This article appraises the role of the neoliberal university in regulating social work education, research and practice. The dominance of governments and employers in determining social work education is highlighted, alongside the ascendancy of skills-based and vocational training. Moreover, it is proposed that research, associated learning, and practice are now more often moulded around essentialist science-based, behavioural or functionalist paradigms, which fit conveniently with free market, politically conservative and authoritarian agendas. The neoliberal university is increasingly able to rationally prepare social workers to fulfil narrow ideological objectives, which includes priority given to attempts to empower, pathologise, and scientifically manage structurally disadvantaged populations from minority groups. Reductive paradigms, nevertheless, can struggle to cope with social fragmentation and diversity, with social work students often ill prepared for many of the complex challenges which they later face as qualified practitioners. Analysis for the article draws from critical theory, and it is concluded that market-based discourses and related professional paradigms – and the symbolically constituted and hyperreal fantasies which they help to maintain – can prove difficult to escape. Social work continues to face a precarious future within university settings in which free market narratives, associated norms, targets, and labour insecurity prevail.
Gant, Valerie; Hewson, Michael
Drawing on principles of auto-ethnography, this commentary offers for discussion reflections on a personal reaction to some of the struggles experienced when navigating the English social work placement landscape for a student who has a diagnosis (or label) of dyslexia/dyspraxia. Commenting on some of the challenges faced in order to try and survive the placement experience necessary to complete the programme, this account makes recommendations and suggestions for educators in university and in practice.