Paul Stepney is a Lecturer in Social Work at University of Wolverhampton, UK and a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Tampere, Finland. He has worked as a hospital social worker and taught at universities in Hull, Manchester and Exeter during the past twenty years.
Correspondence to Paul Stepney, University of Wolverhampton, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, Wulfruna Street, Wolverhampton WV1 1SB. E-mail: P.M.Stepney@wlv.ac.uk
In recent years, the capacity of social work to be a force for progressive policy and social change has been significantly eroded. Social work in the UK has been re-branded and reshaped within New Labour’s modernized welfare state, only to become politically compromised and compliant: ‘the dog that didn’t bark’ even when its soul appeared to be stripped out. This article offers a response to this predicament informed by a structural modernist analysis revitalized by elements of critical postmodernism (Fook, 2002). Without wishing to offer any definitive prescriptions, the concept of critical practice is worthy of consideration, as it offers the potential for combining the role of protection with prevention whilst embodying possibilities for critical reflection and change. This became the focus of a recent conference organized around the theme of celebrating social work (Torfaen, 2002). Further, it offers practitioners a means for critical engagement with the issues that lie at the root of injustice and exclusion, to develop a more emancipatory approach, whilst resisting pressures for more enforcement and control.