Critical Social Work - Introduction



Social workers have an ethical commitment to working to overcome inequality and oppression. For radical social workers this implies working towards the transformation of capitalist society towards building social arrangements which are more compatible with these commitments. Mullaly & Keating (1991) suggest three schools of radical thought corresponding to three versions of socialist analysis; social democracy, revolutionary Marxism and evolutionary Marxism. However they work in institutional contexts which paradoxically implicates them in maintaining capitalist functions. Social work theories have three possible aims, as identified by Rojek et al. (1986). These are:

  • The progressive position. Social work is seen as a catalyst for social change. Social workers work with the oppressed and marginalised and so are in a good position to harness class resistance to capitalism and transform society into a more social democracy or socialist state. ( Bailey & Brake, 1975, Galper, 1975, Simpkin, 1979, Ginsberg, 1979)
  • The reproductive position. Social work seen as an indispensable tool of the capitalist social order. Its function is to produce and maintain the capitalist state machine and to ensure working class subordination. Social workers are the ‘soft cops’ of the capitalist state machine. (Althusser, 1971, Poulantzas, 1975, Muller & Neususs, 1978)
  • The contradictory position. Social work can undermine capitalism and class society. While it acts as an instrument of class control it can simultaneously create the conditions for the overthrow of capitalist social relations. (Corrigan & Leonard, Phillipson, 1979, Bolger, 1981)

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