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What is the future of social work?

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During the past three decades, the ascendant neoliberal paradigm has produced an unprecedented centralisation of wealth and power and the institutionalisation of a market-oriented philosophy throughout the world. Its underlying values have transformed the basic tenets of social work practice and undermined the profession's ethical foundation. It has promoted scientific, empiricist 'objectivity' as the principal criterion for respected scholarship and an ahistorical orientation to human problems, and compelled social workers to revise their relationship to the state, the market, service users and the community. In this context, it would be easy to predict a dismal future for social work, as some scholars have done recently. Instead of projecting a dystopian view of social work's future, however, this article presents a more hopeful alternative. It argues that while social workers must be rigorous in their analysis of emerging societal problems and relentless in their efforts to link these problems to their structural and institutional roots, they must also maintain a sense of possibility based on an awareness of history and appreciation of the collective human capacity to create change.
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Keywords: ETHICAL-POLITICAL STRATEGY; FUNCTIONAL UNIVERSITY; HEGEMONY; LIBERALISM; NEO; SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 2013

More about this publication?
  • 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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