Faulty ‘tools’? Why social work scholarship needs to take a more critical approach to Michel Foucault
(2020) Journal of Social Work, 20 (4), pp. 483-500.
Summary: Having outlined Foucault’s articulation of power and governmentality, the article critically explores attempts to translate the philosopher’s theorisation into social work. Findings: After briefly referring to Jacques Donzelot’s work and that of other writers, it is argued that Foucault’s conceptual ‘tools’ are problematic for those seeking to promote critical approaches within the field of social work. Those influenced by Foucault’s complex contributions may amplify a defective understanding of power which unduly emphasises ‘soft’ power and neglects the continuing significance of hierarchical and coercive power. This is reflected in Foucault’s analysis of the state and, at a micro level, his remarks on sexualised interactions involving adults and children. Efforts to ‘apply’ Foucauldian reasoning within social work may also risk promoting politically passive forms of theory and practice. Applications: Contributing to the discipline’s literature on Foucault, the article maintains the social work scholarship has much to gain by engaging with work, but this engagement might aspire to become more critical. © The Author(s) 2019.
critical social theory; Foucault; governmentality; power; Social work
adult, article, child, human, human experiment, male, neglect, social work, sociological theory