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date: 21 July 2018


A Dictionary of Social Work and Social Care

John Harris,

Vicky White


Linguistic systems through which the social world is experienced and understood. In critical theory usually associated with the work of Michel Foucault (1926–84) and seen as the characteristic ways of describing and explaining the social world through which power is sustained. Foucault undertook historical analyses, which he called ‘archaeologies’, into subjects such as sexuality, punishment, and madness, and identified the discourse within which the phenomenon under investigation was classified and ordered in a particular era, arguing that people were subject to the discourse and largely unable to exist outside it, though he did, to a lesser extent, acknowledge the possibility of resistance. An example relevant to social work is the former (male-dominated) dominant discourse of domestic violence, couched in terms of ‘women asking for it’, and a response of non-intervention, and the resistant feminist discourse of domestic violence as a form of unacceptable male domination, which enabled the construction of new responses to abused women. See also discourse analysis; discursive formation; dominant ideology; habitus; hegemony; ideology.