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Neoliberalism and Australian social work: accommodation or resistance

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 13:47 authored by Wallace, J, Bob PeaseBob Pease
Summary: Since the mid-1970s the Australian welfare state has faced a continuing crisis of resourcing and legitimation. Social work as a central entity within the welfare state has been challenged in terms of to its value base and relevance. As with much of the Western world, this challenge has been heightened with the rise of neoliberalism, which has pervaded most aspects of Australian society. Neoliberalism has consequently had a profound effect upon Australian social workers. The challenges to the Australian welfare state and social work are from without and within, by neoliberal ideas and its practices. Findings: While neoliberalism's relationship to social work as a broad theme is explored in the literature, the complexity of marketization and inclusive aspects have not been considered in any detail in relation to social work. The evidence in the Australian context is even slimmer, and as a consequence the particularity of the Australian welfare state and its relationship to neoliberalism, and the consequences for Australian social work, remains largely untested. Furthermore, while there are some indications of the day to day impact on social work in the context of a postwelfare state regime, little work has been conducted on the capacity of neoliberalism to infiltrate social work through its new institutions of the social and thus become embedded in social work. Application: This article lays the foundations for a research project to examine the extent to which neoliberalism has become embedded in Australian social work and how social workers and social work educators are responding to these hegemonic influences. What are the ways in which social workers have become complicit in neoliberalism? Is Australian social work part of the neoliberal project to the point where neoliberalism has become part of its understandings and everyday activity? It is hoped that through this research, a more sophisticated understanding of the impact of neoliberalism on social work will contribute to the revitalization of critical social work in Australia and forms of resistance to the neoliberal project.


Publication title

Journal of Social Work








School of Social Sciences


Sage Publications Ltd.

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2011 The Authors

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Gender and sexualities

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