Feminist Social Work Theory and Practice.
Noble, Carolyn
Pub Date:
Name: Women in Welfare Education Publisher: Women in Welfare Education Collective Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Women's issues/gender studies Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2002 Women in Welfare Education Collective ISSN: 1834-4941
Date: Sept, 2002 Source Volume: 5

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Lena Dominelli, Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire 2002, ISBN 0 333 77154 0. Paperback

Professor Dominelli's new book on feminist social work theory and practice builds on her many works in this area of scholarship. This edition brings up to date issues and reflections on the way feminist theory informs much of what social work has traditionally been about and offers itself as a challenge to current postmodernist attacks about the relevance of theorising in the collective. Professor Dominelli's broad thesis is that it is absurd to think that issues concerning women and children have either been resolved or can be incorporated in the 'post' critiques that want the 'parts' to be separated from the 'whole'. Incorporating men in feminist analysis is essential if feminist social work is to progress.

She reminds the reader that feminist writings have always been about difference, the exclusion of marginalised voices and the analysis of power and discourses. The scholarly and practice inspired attempts to identify and name the various tensions and forms of oppression affecting women's lived experiences is another major focus. In keeping to her commitment to feminist theorising this book draws attention to the social condition of women and children worldwide as still characterised by discrimination, exploitation, marginalisation, fragmation from public life, poverty, abuse, violence and patriarchal dominance. New ways of thinking about and working toward the continued emancipation of women and children are offered for those social workers who want to stay committed to the feminist project.

Responding to the criticisms of contemporary feminist theorising against charges of essentialism, Professor Dominelli argues that it is hard to maintain this critique to all works produced by women scholars and practitioners over the last decade or two. In fact, in her first chapter, she reminds us of the many and varied texts that address the differentiated experiences of women's oppression and the adaptation of their analysis to this diversity (p.7). Feminist social work is about the commitment to social change to better the lives of women, children and more latterly men. This is done by continuing to explore ways to understand and eradicate patterns of inequality, while at the same time evaluating ways to understand the continuities and discontinues that have "been unhelpfully dismissed and sacrificed to individualism (p.8). Professor Dominelli is arguing for the collective informed by individual experiences.

But this is not the only concern of this book. Professor Dominelli wants feminist social workers to revisit the dramatic changes in the landscape of welfare 'reform' and its effect on the lives of women. Macro changes in monetary policy, the devaluing of the welfare state, the underfunding and gradual withdrawing of state-funded community services, the push towards individuals supporting themselves by purchasing private services or relying on the unpaid voluntary and domestic realm (mainly women) poses many problems for feminist practitioners as well as academics. Case examples are given to highlight the argument.

Research for this book comes from interviews with clients and practitioners in many aspects of social work practice. The broad headings include working with men; working with children and families; working with adults (particularly aged care); and working with offenders. In each case a feminist perspective is explored as both praxis and theory. Her style is informal and she uses stories from the participants to support her thesis. Placing her views and perspectives squarely in the text, she uses the personal as political as doctrine to feminist scholarship. Drawing on her many other books Professor Dominelli extends her argument to current social work policies and practices in Britain today. A detailed framework is listed in the conclusion drawing together the tenets under which feminist social work practice can identify itself. Although Britain is the practice setting in which the cases are explored, many of the issues and concerns raised can be applied to Australian social workers who are facing many of the dilemmas identified in the latter part of this book.

This latest work by Professor Dominelli is unashamedly feminist in its perspective and will therefore be criticised by a rising number of social work academics committing themselves to a postmodernist view of Academe, the profession and working with individuals. Professor Dominelli knows this and counteracts her distracters by arguing that postmodernist critiques of feminist social work analysis fail to acknowledge the rich diversity in feminist theorising and the tactical importance of identifying commonalties among people in different situations. Tactical and/or strategic bases for action are still regarded as major foci in resisting domination and oppression in the lives of women and children. While there is no new theory as such there is a new way of reviewing the changing welfare landscape that continues to impact on the lives of women, children and men. The willing or unwilling complicity of social workers is in this process is highlighted.

Agree or not there is no doubt that this book has important points to make. Especially for feminist practitioners wishing to reclaim lost ground from the postmodernist attack regarding the relevance and importance of a feminist analysis. Indeed, this book will legitimate their concerns by presenting a 'new' view of feminist practice for those social work practitioners wanting to continue working toward universal, egalitarian ways to address inequalities endemic in late capitalist, patriarchal Western societies. If this is you, then this is the book you have been looking for.

Associate Professor Carolyn Noble, PhD School of Applied Social and Human Sciences, University of Western Sydney, Australia.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.