Sociological Research Online

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Social Work, Risk, Power
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February 2010


2,467 Reads

Contemporary ideas and strategies of both ‘risk’ and ‘power’ are significant and dynamic influences in social theory and social action, and they can therefore be expected to have a substantial impact on the ways in which social work is constituted, practiced and evaluated. In this article, I shall articulate distinct conceptualisations and debates about each of these, before considering their inter-relationships and the implications of these for our thinking about what social work is, and what it should be. Firstly, I will consider social work's contested and problematic place within the broader welfare domain. It is recognised as being a form of activity which inhabits an ambiguous and uncertain position at the interface between the individual and the social, and between the marginalised and the mainstream. Building on this, ‘power’ will be shown to infuse social work ideas and practices in a number of distinct dimensions, linking and bridging ‘personal’, ‘positional’ and ‘relational’ domains. This discussion will be juxtaposed with a discussion of ‘risk’ and the part it has come to play in shaping and infusing social work practices, especially but not exclusively with children. The deconstruction of contemporary understandings and uses of risk as a central and ‘authoritative’ feature of assessment and decision-making will inform the argument that it can be viewed as a vehicle for the maintenance and legitimation of power relations which disenfranchise and oppress those who are most vulnerable. In conclusion, I will summarise the ways in which conventional understandings and inter-related material realities of power and risk are often hierarchical, uni-directional and oppressive; and on this basis, how they can be laid open to challenge. The reconceptualisation and remaking of power relations will be shown to have direct consequences for the ways in which risk is defined and addressed as a social work ‘problem’.

Moral Tensions Between Western and Islamic Cultures: The Need for Additional Sociological Studies of Dissonance in the Wake of September 11

November 2001


33 Reads

This article suggests that, in the wake of the events of September 11th, it would be an error for sociologists and political analysts to concentrate on revisions of economic and political theory while not paying equal attention to the moral tensions between Islamic and Western cultures. It proposes that economic and geopolitical research be expanded to include bilateral studies of Western and Islamic conceptions of morality and standards of right and wrong. The argument is based on the proposition that certain Western liberal attitudes threaten Islamic peoples' commitment to the traditional family, thereby delaying conflict resolution and providing terrorists with additional venues for "justifying" their acts.

Surveillance After September 11

November 2001


766 Reads

The aftermath of terrorist attacks on September 11 2001 includes widespread tightening of surveillance. The responses are a prism that puts several things in perspective. One, it is premature to see decentralised and commercial surveillance simply supplanting nation-state power. Rather, the nation-state now draws upon an augmented surveillant assemblage for its own purposes. Two, reliance on high tech surveillance methods is undaunted by the low-tech attacks or the failure of high tech security systems already in place. While they may not work to curb terrorism they are likely to impede civil rights for citizens who will be even more profiled and screened. Three, the struggle to make mushrooming surveillance systems more democratically accountable and amenable to ethical scrutiny is being set back by panic regimes following September 11.

'Lifting up the Little Form': Victorian Images of Childhood and Death 1870-1900

August 2003


11 Reads

This paper takes forward the view put forward by Diana Gittins that the visual representation of childhood appeared simple but could have deceived Victorian audiences. It does this by analyzing those images - few in number - which linked childhood with death and describes them in relation to the majority of childhood imagery between 1870 and 1900. The paper also suggests that there are pitfalls in regarding the visual part of the historical record solely as an illustrative resource. The author argues that death did not belong in the Victorian cultural delineation of the child's world. Rather, mortality is best understood as one part of the adult domain in which the child was a relative stranger. When childhood was brought into close visual alignment with death, notions of remorse, reproof, sin and safety could emerge alongside grief as preoccupations which concealed as much as they revealed. The known reality of death's impact on children's lives was kept visually hidden from Victorian audiences, even if was acknowledged in many associated commentaries. The vast majority of images addressing childhood themes from the period set out a benign, if instructional, view of relationships between adults and children. Those few images which did link childhood with death were part of a social and cultural context which preferred to blot out their implications. Children were far more likely to be depicted as the embodiment of life. A preference existed for visual material which endorsed, rather than undermined, adult care and control of the child's world. Pictures linking mortality to childhood were few in number because they were unbearable to audiences for unacknowledged reasons. As well as grief, such scenes of mortality made graphic reference to occasions when adults were powerless to protect every child.

