A force to bring out the good

Social Work
February 25, 2005

Social work is rarely a quiet place to be. The day-to-day work is frequently challenging; the environment within which practitioners work is, it sometimes appears, almost constantly under review; practice is subject to inspection and (occasionally highly public) critique; reorganisation is commonplace. The profession and environments for practice are in the throes of major change.

This book presents Lena Dominelli's perspective on social work in the 21st century and mixes critique with recommendations for changes to the way the role of social work is conceptualised and social work practice is pursued.

Dominelli charts what she sees as the key changes in "contexts for practice" at a number of levels: macro-level (for example, the impact of globalisation on social care provision); meso-level (national policy frameworks); and micro-level (the level of individual and interpersonal behaviour and relationships). Social workers are required to understand and act effectively within each context. She then moves on to a discussion of values, ethics and empowerment.

The first two framing chapters are followed by four on social work intervention - with children and families, older people, offenders and in communities. Dominelli then outlines her vision for social work, which depends on "interdependence, reciprocity, citizenship and social justice", and highlights the moral and political dimensions of practice.

The book aims to provide "a comprehensive introduction to the dilemmas and tensions that practitioners are compelled to resolve in their daily work", whether they are students, social workers or policymakers in social work and related fields. However, it is not clear what level of study it is aimed at. Sometimes, it feels rather densely written, using quite technical language - such as the frequent references to "technology of governmentality" - that may not suit students at the start of their studies.

Categorical statements abound: for example, Dominelli's assertion that "social workers subscribe to totalising definitions of identity" or later that "social workers replicate ageist representations of elders in and through practice" can leave the reader feeling rather buffeted.

For a text that endorses the value of reflective thinking, there is little in the presentation to model this approach.

Overall, this is a challenging text, written in characteristically robust style, providing a framework for social work as a moral-political activity.

It is a book about social work in an unjust society, and Dominelli works hard to ensure that social workers see potential for change at every level. In the end, she appears optimistic that social work is an endeavour worth fighting for and argues that it must become a force for change if it is to survive with its values intact.

Danielle Turney is senior lecturer in social work, Open University.

Social Work: Theory and Practice for a Changing Profession. First edition

Author - Lena Dominelli
Publisher - Polity
Pages - 307
Price - £55.00 and £17.99
ISBN - 0 7456 2382 4 and 2383 2

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