Call for papers: Dissent and social work

The etymological roots of the word dissent can be traced to the Latin dissentīre to differ in sentiment. A dictionary definition expands on the term defining dissent as: “to withhold assent or consent from a proposal, etc.; not to assent; to disagree with or object to an action”. So, what do we mean by dissenting social work? Why would social workers be involved in dissent, and with whom or what would they disagree? To answer those questions we need a critical perspective on our present state of affairs.

Firstly, we need to recognise that the factors that impact on the people who use social work services are structured into a social order that privileges the interests of the few over the wellbeing of the many, and that the way in which social work services operate can reinforce or resist that social order. This is a perspective that assumes social structures exploit working people, drive up inequality, foster social alienation, continue the legacy of colonisation and impoverish families and whānau. Put simply, dissenting social work is anti-capitalist, pro-equity and committed to decolonisation.

Secondly, we must acknowledge that the way in which many social work organisations operate runs counter to the values of social work and social workers. As the radical social work organisation SWAN in the UK put it, they are dominated by “managerialist perspectives and practices which prioritise budgets, targets and outcomes over the needs of the people who use these services”. Forty years of neoliberalism in health and social services has engendered hollowed out, zombified, organisational forms where domineering managers enforce a culture of compliance and silence on a disengaged, demotivated and acquiescent workforce. How else do we explain decades of recurrent reforms to failed health and social services – including child protection and mental health services – each of which opens with a wave of new slogans and budget commitments and ends with the next press report of a child death, or youth suicide, or prison protest. Dissenting social work seeks to critique existing structures and build new organisational forms that are founded on collective and cooperative principles.

Finally, social work education is also a battleground of opposing ideas. Here too there are forces at work seeking to regulate, dominate and drive out critical perspectives on social work in favour of the interests of employers, managers and the state. Dissenting social work education argues for critical perspectives in the context of the broader political economy of higher education. Dissenting social work educators view themselves as academic labourers forging alliances with each other and with students as co-producers of labour power. New pedagogies founded on consciousness-raising, empowerment and liberation characterise dissenting social work education.

This special issue invites articles offering critical and dissenting perspectives on the past, present and future direction of social work.

Specific papers could cover any of the following:

-       How protest, social movements and other forms of social action affect social work 

-       The role of advocacy in changing how social problems are framed

-       The activities of social workers that grapple with discretion as ‘street level bureaucrats’ acting within and against the state

-       Critiques of risk as a sociological phenomenon in any field of practice

-       Studies of managerialism or bureaucracy and how social workers manage its demands in practice

-       Māori perspectives on dissent and decolonisation and the growing emphasis on re-indigenisation. How has Māori protest shaped social work and social policy?

-       How dissent interacts with intersecting axes of oppression such as racism, class-inequality, disability, gender and location. 

-       The ability of social work academics to engage in dissent in social work education

-       Perspectives of people who access services, including how social workers can collaborate with them to produce effective advocacy

-       How inequalities are reproduced, intensified or ameliorated through the provision of social work services

-       Historical and political analyses of specific fields and how dissent has shaped the development of that field.

-       Alternative organisational forms for social service delivery such as workers' cooperatives


This is a call for papers on the topic of dissent and its implications for social and community work. However, because of the intersection between dissent and many aspects of social change, we encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration with practitioners and academic colleagues outside of social work.

We will consider submissions in three formats (as per the author guidelines): full articles of 7000 words, research briefs, 3000 words, and shorter viewpoints or practice reflections of 2000 words. All articles are peer reviewed.

Submissions are due February 1st, 2022. If you wish to discuss an idea or send an abstract for feedback, please email to Ian Hyslop, ( Neil Ballantyne ( or Emily Keddell ( 

 More information about requirements and how to submit can be found here:

 Mauri ora!