Getting beyond 'heroic agency' in conceptualising social workers as policy actors in the Twenty-First Century

Marston, Greg & McDonald, Catherine (2012) Getting beyond 'heroic agency' in conceptualising social workers as policy actors in the Twenty-First Century. British Journal of Social Work, 42(6), pp. 1022-1038.

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The professional project of social work assumes a particular orientation to human agency on the part of social workers. Specifically, the social work educational literature focusing on the nature of the profession suggests that social workers exert considerable control over the means and ends of their practice. In this paper we ask whether this assumption is warranted. While we conceptualise this issue as relevant to the entire spectrum of professional social work practice, here we discuss our claim in relation to social workers adopting policy activist roles. We suggest that the actual engagement of social workers in policy practice and political change in liberal democracies is muted and we canvas a number of reasons that help explain why this is the case. We canvas the impact of naive conceptualisations of what we call the ‘heroic agency’ of social work identity as employed in texts used in pre-service social work education. Specifically we pose the thesis that new social work graduates, when immersed into the organisational rationalities of reconfigured ‘welfare states’, may experience a considerable mismatch between the promise of being a social change agent and their experience as a beginning practitioner, making it difficult for them to confidently articulate their political identity and purpose.

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16 citations in Web of Science®

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ID Code: 56421
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcs062
ISSN: 0045-3102
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIAL WORK (160700)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2012 Oxford University Press.
Deposited On: 15 Jan 2013 06:14
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2014 19:32

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