The Number of the South African War (1899-1902) Concentration Camp Dead: Standard Stories, Superior Stories and a Forgotten Proto-Nationalist Research Investigation

November 2009


158 Reads

Tilly extols the power and compass of \'superior stories\' compared with \'standard stories\'; however, in life things are not always so clear cut. A 1906 1914 research investigation headed by P. L. A. Goldman, initially concerned with the enumeration and commemoration of the deaths of Boer combatants during the South African War (1899-1902), later with the deaths of people in the concentration camps established in the commando phase of this war, is explored in detail using its archived documents. Now largely forgotten, the investigation was part of a commemorative project which sought to replace competing stories about wartime events with one superior version, as seen from a proto-nationalist viewpoint and harnessed to the wider purpose of nation-building. Goldman, the official in charge, responded to a range of methodological and practical difficulties in dealing with a huge amount of data received from a wide variety of sources, and made ad hoc as well as in principle decisions regarding how to handle these, and eventually producing \'the number\' as politically and organisationally required. However, another number of the South African War concentration camp dead - one which was both different and also added up incorrectly - concurrently appeared on a national women\'s memorial, the Vrouemonument, and it is this which has resounded subsequently. The reasons are traced to the character of stories and their power, and the visibility of stories about the concentration camp deaths in question the face of the Vrouemonument and their anonymity in Goldman\'s production of \'the number\'. Tilly\'s idea of an \'in-between\' approach to stories is drawn on in exploring this.

'A Slice of Life': Food Narratives and Menus from Mass-Observers in 1982 and 1945

June 2011


59 Reads

This paper reports on an analysis of hitherto unexamined documentary data on food held within the UK Mass Observation Archive (MOA). In particular it discusses responses to the 1982 Winter Directive which asked MOA correspondents about their experiences of food and eating, and the food diaries submitted by MOA panel members in 1945. What is striking about these data is the extent to which memories of food and eating are interwoven with recollections of the lifecourse; in particular social relations, family life, and work. It seems asking people about food generates insight into aspects of everyday life. In essence, memories of food provide a crucial and potentially overlooked medium for developing an appreciation of social change. We propose the concept \'food narratives\' to capture the essence of these reflections because they reveal something more than personal stories; they are both individual and collective experiences in that personal food narratives draw upon shared cultural repertoires, generational memories, and tensions between age cohorts. Food narratives are embodied and embedded in social networks, socio-cultural contexts and socio-economic epochs. Thus the daily menus recorded in 1945 and memories scribed in 1982 do not simply communicate what people ate, liked and disliked but throw light on two contrasting moments of British history; the end of the second world war and an era of transition, reform, individualization, diversity which was taking place in the early 1980s.

'Doing What is Right': Researching Intimacy, Work and Family Life in Glasgow, 1945-1960

June 2006


45 Reads

Understanding discursive shifts over the twentieth century in relation to family roles, paid work and care is essential to any critical review of contemporary family theory and policies. This paper charts aspects of these shifts. An analysis of case records of the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (RSSPCC), 1945 to 1960 is presented. Based upon these data we reflect upon the construction of the working-class family in the West of Scotland and draw upon one case study to illustrate issues further. This post-war period was one of rapid social and technological change. It is commonly perceived as a period of segregated gender roles, and in the UK a predominant male-breadwinner family model. The RSSPCC case records suggest that family lives and forms, particularly for those on low incomes, were diverse throughout this period. Although prosecutions for cruelty and neglect are dominant in perceptions of the society, most of its work was in material assistance, advice and surveillance. This latter aspect is considered in this paper.

Women in the British Sociological Labour Market, 1960-1995

February 2000


10 Reads

Women have been a much lower proportion of university teachers of sociology than of students in sociology in Britain, and have also been under-represented in the higher ranks of academia. This has often been treated as the effect of discrimination. However, a review of available data suggests that women's choices - however formed - have also played a role, and that changing historical circumstances have affected the demography of the discipline in ways which have had significant consequences for women (and men) independent of either choice or discrimination. The current pattern cannot be understood without its history, which reveals that much of the snapshot picture of the situation now follows from strata of recruitment laid down at earlier periods.

Through the Interviewer's Lens: Representations of 1960s Households and Families in a Lost Sociological Study

September 2009


67 Reads

In this paper we aim to use the interviewer notes from a lost sociological project to answer two broad, interrelated, questions: i) how was family life documented and represented by the researchers in their interviewer notes and ii) what does analysing interviewer notes in this way add to our understanding of families and households? The answers to these questions are considered in the context of a further question – why did the young worker research contain so much data on families and households when the research was concerned with young workers\' early workplace experiences? In answering these questions we offer some insight into family life in the 1960s as documented by the researchers and locate Elias\'s young worker research within the context of the other large sociology research projects being undertaken at the time.

