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The emotional politics of social work and child protection$
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Joanne Warner

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781447318422

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447318422.001.0001

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Hidden in plain sight

Hidden in plain sight

poverty and the politics of disgust

(p.45) Three Hidden in plain sight
The emotional politics of social work and child protection

Joanne Warner

Policy Press

In this chapter the focus is the emotions of disgust and contempt that are discernible in newspaper accounts of the mothers, families and communities of children who die from extreme abuse or neglect. Drawing on critical moral panic theory, the chapter argues that media coverage reflects wider social and cultural anxieties about certain groups who are otherwise hidden from view; particularly the so-called ‘underclass’ and those categorised as Other. The chapter outlines the link between social work and attitudes to people living in poverty. The chapter shows how hostile coverage of social workers as bureaucratic folk-devils reflected contempt for their apparent lack of empathy for the child’s suffering. Social workers were portrayed as lacking a natural, common sense instinct to rescue children. But coverage also reflected deep anxiety about social work’s failure to engage punitively with mothers who stood out as shameless, not only because of what they had done, but because of who they were as moral subjects. Moral regulation by social work as constructed in the newspaper accounts involved surveillance necessitating close proximity to families who invoke disgust. Crucially, this proximity entails forceful interventions in the private space of the family home.

Keywords:   disgust, poverty, moral regulation, politics, moral panic, home, underclass, other, social class, mother

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