Marx

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast #052: What’s Next?

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This week I am delighted to welcome Professor Peter Hudis, of Oakton Community College, who has recently published his new book: ‘Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism‘.

We discuss what Marx had to say about post-capitalist societies, and the reluctance of those on the left to talk about what it might actually look like.

We also talk of the theoretical reasons for the failure of the Soviet and Maoist projects, how abstract labour dominates our lives, and how not even the capitalists are in control of the current system.

You can find the Professors book here:http://www.haymarketbooks.org/pb/Marxs-Concept-of-the-Alternative-to-Capitalism

Enjoy!

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast #050: The Matrix

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This week I am delighted to welcome back the economist, economic historian, and extremely prolific author, Professor Michael Perelman of the California State University, Chico. We talk about the latest book he is working on: ‘The Matrix: An exploratory political economy of the dangerous, paradoxical interactions between war, the economy, and economic ideology’.

We discuss unintended consequences, the difficult of decision-making in complex situations, US Imperialism, Vietnam, Heavyweight Boxing ,and the little talked about darker side of Winston Churchill.

You can check out the Professors books here

And here is his blog:

http://michaelperelman.wordpress.com/

Enjoy!

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What is the Current Phase of Imperialism?

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A new situation requires a new analysis, and each new factor in the situation requires a specific and concrete analysis, placing it and its weight correctly in the overall situation.

In world politics, the new situation is that the US was unable to bomb Syria, it finds itself negotiating with, rather than bombing Iran, and its coup in the Ukraine may not be entirely successful in drawing Russia’s neighbour into NATO’s sphere of influence.

This overturns recent history. The overthrow of the Soviet Union in 1991 was accompanied by the US-led Gulf War. Since that time, the US and its various allies have bombed, invaded or intervened in Somalia (twice), Yugoslavia, Haiti, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Liberia, Iraq, the Maghreb, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, Libya and South Sudan. The US has also led, organised or outsourced countless other interventions, overthrown governments and destabilised economies in pursuit of its interests. There has also been a series of coups and attempted coups in Latin America with varied success, and the so-called ‘colour revolutions’ in Eastern Europe to install pro-US, pro-NATO governments, as well as the US hijacking of the Arab Spring.

However, the economic rise of China has warranted a strategic ‘pivot’ towards Asia in an attempt to curb the rise of the only economy that could rival US supremacy in the foreseeable future. Given this absolute priority and the reduced circumstances of the US economy, it has been necessary to suspend new large-scale direct military interventions elsewhere.

This curb on US power has had immediate and beneficial consequences for humanity. Syria could not be bombed and neither could Iran. In these, Russian opposition to US plans was a key political obstacle, especially as the US wanted to deploy multilateral and multinational forces to do its bidding and needed the imprimatur of the UN Security Council. The US response to this blockage has been to increase pressure on Russia, most dramatically with its ouster of the elected Ukrainian government in a coup and its attempt to breach the country’s agreed neutrality by bringing it into NATO.

This curb on US power, however limited or temporary, should be welcomed by all socialists, by all democrats and simply by all those who desire peace. Instead, we have the strange spectacle that some on the left have raised the charge that Russia is imperialist, or that China is, or countries such as Brazil, or India or South Africa are ‘sub-imperialist’!

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01-05-2014 23-07-43

Marxists and the National Question

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The recent sharpening of national rivalries between Russia and Ukraine brings to the forefront the national question. This is certainly only an episode in the chain of national rivalries the capitalist globalization stimulates, by widening inequalities between nations and within each nation. It was preceded by national crises in Yugoslavia, in regions of the former USSR and also in many other parts of the globe.

Marxists became intensely interested in the national question in the late 19th and early 20th century, when capitalism was passing to its imperialist stage. Particularly Kautsky, Bauer, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky dealt extensively with it. Their analyses, which we will briefly summarize here, are quite interesting with regard to contemporary problems.

Kautsky, Bauer, Luxemburg, Trotsky

Kautsky, in a series of articles and in his work Nationality and Transnationality (Nationalität and Internationalität, 1908) analyzed in particular the establishment of European nation states after 1848. While Bauer was emphasizing the common traditions (language, national identity, customs, etc.) to explain ethnogenesis and support his idea of ??national – cultural autonomy, Kautsky stressed that the formation of modern nations and nation states had mainly economic reasons: the need to develop a unified capitalist market, which was certainly facilitated by the existence of common traditions. So the nation state was the norm in the period of free competition, while multi-ethnic states were remnants of feudalism or exceptions. This meant that the creation of new states that characterized European history during this period, through the wars for national independence and self-determination (the national revolutions of 1848, the struggles for national unification of Italy, national revolutions and wars in the Balkans, etc.) had a progressive and historically necessary character.

