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Towards a Theory of Power and Communication in Social Work
Örebro University, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0535-7773
2017 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The need for an elaboration of a mutual understanding between worldviews is steadily increasing in our societies today, due to growing economic, social, cultural, and religious gaps. To enhance wellbeing, integration and democracy, the growing gaps require a substantial level of communication between representatives for public institutions - such as social services - and citizens. Social workers share the insight that a specific communicative competence signifies the profession. They, however, also share the experience that social work is involved in a multidimensional battle about what power and communication is and ought to be, respectively. The battle is framed as New Public Management (NPM). The outcome of NPM’s rule seems to be leading towards strict conformal structures of power and communication in a time where professional ethics and knowledge could and, for all we know, should be guiding the interaction between social workers and citizens to enhance mutual integration in a globalized society. Research on power and communication in social work show a rather rigid understanding of power relations. Despite the use of theory, be it reflected, or heavily theoretically guided as for example in the case of poststructuralists, inspired by Foucault - and irrespective of the starting point or the theoretical awareness of the researcher - power seems to be described as a unidirectional process in which the social worker HAS power and the client IS powerless. As a part of this standard package of power, it seems as if the only recommendations of handling the lack of equality is to try mitigating it by empowerment. Empowerment is framing the power of citizens as clients most of the time. There is an intrinsic problem here, since the idea of empowerment seems to hold an automatically triggered top-down position as the process starts with the social worker passing power to the client. To enhance inclusion and democracy in times of social change and globalization, social work needs a theory of power and communication that makes sense, in the tight corridors of action offered in the social services. It is the aim of this paper to outline the conceptual brickwork necessary for the construction of a theory of communication and power in social work. The first conceptual brick is derived from the concepts of intersectionality, inspired by Foucault’s theory of power and the second from Habermas’ discourse ethics. The theories of Habermas and Foucault, respectively, are often perceived as incomparable, but I find a great potential in bringing them together. One binding element between them is the concept of intersubjectivity, a main component in the theoretical construction of Habermas and its connection to Arendt. Her theory of power and violence is another binding element. Even further Durkheim and the concept of moral delivers another conceptual connection. The clue for this theory is derived from my empirical studies of social work and cultural diversity. The next step is to apply the theory in an ongoing study aiming at understanding communicative processes between social workers and inhabitants in an exposed, suburban area in Sweden.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017.
Keywords [en]
Theory, Communication, Power, Social Work
National Category
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-66256OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-66256DiVA, id: diva2:1194289
Conference
15th TiSSA Pre and Plenum Conference (TISSA 2017), Olsztyn, Poland, August 25-30, 2017
Available from: 2018-03-29 Created: 2018-03-29 Last updated: 2018-04-04Bibliographically approved

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Baianstovu, Rúna Í

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