The penal agent at play – tracing the penal habitus of criminal justice social workers in Scotland; what Bourdieu can bring to social work research

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Abstract

Very little is known about the practice cultures of criminal justice social workers. We know even less about how they, as penal agents, intersect with the juridical field – the social-legal space in which they navigate, traverse and negotiate on a daily basis. Criminal justice social workers are penal agents with a bifurcated role: supervision of community punishment, whilst addressing complex problems of involuntary service users. By reporting on findings from a study conducted with criminal justice social workers in one of Scotland’s largest local authorities, and using conceptual tools provided by Bourdieu, this paper seeks to carve new conceptual ground by tracing the development of value-laden and non-punitive dispositions (habitus) in social workers at the frontline. For Bourdieu, the body remains a matrix of capacities that require precise analyses in situ; the body provides the capacity for habitus to guide thoughts, feelings and action – yet habitus is open to change, substitution and modification. But this paper will argue that penal agents appear able to transgress from punitive policies and standards, thus resisting punitive populism - operating with strong principles, whist occupying a crucial space in a contested juridical field. But what our findings tells us about the grafting of moral schemata by way of values and principles suggests that becoming disposed towards typical caring roles (pedagogical labour without precedent) might occur, or at least begin, sometime before agents enter social work education. Agents in criminal justice seem to have a strong capability to resist unwanted schemata, despite being exposed to increasingly punitive discourse and penal turns throughout the last decade. This paper will explore the mediation of penal habitus by the objective field conditions of Scottish criminal justice social work. The experience of criminal justice personnel, I will argue, also demonstrates the potential for other types of social work practitioner to resist managerialism and other forms of neoliberal inculcation – perhaps shielded by a durable habitus grafted progressively and incrementally over time.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2015
Event5th International Conference on Sociology and Social Work 2015 - University of Chester, Chester, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Aug 201527 Aug 2015
https://10times.com/icss-chester

Conference

Conference5th International Conference on Sociology and Social Work 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityChester
Period26/08/1527/08/15
Internet address

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