The Political Biographies of Social Workers in a Neoliberal Era

Hefin Gwilym


It is argued in this article that since the 1980s there has been a paradigm shift away from social work as a social justice and social transformative profession to a depoliticised, neutral and technocratic activity. This shift has occured during the era of neoliberalism which some commentators regard as an example of ‘hegemony’ at work in the social work profession. The article contextualises the political nature of social work and the ascendancy of neoliberalism and its ally managerialism in the profession. It explores these phenomena through an empirical study of the political biographies of fourteen social workers who have developed into political careers, such as parliamentarians. Fourteen biographical interviews were conducted and analysed using a constructivist grounded theory analysis process. The findings demonstrate how participants sustained their social work identity in the face of the neoliberal ascendancy within the social work profession and maintained a stable social reformist political identity throughout their life course to date. It also demonstrates how strongly attached the participants are to their social work identity during their political careers. The research has importance for the social work profession not least because this group can advocate on behalf of the profession at a critical time.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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