Robert G. Madden
The law is a powerful force in all aspects of contemporary American society. The legal system furnishes the context and procedures for the creation and enforcement of laws to resolve disputes, protect rights, and generally to maintain order. Social workers are expected to understand the basic workings of the legal system. Knowledge of the legal system provides the foundation to support social workers to undertake social justice initiatives, to give voice to vulnerable client populations, and to work for legal rules that support good social work practice.
Charles D. Cowger
This entry discusses the relationship of war and peace to social work practice. The historic and current mandate for social workers to work for peace is presented. The inevitable tie of war to everyday social work practice is described, and the relationship between social justice and peace is illustrated.
Political ideologies shape public policy debates as well as the social policy strategies developed to address “social problems.” The clashes among long-standing political traditions—conservatism, liberalism, radicalism, and feminism—reflect fundamental and often irreconcilable differences regarding social, economic, and political life. The four political ideologies are compared for their varied perspectives on several core issues that underpin social welfare provision, including human nature, need, the general welfare, social problems, racial inequality, and the role of government. The resulting distinctions provide social workers with a framework to more effectively assess social welfare policy.
Since the Progressive Era, social workers have played important roles in political struggles for social justice. They have criticized, designed, and implemented an array of social policies and have increasingly campaigned for and held political office. Even so, there has been considerable ambivalence within the profession about the extent to which social workers should engage in political action. A major challenge facing the profession during this century will be to ensure that social work students and practitioners understand the impact of political processes on their own and their clients' lives and develop the skills to identify which forms of political intervention are effective for different goals and contexts.
Rosemary Barbera, Mary Bricker-Jenkins, and Barbara Hunter Randall Joseph
Since the beginning of the profession, progressive social work has been characterized by a lived commitment to practice dedicated to advancing human rights and social and economic justice. Since the mid-1980s, the rise of global capitalism has vitiated support for robust social welfare programs and has had a conservatizing effect on the profession, rendering the progressive agenda both more urgent and more difficult. The economic crisis of 2008 has seen a rise in people suffering, while at the same time those programs that would help ease suffering are being cut back, further perpetuating the myth that austerity is the cure for the disease that it has caused. Meanwhile, the modernist ideals that gave rise to progressivism are being challenged by postmodernist thinkers. Progressive social work has responded to both challenges with innovation and energy, but theoretical and practical conundrums remain.