Que Reste-T-Il Des Héritiers Et De La Reproduction (1964-1971) Aujourd'hui? Questions, Méthodes, Concepts Et Réception D'une Sociologie De L'éducation

December 2007


75 Reads

J\'ai essayé de restituer ici quelques informations historiographiques, à partir de mes notes d\'enseignement, de documents de recherche des années 60 et, le plus souvent, de simples souvenirs de discussions avec d\'autres chercheurs ; souvenirs aussi de lectures d\'ouvrages et de compte-rendus de cette époque ou de confrontations avec des auditoires (universitaires ou non) dans des débats publics. Je me suis donc placé dans le cadre des questions posée par J.-L. Robert dans son introduction à la Journée d\'études sur \' les concepts élaborés dans la période 1945-1975 ,\' ainsi que des démarche qui se voulaient scientifiques avec leurs méthodes, leurs questions, leurs objets, leurs sources et conclusions \' ; mais aussi dans le cadre du suivi, sur deux décennies, de \' la diffusion et de l\'appropriation des concepts \' qui concernaient au premier chef la sociologie de l\'éducation et de la culture . Je réponds ainsi à plusieurs questions de fait que posait J.-M. Chapoulie dans son introduction ou sur lesquelles il a sollicité ma mémoire. Mais je n\'entre pas dans le rappel de ce qu\'ont été mes rapports personnels avec Bourdieu durant la douzaine d\'années de collaboration étroite où s\'est élaborée une sociologie de l\'éducation qui nous était en gros commune et qui l\'est restée, en dépit de notre divergence épistémologique après 1972, puisque je viens d\'en donner un aperçu dans un article récent

'Homosexuality and the New Right: The Legacy of the 1980s for New Delineations of Homophobia'

May 2000


554 Reads

This article addresses the relationship between the New Right and the politics of homosexuality in the United Kingdom. It begins by outlining recent political conflicts surrounding attempts to equalise the 'gay age of consent' and to repeal Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988). The article then examines the New Right's relationship to homosexuality in the 1980s, and the history of socio-political analyses of this relationship. It is argued that pro-gay left theorists have tended to homogenize the New Right of the 1980s, with negative consequences for the analysis of more recent right-wing transformations. The article suggests that contemporary right-wing campaigns against equalisation of the age of consent and abolition of Section 28 need to be understood as the product of a complex right-wing alliance between old-style Conservatism and new right-wing generations. The sexual values of William Hague and Michael Portillo are very different from those of Margaret Thatcher or Norman Tebbit. More mediated forms of homophobia have surfaced in recent campaigns, particularly in the defence of Section 28. New analytical tools are needed to map 'new delineations of homophobia' emerging in the political language of the right, operating within a new terrain of sexual politics. The conclusion suggests ways in which such a perspective could inform future sociological and political research agendas.

'Austro-Pop' Since the 1980s: Two Case Studies of Cultural Critique and Counter- Hegemonic Resistance

February 2002


35 Reads

Recent political and social developments in Austria have been widely portrayed in simplistically metonymic terms, with controversial figures such as Waldheim and Haider being perceived to epitomise Austrian society as a whole. In this paper, I analyse the discursive/lyrical content of some of the songs by STS and Austria 3, two of the most successful bands within the genre of Austrian popular music. Approaching these two case studies from the theoretical perspectives of discourse analysis and cognitive anthropology, I will show that 'Austro-Pop' has - at important junctures in recent Austrian history - served as a tool of ideological resistance and created sites of social critique and cultural introspection. This paper thus illustrates that popular music analysed as discourse can draw attention to social heterogeneity and competing ideologies. The resulting sociological account challenges widespread portrayals - both journalistic and academic - of Austrian society as ideologically monolithic. Popular music will therefore be shown to offer valuable empirical data concerning some important sociological and social psychological issues such as the spread and contestation of ideas, the 'nature' of public opinion and the individual's agency in relation to it.

Shifting Classes: Interactions with Industry and Gender Shifts in the 1980s

November 2000


16 Reads

Data drawn from Population Census of Great Britain suggest that both the images of proletarianisation and upward shift of the class structure are over-generalised. Shift-share analysis is used for the period 1981-1991 to explore the complex interactions between changes in class composition within industrial sectors, change in the relative size of sectors and sex composition shifts (within classes, within sectors and within class/sector categories). For example, sector shifts explain change in numbers of self-employed professionals and semi- skilled manual workers but changes in class composition within sectors account for changes in numbers of managers, non-manual ancillary workers and artists, unskilled workers and own account workers other than professionals. Change in class composition does not account for the change in the sex ratios within classes. Although sector shifts contribute to a decline of the male/female ratio in most classes, this process is uneven, with both declining male dominated and growing female dominated sectors, whose effect is partly counterbalanced by growing male dominated and declining female dominated sectors.

