To What Extent Can Social Work Be Adequately Conceptually Understood in Terms of a Position at the Interface Between Social Exclusion and Social Inclusion?

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SCW 541

Contemporary Social Work Theory and Issues

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To what extent can social work be adequately conceptually understood in terms of a position at the interface between social exclusion and social inclusion?

To what extent can social work be adequately conceptually understood in terms of a position at the interface between social exclusion and social inclusion?

According to the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) the social work profession ‘promotes the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance wellbeing. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments’ (IFSW, 2000). However the social work role is questioned, in both its operational approach, and in terms of where it is positioned at the interface of individuals that are excluded and included within today’s society. This essay will aim, using relevant theories and concepts, to provide the opinion of the author, regarding their notion of how the social work role is delivered, and moreover, grasp an understanding of where this role is located, either working with the socially excluded or leaning towards the concept of inclusion.

The term social exclusion was coined in France by Rene Lenoir in 1974, (Gore, 1995, Silver, 1995, Haan, 1998, cited in Islam, 2005: 4) and, in his opinion, referred to people who were omitted from employment-based social security systems. His reference to the excluded consisted of the ‘mentally and physically handicapped, suicidal people, aged individuals, abused children, drug addicts, delinquents, single parents, multi-problem households, marginal asocial persons and other social misfits’ (Silver, 1994-95: 532). Social exclusion did not replace poverty as a concept but referred to the ‘broader process of social disintegration – an increasing rupture of the bond between the individual and society’ (Islam, 2005: 4). As Lenoir suggests, social exclusion transpires in many forms; race, poverty and deprivation, employment, and class, and retains varied definitions. According to Sheppard (2006), the best definition that provides an understanding of all the dimensions of social exclusion was submitted by the Child Poverty Action Group (Walker and Walker, 1997, cited in Sheppard, 2006) ‘social exclusion refers to the dynamic process of being shut out, fully or partially, from any of the social, economic, political and cultural systems which determine the social integration of society’. However, the model of ‘social exclusion’ has only been in use in the UK for a relatively short time, and its extensive practice could indicate that it ‘describes a phenomenon that already existed, but lacked a suitable name’ (Page 2000: 4). Marx, for example, refers to the ‘underclasses in contemporary capitalist society. According to Marx members of the proletariat are compelled to sell their labour power to the bourgeoisie in order to ‘attain for themselves the means to their own subsistence’ (Ashley and Orenstein, 1998). Marx was aware of the growth of the middle classes, situated at the interface of proletariat on the one side and the bourgeoisie on the other, thus increasing the security and power of the upper class. Subsequently this produced a different division of the working class, Marx’s ‘lumpenproletariat’, for example; the migrant population, the indigents, the unemployed and those in poverty and deprivation, individuals that today would be the termed ‘socially excluded’. According to Marx, class structures are primary in determining the main social classes, the focal forms of struggle within societies, and the life experiences of people in these classes. However, secondary forms of inequality and oppression occur within each class, and these may take the form of racial and ethnic inequalities, or gender inequalities. Marxist feminists argue that,...
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