Magazine article IPA Review

The Dangers of Absolutism

Magazine article IPA Review

The Dangers of Absolutism

Article excerpt

Radicalism, Feminism and Fanaticism: Social Work in The Nineties by Brian Trainor

Avebury, Ashgate Publishing Ltd

IN an absorbing account of the theories underlying social work and practice, Brian Trainor discusses in historical context the present-day divide between radical and mainstream social work. Radicalism, Feminism and Fanaticism details the dynamic interplay between the two. Its author illustrates how the positions of each and their theoretical differences derive from varying conceptions of the word `social in relation to three broadly-defined understandings of the nature of what we call 'society'.

The classical-liberal view, for example, regards society as having no reality per se though "it may be said to have a kind of false, de facto, reprehensible form of existence". Including the term "reprehensible" will be considered an exaggeration by some defending a view that "individuals and their personal concerns are alone real," together with the contention that society is at most a convenient way of referring to a "host of discrete, separate individuals ... linked in certain ways." Only a very extreme classical stance, as invoked by the author, would describe the idea of society having some sort of existence of its own, sui generis, as "positively harmful and thoroughly objectionable," rather than merely unsustainable.

One could debate, too, Trainor's description of the conservative view that "we are truly and fully ourselves as social beings" when it expands to society envisaged as having "like an ordinary (natural) person ... a historically conditioned and concrete form of existence." Such a view - that society transcends the individuals comprising it - would seem to fit more comfortably as a collectivist tenet of socialist, rather than of conservative doctrine.

RADICAL CRITIQUE: However, it is with the radical concept of society that we are particularly concerned in this book, and Brian Trainor conveys very clearly that radical position which targets sources of social evil as largely capitalistic and patriarchal. In line with this perspective, which views society as ethically deformed, radical social workers see mainstream social work as largely supportive of an oppressive status quo brought about by persuasive conditioning. Radical criticism challenges the so-called consensus view of society which tacitly upholds the value of order and regards only changes within - not of - the social system as legitimate.

Against this, the radical conflict view draws heavily on Marxist analysis of capitalist society. Radicals argue that relationships of domination and subordination are pervasive. Radical theorists see social interaction as in the interests of sectors such as a ruling class, or a particular ethnic or gender group. They therefore ascribe a positive value to dynamic change. Conflict and revolution are envisaged as radical levers 'liberating' individuals and society as a whole.

The tensions between the differing conceptions of the two main schools of socialism, one aiming for the transformation of society and its institutions, one for the maintaining of consensus and order, lead to differing interpretations of the role of social worker. Brian Trainor points out that with the passage of time radical socialist attention has largely turned from the notion of `capitalistbourgeois' ideology as the prime source of social ills to a new emphasis. Inequalities are now ascribed to racist, sexist and homophobic causes. …

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