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What is “critical” about social work?

   School of Health and Life Sciences

This project is no longer listed on and may not be available.

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  Prof Stephen Webb, Dr Heather Lynch  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

REF SHLS-20012 Webb

This project will examine what is “critical” about social work. The aim is to provide close analysis of current trends, ideas and innovations in the field of theoretical and methodological social work by focusing on literature, policy and practice developments. What is critical about social work is in a state of flux and change. And, what is meant to be critical in the 1990s is very different from our present day thinking. The distinctiveness of the project lies in the way it will strategically add an innovative trajectory to critical social work. It does so by analysing, for the first time, the significance of political ontology, or in shorthand, ‘the ontological turn’ in social sciences as it relates to social work (Webb, 2019: Bird & Lynch, 2019).

A critical social work which mobilises political ontology is concerned with the way power affects the lived experience of phenomenon (human and non-human), how it touches it, how it captures it and how it effectuates its power to be affected. This brings to the forefront matters of antagonism, partiality, contingency and conflict in considerations about social work. As such in developing an ontological account the project will focus on “the politics of social work” in relation to current issues and matters of concern (Webb & Gray, 2013). Obvious examples of this are “bordering practices”, whereby migrant women who are refused access to public funding by social services for housing or child support precisely because of their migrant status; or Roma people who are “normalised” through activation regimes of schooling and health care. Giorgio Agamben argues that only a turn to ontology and immanent politics can make resistance to these regimes meaningful and possible. The ontological turn is evident in recent biopolitical analysis in the interpretation of the dispositif, or apparatus, which represent networks of power, that control and order subjects, and is the target for forms of resistance. How the social work subject is crafted is essential to rethinking this from a critical perspective. This project will situate social work in a socio-material context whereby the negative protection and management and control of populations implicit in social work practice is inextricably bound to the materiality of living things.

The successful candidate will have a background in social sciences at the level of 2:1 or 1st, or preferably a Master’s degree and a keen interest in inter-disciplinarity, theoretical analyses, conceptual thinking and interpretive sociology.

How to Apply

This project is available as a 3 years full-time PhD study programme

Candidates are encouraged to contact the research supervisors for the project before applying.

Applicants should apply for their preferred intake date using the Health and Social Care links via the Application Process page 

Director of Studies: Professor Stephen Webb

Email: [Email Address Removed]

GCU Research Online URL:

2nd Supervisor Dr Heather Lynch

Email: [Email Address Removed]

GCU Research Online URL:

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