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Social work book review: Radical Hope

Posted: June 17 2022

Social Work 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: Radical Hope: Poverty-Aware Practice for Social Work
  • Author: Michal Krumer-Nevo
  • ISBN: 9781447354925
  • Publication: Bristol: Policy Press, 2020
  • Reviewed by: Sherica Harper, MSc Social Work Student
  • The review was originally published online in the journal Qualitative Social Work: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/14733250221095127

Michal Krumer-Nevo is a Professor at the Spitzer Department of Social Work at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and has a rich social work background. She has created a new hope-filled framework for those who want to see social work as a profession rooted in critical thinking and fighting for justice. This is accomplished through the implementation of the Poverty-Aware Paradigm (PAP), a therapeutic approach to understanding and responding to poverty. The reader is asked to see poverty through the PAP paradigm as a direct violation of one’s human rights, and its radical nature confronts poverty through two interconnected channels based on recognition and respect politics, and redistribution politics. Rather than viewing it as a module or evidence-based procedure, PAP translates theory and ethics into practice. The reader will discover that theory and practice form a dynamic equilibrium that promotes critical thinking and, as a result, assists professionals in developing an awareness of poverty. Krumer-Nevo believes that all social work practices, including policy practise, are based on theoretical and ethical principles, whether recognised or not and that poverty is embedded in them. She believes that there are two dominant paradigms in the field of social work that relate to poverty: the structural and the conservative.

The conservative paradigm, according to the book, is based on the historical concept of the ‘undeserving poor’, who are treated less favourably than the ‘deserving poor’. The structural model, on the other hand, seeks to change society rather than the individual who has been subjected to inequality. Furthermore, the book reveals how the paradigm distinctions are reflected in policies and regulations. The book presents evidence indicating that trauma and poverty have a negative impact on the neurological system and cognitive development. According to the book, conservative models regard people living in poverty as ‘Others’. The reader will recognise the significance of knowing the term ‘Others’ when performing social work functions dealing with poverty. The book focuses on the deficits and social pathologies that lead to poverty. It is not the poor themselves who are to blame, but rather their social circumstances. To effectively impact change, Krumer-Nevo believes that social workers must truly listen to service users and their misery.

The book shows that practice derived from the conservative model views poverty as a background variable and not important for change while policies centre on individual solutions focused on behavioural change. The book vividly depicts the penalties imposed on those living in poverty for failing to meet the requirements imposed by the State, as well as the important role the State plays in finding solutions. Furthermore, according to Krumer-Nevo, the perception of poverty as a product of institutional and structural arrangements emphasises redistribution politics, which seeks to eliminate the structural barriers that push people into poverty and prevent them from exiting it. The reader will begin to see why pre-school programmes, for example, are nuanced ways of disguising poverty rather than addressing it. As a result, the book views poverty as a wheel with three layers: material core, social opportunities, and relational symbolic features. The reader is encouraged to consider poverty not just as a macro-level issue of inequality, but also as a micro-level issue. Krumer-Nevo advises social workers to adopt a poverty-aware approach to grasp the magnitude of poverty’s impact on individuals, as well as to recognise that viewing poverty as a result of societal inequality alters service users’ experiences. The book explains how much of social work’s job is based on conservative mindsets that view people’s behaviours as the source of their problems. As a result, Krumer-Nevo feels that to put structural paradigms into practice, a third paradigm is required. PAP is most suited since it bridges the gap between the structural analysis and the micro levels of behaviour and interactions. PAP also aspires to create a holistic approach to undertaking direct practice with individuals in poverty. Since poverty affects macro and micro levels of social growth, the reader will understand that the symbols employed to depict poverty are significant and transformational.

By allowing the reader to view ‘aspects of reality that were previously concealed’ Krumer-Nevo reinforces PAP’s transforming ability. Othering, structural injustice, and power dynamics become more visible and unavoidable when this perspective is applied. Case studies are provided to allow the reader to put the information they have learned into context and to further and provoke the use of the information presented. The book teaches that language is extremely important because it reveals a lot about us and influences the outcomes we reach as professionals. PAP has six principles that Krumer-Nevo believes will influence the way in which we talk about poverty. These are acknowledging the knowledge of those living in poverty, recognising their pain, the connection between material and emotional needs, recognising what poverty is how it manifests itself, rejecting poverty and creating policies to reinforce this notion and that people living in poverty constantly resist poverty. The book states that to understand a person’s subjectivity, we must acknowledge the context of poverty in their life. It also emphasises that one of the most difficult challenges in PAP pedagogy is deconstructing hegemonic perceptions of poverty and the book addresses the assumptions around this. The reader can comprehend that critically teaching PAP involves five principles which are making room for vulnerability, pain and anger, allowing oneself to be an outsider, transforming knowledge and attitude into practice, remembering radical baggage and making a change without abusing power. According to Krumer-Nevo, PAP views service users as having a problem with their social and symbolic capital rather than with their dependence. Relationships are an important part of the PAP paradigm, and recognising pain necessitates close trusting relationships as well as partnerships with service users. The book mirrors people’s pain and resistance while highlighting the importance of strength and agency. The reader can see how social workers must take a poverty awareness viewpoint that identifies the link between people’s internal and external reality to be regarded as essential by service users. As a future social worker, I plan to pay greater attention to service users’ expertise and assist them in using it to promote good discourse and self-awareness. This is a book that I will return to throughout my professional career because it is informative, and it explains poverty methodically while suggesting proven ways to address it. It’s a must-read for any current or aspiring social worker or professional. PAP views solidarity as an ethical principle that dictates the position of social workers, and the paradigm will help anyone understand that results should not be only based on ‘evidence’ but on a genuine understanding of poverty and acknowledging it as a violation of the rights of others.