Living the differences: ethnicity, gender and social work

Lewis, Gail (1997). Living the differences: ethnicity, gender and social work. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis concerns the entry of black women into local authority social service departments as qualified social workers in the 1980s. It argues that this entry needs to be understood in the context of a moment of racial formation and social regulation in which specific black populations were managed through a regime of governmentality in which 'new black subjects' were formed. These 'new black subjects' were constituted as 'ethnic-minorities' out of an earlier form of being as 'immigrants'. Central to this process of reconstitution was a discourse of black family forms as pathological and yet governable through the intervention of state agencies. As such, social work as a specific form of state organised intervention, articulated to a discourse of 'race' and black family formations. This articulation suggested that the management of those black families who could be defined as pathological or 'in need required a specific 'ethnic' knowledge and in this way a space for the entry of black women into qualified social work was created. This process also intersected with a time of riotous rebellion in many inner city areas and a moment of municipal socialism in which demands on the part of social movements for social reparation for inequality had been incorporated into the manifestos of political parties. This made it incumbent on such authorities to promote equality of employment opportunity within their departments. Whilst the discourses of 'race'/ethnicity and equal opportunities provided the impetus for the employment of black women as qualified social workers the understanding and experience of this employment was mediated through a sense of organisational and managerial exclusion. Thus the thesis ends with a consideration of the accounts of numerous black women social workers and their multi-racial, female and male managers.

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