapidly changing environment, and to translate that vision into new models of practice, research and education.
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Keywords: COMMUNITY ORGANISING; CRITICAL AND RADICAL SOCIAL WORK; MULTICULTURALISM; NEW SOCIAL MOVEMENTS; PROFESSIONALISATION; SOCIAL WORK ACTIVISM

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 01 March 2018

This article was made available online on 07 March 2018 as a Fast Track article with title: "The year 1968: the turning point when US social work failed to turn ".

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  • An International Journal

    Critical and Radical Social Work is an exciting new journal that will promote debate and scholarship around a range of engaged social work themes. The journal publishes papers which seek to analyse and respond to issues, such as the impact of global neo-liberalism on social welfare; austerity and social work; social work and social movements; social work, inequality and oppression, and understanding and responding to global social problems (such as war, disasters and climate change).

    It welcomes contributions that consider and question themes relating to the definition of social work and social work professionalism, that look at ways in which organic and 'indigenous' practice can expand concepts of the social work project and that consider alternative and radical histories of social work activity. As a truly international journal it actively encourages contributions from academics, scholars and practitioners from across the global village.

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