Ideology is a highly contested phenomenon used in politics, social science and philosophical discourse. Heywood (2003, p12) defines ideology as ‘a more or less coherent set of ideas that provides the basis for organised political action whether this is intended to preserve, modify or overthrow the existing system of power.’ According to Freeden (2003) we are all ideologists in the sense that we prescribe to certain political views in our environment. He goes on to say that ideologies are competing interpretations of making sense of the worlds we live in. Ideologies look at what society should be like and why the society is the way it is. Leach (2002) states that the term ideology is quite problematic.
He also defines ideology as “interconnected set of ideas which form a perspective on the world” Leach. R. (2002, p.1) Williams (1998) defines ideology as a system of ideas and beliefs that offer a means of understanding the world. He also adds that these ideas provide a programme to shape the future and seen as a guide to action. From the above, it is clear that there is no agreed definition of what ideology is. My view of ideology is ideas or views attempting to explain how society should be. Political parties may have conflicting ideas on certain issues of society and therefore influence the policies which affect service users.
From this perspective, I can suggest that ideology is related to a set or system of beliefs, ideas and values that individuals, groups and organisations hold. Examples of ideologies include communism, socialism, liberalism, conservatism, feminism and fascism.
Implications to Social Work
Many service users who come in contact with social workers will be experiencing poverty and deprivation. Social workers will be there to advocate and advise service users on how to apply for these benefits. According to Thompson (2005) poverty leads to other problems such as poor mental health and social exclusion. Social workers support these service users by sign posting for counselling, rehabilitation and psychotherapy. Liberalism as an ideology offers an explanation of how social problems are constructed and how families and individuals are conceptualised within this framework. Thompson, (2005) suggested that problems are constructed by society.
Adams, (2002) state that as social workers we need to keep up to date with all policy changes so that we can advise service users accordingly. He emphasises that social workers should be proactive by reading informative newspapers and social work journals. Brechnin (2000) cited in Adams (2002) also state that it is vital for practitioners to grasp the policy context of the cases they deal with and thereby improve how they deal with service users complexities. Critical understanding of policies concerning children and families may help social workers improve practice. Social workers need to assess and identify the needs of a service user group for example people with disabilities and find out as much information as they can through research on how they can assist and empower service users.
The question for social workers is do we challenge a belief or ideology which we think does not fit in with social work values for example Conservatism. On the other hand, we enter into another debate of social workers as agents of the state so whichever government is in power, social workers as agents of state would have to follow their beliefs. We need to be aware of the current government beliefs, and its influence on policies so that we are equipped to advise service users on services available. To conclude, the practice of social work in modern liberal society rests on liberal principles. By locating the connections between social work and Liberalism ideology, we have seen how practical social knowledge is influenced by liberal philosophical assumptions.
These central tenets of Liberalism are liberty, tolerance, and a free-market economy. These core beliefs affect all areas of social life, including social work. The tensions that permeate the practices of liberal governments are present in the field of social work and valuable indicators of the complexity of the issues social workers face. Crucially, they are open to reform. There are deep social problems in liberal society such as poverty, inequality, alienation. What we can learn from these problems is that if Liberalism will succeed in its aspirations it needs to expand its scope to include more social and corporate responsibility, and a greater understanding of community.
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Leach, R. (2002), Political Ideology in Britain, Basingstoke: Palgrave Mullaly, B. (2007), The New Structural Social work: Ideology, Theory, Practice, (3rd edn), USA: Oxford University Press Ramsay, M (1997) What’s wrong with Liberalism London: Leicester University Press. Rousseau, J.J. (1968) The Social Contract, London: Penguin books. Rawls, J (1999), A Theory of Justice, Oxford: Open University Press. Thompson, N. (2005), Understanding Social Work: Preparing for practice, (2nd edn), Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan. Williams, A. (1998) UK Government and Politics, Oxford: Heinemann Wilson, K et al, (2008) Social Work: An Introduction to contemporary practice, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited
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