Social Suffering: Changing organisational culture through critical reflection - Insights from Bourdieu

Viviene Cree, Mark Smith, Rhoda Macrae, Douglas Sharp, Elaine Wallace, Susan O'halloran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Child protection systems across the English-speaking world have been subject to critique in recent years, identified as overly procedural and compliance-based, within which relationships between social workers and clients are characterised by mutual suspicion and animosity. This article draws on findings from a knowledge exchange project in which a university social work department worked with two local authorities with the aim of bringing about culture change in children and families’ social work. The focus is on what the social workers said about their work and organisations in the course of their participation in critical reflection groups on the state of contemporary child protection systems. The experiences of practitioners are considered using insights drawn from Pierre Bourdieu, and especially Bourdieu’s notion of social suffering, which suggests that workers may feel compromised in fulfilling the moral and emotional dimensions of the job as a result of the demands of a neoliberal state. The article concludes that critical reflection may provide some limited possibilities to destabilise dominant practice orthodoxies and cultures and in so doing, encourage culture change in organisations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-988
Number of pages16
JournalThe British Journal of Social Work
Issue number4
Early online date10 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2017

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Bourdieu
  • child protection
  • social suffering
  • knowledge exchange
  • critical reflection
  • organisational culture


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  • Revisiting Child Protection in Scotland

    Cree, V., Clapton, G., Smith, M., Morrison, F. & Marsh, A. E. R.


    Project: University Awarded Project Funding

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