Gender Life Course Transitions from the Nuclear Family in England and Wales 1981-2001

July 2007


113 Reads

Lawrence Ware






In recent years there has been much political debate in the popular media about the fate of the nuclear family in the UK. Very little work has been done, using population data, to actually demonstrate the decline, or indeed continuance of this type of household formation. In this paper we use Office for National Statistics (ONS) longitudinal census data, from England and Wales, to explore the formation, dissolution and continuance of the nuclear family household over a twenty year period (1981- 2001). Our findings indicate a continuing importance of this household arrangement, however routes into and trajectories from nuclear family households take different forms for men and women across the life course.

Table 2 also suggest that Druze men succeeded in closing the gap between themselves
Table 5 presents the regression analysis of women's monthly (ln) income against the
Ethnicity, Class and the Earning Inequality in Israel, 1983-1995

September 2005


151 Reads

This paper focuses on the role of ethnicity and class in generating earnings inequality in Israel. Unlike previous studies on inequality of opportunities in Israel, in this paper I compare the earnings of five ethnic groups: European Jews (Ashkenazi), Asian-African Jews (Sephardi), Muslim Palestinians, Christian Palestinians and Druze Palestinians. In addition, both men and women are taken into account. The analysis, which is based on data obtained from the 1983 and 1995 Israeli population censuses, has revealed that in Israel, class variations resulting from the differentiation of employment contracts in the labour market, appear to have played a much more important role over time in producing earnings inequality. However, at the same time, it was found that class in this context is highly related to ethnicity, thereby suggesting that class and ethnicity are interwoven. While it seemed that to some extent, class plays a similar role among men and women, the role of ethnicity among men was much more central than it was among women, in the allocation of people into class positions.

Female Involvement in the Miners' Strike 1984-1985: Trajectories of Activism

January 2007


1,030 Reads

This paper is based on recent primary research interviews with women who were active in the 1984-1985 miners\' strike. The paper claims that one depiction of women\'s engagement in the strike has been privileged above others: activist women were miners\' wives who embarked on a linear passage from domesticity and political passivity into politicisation and then retreated from political engagement following the defeat. This depiction is based on a masculinist view which sees political action as organisationally based and which fails to recognise the importance of small scale and emotional political work which women did and continue to undertake within their communities. In reality many women were politically active and aware prior to the dispute though not necessarily in a traditional sense. Women\'s activism is characterised by continuity: those women who have maintained activism were likely to have been socially and/or politically active prior to the dispute.

Youth Research in the 1990s: Time for (Another) Rethink

January 1997


16 Reads

Extended review of: Cohen, P. (1997) Rethinking the Youth Question: Education, Labour and Cultural Studies. London: Macmillan. Furlong, A. and F. Cartmel (1997) Young People and Social Change: Individualisation and Late Modernity. Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press. Roche, J. and S. Tucker (1996) Youth in Society: Contemporary Theory, Policy and Practice. London: Sage, in association with The Open University. Wyn, J. and J. White (1996) Rethinking Youth. London: Sage.

Is Social Mobility Really Declining? Intergenerational Class Mobility in Britain in the 1990s and the 2000s

August 2011


275 Reads

This paper contributes to the ongoing debate on social mobility in contemporary Britain among economists and sociologists. Using the 1991 British Household Panel Survey and the 2005 General Household Survey, we focus on the mobility trajectories of male and female respondents aged 25-59. In terms of absolute mobility, we find somewhat unfavourable trends in upward mobility for men although long-term mobility from the working class into salariat positions is still in evidence. An increase in downward mobility is clearly evident. In relation to women, we find favourable trends in upward mobility and unchanging downward mobility over the fourteen-year time period. With regard to relative mobility, we find signs of greater fluidity in the overall pattern and declining advantages of the higher salariat origin for both men and women. We consider these findings in relation to the public debate on social mobility and the academic response and we note the different preoccupations of participants in the debate. We conclude by suggesting that the interdisciplinary debate between economists and sociologists has been fruitful although a recognition of similarities, and not simply differences in position, pushes knowledge and understanding forward.

