My PhD project is concerned with varying responses to the post-war welfare state in England. I use social work as a case-study, asking where social work fitted into the welfare state, how it was described and discussed by different groups within post-war England, and how its development can help us to understand the nature of welfare and society in this specific context.
Within this study, I am particularly interested in the consistent description by a number of people of social workers as the 'translators' or 'interpreters' of the welfare state. The personal social services were unashamedly seen as filling in the gaps of the welfare state, which begins to explain how this metaphor of translation began to arise, but I argue that there were other dimensions to this function. My research is based around examining the negotiation of social workers' role in the welfare state, and how it was recieved by social work clients, other aspects of the welfare state, and the general public, with this concept of 'translating/interpreting' between people and groups at the centre.
My thesis is arranged into four broad discussions of aspects of social work's role in postwar society, and two case studies which examine specific challenges to social work.
My first chapter looks at the role of social work within conceptions of welfare provision and the various settlements of the welfare state. In particular, I am interested in social workers' roles as intermediaries between the public and specific branches of the welfare state, as signposts around the new welfare structures, and as examples towards their 'clients'. Furthermore, I study how social workers questioned these roles and naviagted their complicity within structures of social control and conformity. This is extended in my second chapter, on social workers' role within the political apparatus of postwar society. Here I examine how social workers conceptualised themselves as enablers, allowing individuals, families, and especially communities to identify their own social problems and faciliate solutions. In this way, I examine how social workers spoke to policy, both with their own voices and with those of their clients.
In my third chapter I study the methods employed by social workers in their various roles, especially their use of and contribution to concepts emerging within the social sciences. I focus on the emergence and connotations of social casework, which utilised ideas from psychiatry and psychoanalysis, as well as the more sociologically-minded community work. I argue that the existing literarture does not reflect the extent to which these methods were employed pragmatically, and that it does not sufficiently examine the methodologies (that is, the attendent assumptions about society and the optimum point of intervention) in which these methods were embedded. I also discuss the role of social workers in social research, and I demonstrate that although social workers particpated in plenty of experiements with different welfare methods, they were nevertheless on the periphery of social scientific culture.
Dr. Mathew Thomson
m dot thomson at warwick dot ac dot uk
In this video for the Modern Records Centre, where I do a lot of my primary research, I discuss how to use an archive.