Confronting the ‘Work Society’: New Conceptual Tools for Social Work

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  1. Paul Michael Garrett*

  1. Paul Michael Garrett works at the National University of Ireland, Galway in the Republic of Ireland. He is the author of Remaking
    Social Work with Children and Families (Routledge, 2003), Social Work with Irish Children and Families in Britain (Policy
    Press, 2004), Children’s Services: Neoliberalism and the ‘Modern’ World (Open University/McGraw Hill, 2009), Social Work and
    Social Theory (Policy Press, 2013). His work has also appeared in academic journals across a range of disciplines. For a number
    of years he has been a member of the editorial collective of Critical Social Policy (where he is the Editor of the Reviews
    Section). He is also a member of the editorial board of the European Journal of Social Work and is a consulting editor for
    the US-based Journal of Progressive Human Services.
  1. *Correspondence to Dr Paul Michael Garrett, Senior Lecturer, National University of Ireland, School of Political Science and
    Sociology, Galway, Republic of Ireland. E-mail: PM.Garrett{at}
  • Accepted February 2013.


The paper explores social work and work by using a theoretical optic neglected within the profession’s academic literature—the
Italian Marxist autonomist tradition. Key conceptual categories associated with the autonomists are discussed including the
social factory, precariousness, the refusal of work and immaterial labour. It is maintained that a critical engagement with
these interrelated concepts may help us think more deeply and politically about three dimensions: the changing content of
the work; practitioners’ focus, to differing degrees dependent on the national setting, on the work ‘readiness’ of clients;
the ideologically pervasive work ethic within, what is termed, a ‘work society’.

Key words

  • Social factory
  • precarity
  • refusal of work
  • immaterial labour

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