Abstract: Sustainable Critical Social Policy? the Case of Poverty-Aware Social Work in Israel (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Sustainable Critical Social Policy? the Case of Poverty-Aware Social Work in Israel

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Shachar Timor-Shlevin, PhD, Dr., Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel
Background and Purpose

Critical practices in social work are conceptualized in two limited manners: first, as a covert, minor operation of isolated professionals, seeking to survive the tension between the systemic tendency for neoliberal cost-benefit considerations and their own critical professional values. Second, as an ideological demand to promote critical rationality in social policy, which lacks empirical evidence and remains mostly theoretical. Thus, the literature has yet to portray contextualized and sustainable processes of resistance under neoliberal policies.

This study examines a unique case in which a critically informed model – the Poverty-Aware Social Work Paradigm (PAP) – came to be implemented within the Israeli public welfare services. The study aims to portray an outline of critical practice that might promote critical policy within public systems. To this end, I use the concept of radical incrementalism presented by Sanford, F. Schram. In this lecture, I will focus on the analysis of senior manager's operation at the Welfare Ministry's headquarter in order to characterize the policy processes that enabled the PAP to take hold in the Israeli field.


The study was conducted using a qualitative research approach, which combined phenomenological grounded theory and institutional ethnography. It included 41 interviews with social workers and managers at all levels of the Israeli welfare system, from street-level caseworkers to managers at the ministry's headquarter. This lecture will focus on 16 interviews with senior managers at the Israeli Welfare Ministry, who took part in the formulation of the PAP programs. The interviews were analyzed using content analysis and critical discourse analysis, in order to reveal the interviewees’ modes of operation in the tense institutionalized encounter between the critical rationality of the PAP and the neoliberal standpoint of the ministry.


The findings show the senior actors' critical practices as operating in minor and covert ways, through critical map reading, creating and using opportunities, and discursive performance. Furthermore, the study shows how these minor operations add up to attain critical mass, which in this case, is linked to the new possibilities that have opened for the critical professionalism of the PAP to gain status.

Conclusions and Implications

This study contributes to the literature on the possibility of producing sustainable critical practice, highlighting the integrative role of a paradigmatic framework – in this case, the PAP – that serves as a theoretical roadmap allowing the coordinated operation of different actors to the same end of promoting critical professionalism. In doing so, this study describes an initial empirical outline for radical incrementalism as operating through mediated modes of power exertions.

This study implies the operation of critical resistance in two ways. First, it highlights the need for a specific framework of critical practice in order to allow a roadmap for critical policy practices. Second, it directs critical practice to operate in the mediated manner of power exertion, between minor and major practices.