From this starting point, Kautsky developed a valid polemic against Bauer’s positions, held also by a number of other Austrian Marxists (Adler, Renner, et al). The latter envisioned a peaceful, reformist regulation of national contradictions within existing transnational feudal states such as the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire, through the central power granting a genuine national autonomy (teaching of national language, freedom of national culture) to their constituent nationalities. In a letter to Victor Adler Kautsky declared such a prospect to be utopian:

“In Austria of all places, a gradual approach to some solution or other is unthinkable. The only cure lies in complete collapse. That Austria still exists is to me not proof of its viability, nor yet evidence that we now have the political basis for a slow and peaceful development; all it proves is that bourgeois society is no longer capable of doing away with even the most rotten structures: the Sultan, Tsarism, Austria”.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #048 Whither Underconsumptionism?

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This week we have the second part of our interview with Professor Andrew Kliman. We continue our discussion about his latest book – ‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’ – and in particular focus on Andrews critique of the Underconsumptionist Theory of Crisis, which is pretty dominant on the Marxist and non-Marxist left alike.

We hear how the empirical evidence sits squarely in the face of this theory, what role financialisation has actually played in the economy, and the similarities between Keynesianism and Underconsumptionism.

We also talk about the new book Andrew is working on, and just how impressed I am by how well Marx’s theories are able to explain the world around us today.

You can find the article for the New Left Project that Andrew mentions in the interview, critiquing Sam Gindin’s view of the crisis as financial, here.

And you can find Sam Gindins response to Andrew here.

Enjoy

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The Power of the ‘Virtual Senate’

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To learn who rules over you, French philosopher Voltaire said, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise, or to paraphrase a little, not seriously criticise. But in 2014 in Ireland surely we can criticise who and whatever we want, isn’t that one of the cornerstones of democracy-free speech, freedom of expression, freedom to write whatever you want within certain legal and moral boundaries, defamation laws notwithstanding.  So who, or what, are we ruled over by. Who then can we not criticise, at least not seriously criticise anyway, not forensically, and least of all not in the papers and media outlets of record; the very same institutions that shape and set the agenda, and even manufacture opinion, and consent, to a largely passive audience.

This is not to say that criticism of a sort does not exist, often it is effective and succinct and written by commentators who are more than aware of the ideological parameters, rather it is to say that criticism when it actually does exist operates within very narrow boundaries of what can be said and printed, not to mention the narrow criteria upon which editorial decisions are made on what can be said, or perhaps even thought.  The more serious type of forensic criticism is filtered out, institutionally, ( obedience, conformity and compliance are not difficult to induce even in self-styled stroppy journalists) and sent packing to dissenting websites such as this one or perhaps to organisations such as Amnesty International, or to specialised human rights blogs for instance.

And so it is with the great behemoths of our day: the transnational corporation. If the Catholic Church or land-grabbing feudal fiefdoms were once the dominant institutions in our lives, then surely now, in the early 21st century, it is Apple, or Exxon Mobil, or Newscorp. They are so all pervasive as to be invisible, most of the time, as the truly dominant institutions must be.

Ideology always works best when it becomes normal, everyday, and commonplace ‘common sense’. For an example of how this ‘commonsense’ doctrine is mediated to us, one of thousands in our ‘newspapers of record’, take this ‘value-free’ economics article, particularly the first declaratory sentence.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #047 The Failure of Capitalist Production

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This week I am delighted to have Prof. Andrew Kliman back on the show to talk about his latest book – ‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’. The book is a brilliant example of empirical economic research, and shows us how relevant and insightful Marx’s work still is, in helping us understand the workings of our capitalist economy.

We discuss the empirical evidence in the US that supports Marx’s Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit, the stagnation of capital accumulation, and the role of the IT revolution in the state of the economy. We also talk of the Great Depression, how it sowed the seeds for the renewal of the global economy, and what is behind the growing inequality we see around us today.

You can find Andrew’s book on sale here: (I very much recommend buying a copy!)

And his blog is here.

Enjoy!

