The world we’re in: Social work now and then

Mike O'Brien


The last half century has witnessed significant changes in the highly influential social and economic world in which the practice of social work happens. This paper explores the beginning, middle and end points over that time – 1965-6, 1988, 2013 – identifying the major areas of social, cultural and economic focus in each of these years and examines implications for the delivery of social services and the practice of social work. Drawing on a sample of media focus and presentations for each of the three years (as reflected in a newspaper at the time), the article identifies principal areas of social, cultural and economic interest and attention in each area. It then uses that data to inform a discussion of the ways in which those areas shaped (or failed to shape) social work practice and social services delivery at the time. Drawing on those reflections, the article concludes with a discussion of the ways in which the worlds of clients and practitioners shape social services delivery and organisation and the practice of social work. It concludes with brief reflections on what this might mean for the directions of social work practice.


social change; social work practice; 50th anniversary

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