Social work and the state: Perspectives and practice

Guy Feldman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The state has been central to social work throughout the profession's history. Despite its theoretical and political significance, the mainstream of the social work field has long disregarded the state as an object of inquiry. The scant attention given to the state within social work is especially puzzling given a resurgence of interest in the state within the social sciences over the past few decades. To redress this imbalance, this article explores six influential theories of the state and discusses their implications for social work practice and policy. These theories suggest we conceive of the state as: a liberal and caring guardian; a tool for class dominance; a means of social control; a political practice; an institutional structure; and a cultural construct. Drawing on diverse literatures, the article advances the understanding of social work that takes seriously the problem of the state.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)879-890
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • social change
  • social theory
  • social work and workers
  • the state
  • welfare policy


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