Complexity and Social Work  book cover
1st Edition

Complexity and Social Work

ISBN 9781138089334
Published October 12, 2017 by Routledge
184 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Being socially competent is essential in late modern society. We expect people to find their own accommodation, partner, job, community and lifestyle and struggle to find answers for those who are not able or do not have the opportunity to achieve these things. By placing social complexity, social vulnerability and social efficacy within a framework of social policy and social practice, Complexity and Social Work argues that growing social complexity excludes more and more citizens from social participation.

The book starts with exploring complexity, super-diversity, vulnerability and social efficacy. From there the book deals with the discourses of social policy, social work and social work research, pledging for social policy aiming at desired outcomes, for generic contextual social work, and for a research practice that recognises practical wisdom.

Aimed at final year undergraduates, postgraduates, professionals, trainers and lecturers involved in social work, social policy, social care, mental health and allied fields who are committed to treating socially vulnerable people with respect and acceptance, this book, the first of its kind, offers new perspectives on social complexity for practice, theory and research in human services.

Table of Contents

List of figures


Finding a path

Character, structure and origin of the book

Chapter 1: Social Complexity and vulnerability


Setting the problem

Increase in number of people facing difficulties in coping with daily life

Discussing the rise in socio-psychological problems

Social vulnerability

The new social quest

State of progress

Categorisation and emancipation

The problem of system based answers

State of progress under discussion

From a positioning society to a place finding society

The exclusionary social world

Positioning, profiling and connecting

Social competences

Social capital

Problematic social behaviour

Social complexity

The power of specialised knowledge

Complexity as a description, a way of thinking, and a research area

Character of social complexity

The parts and the whole



Lacking a coreSuperdiversity, class and poverty

The concept of superdiversity

Descriptive, methodological and political angles of superdiversity

Class and poverty in superdiversity

Changing perspective on answering social problems

Need for customised approaches

Recognition of social-efficacy

The complexity, claims and capacity triangle

A change in perspective or new paradigm

Final remark


Chapter 2: Social efficacy


Polanyi: Tacit knowledge

An indwelling structure

The risk of detached knowledge

The paradox of evidence and relevance

The higher and lower order

The problem of rational empirical science

Sense of coherence

Bourdieu: Habitus





Durkheim and the importance of professional groups

Schön: Artistry

Artistry in complexity

John Dewey’s concept of reflectivity

The swamp worker

Threefold reflection and double loop learning



Sen: Capabilities

Capability as an alternative approach

Capabilities and functionings

Resources and environment

Public reasoning

Conclusive reflections

Professional social efficacy

The social efficacy column

The capability cycle


Social efficacy under pressure

Final remark


Chapter 3: Normative professionalisation



Professionals under attack

Professional logics and defining elements

Normative Professionalisation: history and essentials

Resistance to the neo-liberal agenda

Inspiring concepts and thoughts

Developing normative professionalisation


Moral capital

Threefold normativity

A provisional definition

Fostering professionalisation

Steps for implementation

Normative professionalisation in research

Final remark


Chapter 4: Transformation and Deinstitutionalisation


Transforming the welfare state

Arguments for transformation



Civil society

Active citizenship

The concept of active citizenship

Relative and relational citizenship


Definition and dream

Shared values

Analysing institutions

Analysing deinstitutionalisation


Lack of favourable conditions




Promising elements for a successful strategy

Common direction

Cooperation and innovation

Empowering citizens

Empowering professionals

Creating favourable financial conditionsFinal remark


Chapter 5: Social work


Exploring and positioning social work

Solidarity and empathy

Blurring borders and defining specialisms

Positioning social work

Social work based on active citizenship

The social model

More than just a helping profession Core assignment

Work perspective

A broad generic approach

A connecting profession

The social work body of knowledge

Defining the domain

Social work theories

1. Social case work

2. Social pedagogy and ecological social work

3. Caring social work

4. Critical social work and anti-oppressive social work

5. Constructive social work

6. Faith based social work

7. Involuntary social work: probation and rehabilitation

8. Managerial social work

9. Citizenship based social work

Social work research

Ethics and meaning of life Methodology and methods

Organisation and political context

Positioning social work in local social policy

Social work in different zones

Organising social work professionals


Standards of a recognized profession

Models of professionalisationContextual social work

What is it?

A teleological practice: implementing social justice

Social work in complex and superdiverse contexts

Final remark


Chapter 6: Social work as a practice based science and research


Social work as a science and a discipline

Changing perspectives

Epistemological discourse on science


Positioning social work in the epistemological discourse

Social work research

Practice based research

Characterising social work research

Categorising social work research fields and perspectives

Areas of social work research

Research methodology and methods


Mixed method

Validity in practice based research

Characterising the epistemological position of social work research

Evidence based practice or evidence biased practice?

What is EBP?

Strong EBP

Levels of evidence

The seven steps

Weak EBP

Pros and Cons of EBP and its alternatives



Alternatives to EBPFinal remark


Chapter 7: The case of Marc. Applying theory to practice.Introduction

Multiple connections

Case: Marc Wiggins

Four essential connections

Connecting with the user and his (or her) context

Connecting with society

Connecting with the profession

Connecting with oneselfIngredients for coping with social complexity

Final remark


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Hans van Ewijk is Emeritus Professor of Social Work Theory at the University of Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and Emeritus Professor of Social Policy and Social Work at Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, the Netherlands. He has been executive director of the Dutch Institute of Care and Welfare. He is a past president of ICSW Europe and past chair of ENSACT. Since 2006 he has also been a visiting professor at Tartu University, Estonia.


'Hans van Ewijk, a leading European thinker, calls on vast range of reference to make an innovative case for a renewal of effectiveness in social work, so that it can respond to the complexity of today’s society and the failings of overloaded social provision. He puts forward an inspirational but critical conception of the possibilities for social work as a co-productive enterprise with active citizens in the future.'- Malcolm Payne, Kingston University 

'This book is a tour de force in its grasp of the contemporary moment and what this implies for professional practices. It offers theoretical depth and astute commentary on the nature of issues confronting individuals, groups and organisations in an era of rapid change and stretches the professional imaginaion to more significantly engage with social complexity. Van Ewijk offers a timely and authoritative observation of a profession in transition and a comprehensive resource for discussion and debate that will have international appeal.' - Charlotte Williams OBE, Professor of Social Work and Deputy Dean, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia