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Social Work for Lazy Radicals (book review)

Posted: June 01 2021

Student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Social Work for Lazy Radicals: Relationship building, Critical Thinking and Courage in Practice 
  • Author: Jane Fenton 
  • ISBN: 978-1-352-00245-4 
  • Publication: Macmillan International Higher Education: London
  • Reviewed by: Karen Maria Layne, MA Social Work Student at Brunel University London (Originally published online at the Journal of Qualitative Social Work: First Published on April 30, 2021: https://doi.org/10.1177/14733250211013145)

Jane Fenton is a Reader in Social Work at the University of Dundee, and head of Taught Post Graduate Programmes for the school. Her research and teaching interests are Teaching and Values, Neoliberalism and Risk and Decision.

Jane Fenton has a background in Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) and her work has been cited in work based on Social Work ethics and values. Her most recent book, Social Work for Lazy Radicals: Relationship Building, Critical Thinking and Courage in Practice discusses the radical social worker in practice whilst exploring societal constraint and the developing of critical thinking through the practice of social work. Jane Fenton considers societies’ wider structural issues such as the benefits system and socioeconomics and invites the reader to think critically around these factors and engage in social work with their own moral courage. Asking the reader to start unpacking social issues, the book gives a history lesson that enables understanding of societal structures and what is it within societies’ norms that leads an individual to take a turning point that means that they now need to access services of assessment and support. The reader is given a history lesson on social issues that are impacted by political decision, political position, economics, and discusses the moral panic that is created by policy which supports deprivation. The book makes references to hegemonic neoliberal narratives; once again Fenton asks us to think about dominance in society, whether that be social or political. Further discussion explores different social and political ideas that affect and reflect on some of the service users that a social worker might encounter as they navigate through structures such as housing and benefits. The reader is encouraged to use and reflect on knowledge that the book provides and think critically when building relationships with the service user. Case studies are given to provoke thinking and enable the reader to start using what they have read in the previous chapters. The book demonstrates and maps out how and when you apply your knowledge, critical thinking and build a trusting relationship with the service user to enable intervention with positive outcomes. The reader will gain perspective of the ability to deconstruct the negative narrative that is given to those who are in need of services or face deprivation and work towards real positive outcomes, not just for societal gratification but for the service user to flourish. Different discourses centred around empathy and how it impacts a Social Workers practice in terms of the different service users that a Social Worker might encounter are presented. The book demonstrates that a Social Worker must be able to build trust to enable them to apply positive practice. This is demonstrated through practice examples that encourage you to think critically along with stop and think boxes in the book which are useful as they encourage the reader to reflect on the material that they are engaging with and consider the material in different real-life scenarios. Jane Fenton explores the idea that within the role of a Social Worker we are unwittingly choosing to be a Radical as a career choice. But does that said Radical go out and protest or does the Radical confine themselves to their practice and take risks that allow them to encompass their moral courage. Jane Fenton calls into question the confines of Social Work and its societal role as the agency that will enable the service user to meet and achieve social norms and why some Social Workers have failed before they have begun. The book can be referred to by teachers, but it can also work as a reminder for Social Workers who have been in Practice for a long period of time who may have lost their way and the vision of why they chose Social Work as a career path. Jane Fenton’s use of language within the book has given thought to those who may just be starting their journey into Social Work, whether that be the University Student or the newly registered Social Worker. The glossary removes barriers to understanding the text and makes the reading accessible to the student reader. Accessible meaning to what you are reading makes interpretation and understanding simplistic so that you may engage in the reading and gain a clearer insight into the topics that are raised and explored. This is a practical book which deals with societal structures and the affect that this can have on social work practice. The reader is constantly reminded that Social Work and the way in which the practice engages with families and individuals will call upon the Social Workers at time to be the middleman in decision making but it is at that point that a Social Worker should become Radical and take risks and be courageous in terms of decision making. As a student, the book invites me to undertake my critical thinking and to be radical through my Practice to take risks and not forget my moral courage. This moral Courage will be developed through future practice as I pursue my Social Work Career and continue to fight for justice. The book can accompany most Social Work Modules as it relies on the ethics and values of Social Work. An important book that will serve any student well as they pursue the journey into Social Work. This book will be referred to in years to come as a basis for Social Workers as we remember not to just think but to think critically as we work within social constraints and reflect upon the Social structures that relate to Social work practice and the defined lines of a framed society.