The Plausibility of Class Cultural Explanations: An Analysis of Social Homogeneity using Swedish Data from the Late 1990s

February 2001


9 Reads

Previous findings of large absolute mobility to service I class (the "upper" part of the "salariat") can be seen as a sign of the implausibility of class cultures. However, it is argued that these findings might be due to inappropriate divisions of class. Using Swedish data, and following a Weberian definition of class, a social class schema is derived empirically from marriage tendencies. Social homogeneity (immobility and in-marriage) is found to be relatively large in the working classes and in certain subgroups of service I. One interpretation of this, and the fact that there are few inter-marriages and a low level of mobility between the working class and these subgroups of service I, is that class structure might be bipolar such that the extremes are upholders of certain norms and cultures. The possible upper classes of service I need to be better operationalised in future research. Thus, since class cultures are plausible, and since individualistic rational action theory appears to be insufficient for explaining all possible class differentials (as earlier research has indicated), future class analysis might better rely on both rational action theory and class cultural explanations.

Assessing the Representativeness of the 1992 British Crime Survey: The Impact of Sampling Error and Response Biases

December 1997


24 Reads

The paper highlights the importance of the representativeness of survey samples, using the 1992 British Crime Survey as an example. The success with which different demographic characteristics are represented in the survey sample is addressed by comparison to the 1991 Census Small Area Statistics for England and Wales. In addition, biases associated with different response rates in different areas are addressed, and given the nature of the survey, the impact of an area's crime rate on its response rate is also analysed. Finally, regression modelling is used to identify whether the same variables have explanatory power in explaining differences in crime rate and response rate.

How Middle-Class Parents Help Their Children Obtain an Advantaged Qualification: a Study of Strategies of Teachers and Managers for Their Children's Education in Hong Kong Before the 1997 Handover

December 2007


37 Reads

It is well-documented for most industrial-capitalist societies that despite educational expansion, class differentials in educational attainment persist. This paper seeks to understand mechanisms maintaining the class differentials by examining how two groups of middle-class parents – teachers and managers – help their children obtain an advantaged qualification. Qualitative data were collected in Hong Kong between 1996 and 1997. Given a changing employment structure, teachers and managers anticipated that their children would need at least a bachelor\'s degree in order not to become disadvantaged in the future labour market and therefore used economic, cultural, and social resources to enable their children to obtain such a qualification. However, despite their strategies, whether respondents will succeed in achieving that remains uncertain. In addition, the evidence also indicated that their strategies could be counter-productive. This points to a need for researching into possible negative impacts of strategies of middle-class parents on their children\'s academic performance and emotion. As Hong Kong is then under the Chinese rule after the 1997 handover, this study documenting strategies of middle-class parents for their children\'s education under the British rule could serve as a reference for future comparisons.

The Kosovan War, 1998-99: Transformations of State, War and Genocide in the Global Revolution

June 1999


5 Reads

This paper outlines an analysis of the Kosovan war of 1998-99 in the light of historical-sociological perspectives on the contemporary state and on war and genocide. It argues that Kosova poses new challenges which threaten to relegitimate war as a means of politics, after the earlier implication of total war with genocide, unless alternative forms of international intervention are developed.

Sociology And, of and in Web 2.0: Some Initial Considerations

September 2007


706 Reads

This paper introduces the idea of Web 2.0 to a sociological audience as a key example of a process of cultural digitization that is moving faster than our ability to analyse it. It offers a definition, a schematic overview and a typology of the notion as part of a commitment to a renewal of description in sociology. It provides examples of wikis, folksonomies, mashups and social networking sites and, where possible and by way of illustration, examines instances where sociology and sociologists are featured. The paper then identifies three possible agendas for the development of a viable sociology of Web 2.0: the changing relations between the production and consumption of internet content; the mainstreaming of private information posted to the public domain; and, the emergence of a new rhetoric of \'democratisation\'. The paper concludes by discussing some of the ways in which we can engage with these new web applications and go about developing sociological understandings of the new online cultures as they become increasingly significant in the mundane routines of everyday life.

'Changing Places: Privilege and Resistance in Contemporary Ireland' Sociological Research online (2000) November 5,3

November 2000


43 Reads

Peer reviewed: This paper explores the reality of patriarchal privileging and resistance within a society which has undergone dramatic change over the past twenty-five years. Using Foucault's ideas of power and resistance (1980; 1988; 1989) and Connell's ideas of the patriarchal dividend (1995 a and b) it first explores these key concepts. It then draws together a wide range of empirical evidence to document the ongoing reality of patriarchal privileging in the world of paid work and the family in Ireland. It then however identifies and illustrates fourteen analytically different types of resistance including the creation of an alternative power base in the family; facilitating the emergence of new child rearing structures; naming the 'enemy within'; naming aspects of culture which are not 'woman friendly'; whistle blowing; targeting key structures; negative power etc. It concludes by suggesting (drawing on Acker, 1998) that although the institutional structures reflect the needs and wishes of powerful men, choices can still be made by individual men and women.

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