Critical discourse analysis and social work

Authored by: Karen D. Roscoe

The Routledge Handbook of Critical Social Work

Print publication date:  January  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138578432
eBook ISBN: 9781351264402
Adobe ISBN:


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Garrett’s Chapter 1 in this Handbook discussed words like ‘resilience’ to outline to practitioners how concepts (ideas) in the form of key words are embedded in wider social policies. These words influence the organisation and delivery of social work services and practice in purposeful ways. For example, in Garrett’s (2017) book Welfare Words, a chapter is dedicated to the concept of resilience, demonstrating how this is a recurring idea that is prominent in welfare as it reflects many ideas of self-help or coaching. This chapter extends on developing this type of ‘language critique’ in critical social work by deploying Fairclough’s (1995) three-dimensional analysis of discourse. This analytical framework exposes how selection and choice of words will inevitably impact upon our everyday interactions in social work practice (known as discursive practices). These discursive practices echo and represent wider ideological, historical and contemporary knowledge formations surrounding notions of ‘help’. Key words also impart ideas about the roles and identity of the social work character, influencing how we ‘should’ respond to those who are in need of help. Discourse then must be defined here initially as ‘a culturally and socially organised way of speaking’ (Mayr, 2008: 7) and researchers in this tradition study forms of interaction that take place in linguistic form.

One of the main tasks of discourse analysis is to ‘disarticulate’ the texts (language) of everyday life as a way of ‘disrupting common sense’ about the naturalness or inevitability of identities, values and concepts, thus showing the workings of power and material interests in the most seemingly innocent of texts.

(MacLure, 2003: 9)

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