The tension between managerial and critical professional discourses in social work

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Summary: While managerialism is widely criticized for its deskilling effect on professional discourses, the evaluation of the power relations between managerialism and the critical professionalism that opposes it has not yet been sufficiently developed. To enable the assessment of fluctuations in these power relations, this study used in-depth interviews with 14 street-level social workers to examine the encounter between these discursive standpoints in the context of a specific case of an administrative request for critical professional programs to be implemented in the field. Findings: The findings highlight the operation of recognition as a salient parameter of discursive power positions. We address three aspects of recognition—discursive, interpersonal, and institutional—and demonstrate the existence of a struggle over the acceptable professional standpoint in the institutionalized public field of social work. Applications: Attention should be given to the different dimensions of recognition in order to enable the implementation of critical practice in the public field of social work. These dimensions can be addressed through broad training of various players in the field and the institutional backing of critical practice requirements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)951-969
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge the support received from the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Social work
  • critical social work
  • discourse analysis
  • managerialism
  • poverty
  • social policy


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