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From Alpha To Omega: #046 Engines, Entropy, and Value

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This weeks our guest is Dr. William Paul Cockshott, a reader in the Computer Science Department of Glasgow University. Paul was trained as an economist, then as a computer scientist, and he has made contributions to the fields of image compression, 3D television, and parallel compilers. He is also known for his work in applying econophysics to classical economics, the field of economic computability, and as the co-author of the book ‘Towards a new Socialism’, advocating for the more efficient and democratic planning of a complex economy.

In this show we discuss the origins of classical political economy, and how it was influenced by the rapid advances in the world of physics. We talk of the importance of Watt and his steam engine, the development of the theories of thermodynamics and entropy, and their importance in economy. The work of Babbage and Alan Turing also get a mention, as well as the human as universal robot. We also discuss the overwhelming empirical evidence for Marx’s Labor Theory of Value, why it is that it works, and the importance of the work of previous guest Prof. Gregory Chaitin in the modern factory. Oh yes, and some roman pottery, Chinese crossbows from the Qin Dynasty, and how difficult it is to fold your clothes.

Enjoy!

You can find his books, talks, and research on his website here:

http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~wpc/reports/index.html

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Interview with Prof. David Harvey

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Volume one, issue two of the Irish Left Review is now in stores – you can pick it up online or get it from one of the bookshops listed here.

The latest issue features an extended interview with Marxist geographer and social theorist David Harvey. Professor Harvey is one of the best-known radical thinkers of the twenty-first century and has published popular books on topics ranging from urban rebellion to postmodernism and from Marx’s Capital to the history of neoliberalism.

In the printed interview he discusses his forthcoming book, ‘The Seventeen Contradictions of Capitalism’, illustrating how the emphasis on exchange value creates a crisis in housing and using contradiction as a basis to tease out a basis for postcapitalist imagination for the Left. Segments of that discussion have appeared previously in Red Pepper.

Below we print unpublished segments of the interview, conducted by journalists Ronan Burtenshaw and Aubrey Robinson, in which Professor Harvey discusses a variety of topics related to his own work and the politics of austerity Ireland. 

Q. One of the reasons why this year is important to the Irish Left is that it is the centenary of the Dublin Lockout. That struggle was built upon a very clear class consciousness, which those engaged in left-wing politics today don’t enjoy. Is there a crisis of class consciousness at the moment? How might we address talking about or organising around class to revitalise it?

DH. The traditional way of thinking about class has always been to think about factory labour. During the industrial era factory labour was critical in terms of the creation of class consciousness and organisation. The Left has celebrated, in a way, the factory labourer as the centre of its critical consciousness and politics. We now face the problem that factory labour has largely disappeared in many parts of the world. It is still there in Bangladesh – what has been happening in factories there is similar to the Triangle Fire in New York in 1911 – the suicides in the factories in China and so on. You could take all of those things  and put them in Marx’s chapter on the working day in volume one of Capital. You wouldn’t know the difference.

Nineteenth century capitalism is still a very strong presence in the world – it is just not here in the UK, Ireland, the United States in the same way it was thirty or forty years ago. As a result of that I think the concept of the working-class has to be revised. I was never happy with this concentration on factory labour, partly because of my urban interests. I ask questions like, ‘where did the Paris Commune come from?’ It was an urban event. People wanted to get their city back. You look historically and 1848 was about people wanting to get their city back as much as it was about the factories. The same in 1919 in Seattle. Then there’s 1968 – which was to do with Paris, Bangkok, Mexico City. If you look historically the city has always been the site of political activism.

My argument all along has been that we have got to pay attention to that dimension of class struggle. It is not class struggle which is as clearly defined as the factory – between bosses and workers. It is a struggle over who owns and has the right to the city. There has always been a dimension of class struggle which has been urban-based. Because of the transformations that have occurred over the last fifty years it seems to me that dimension of struggle has become even more significant. The Left has not caught up in its ideology with what is going on because it is still fixated with the notion of the factory labourer.

Why don’t we think about the city instead of the factory as the centre of what class action is all about? There is a very interesting moment in Gramsci. Around 1916 he wrote a piece saying, ‘I’m very much in favour of the factory councils, they are critical political organisations. But they need to be supplemented by the ward committees.’ These committees were organising all of those people who couldn’t be organised through the factory – the street cleaners, the cab drivers, and so on. Then he noticed something. He said, ‘the ward committees have a better idea about the condition of the whole working-class because the factory council is good at the sector but they don’t have a vision of the whole.’ So I think that labour should be organising around the whole working-class which includes all of those precarious and temporary workers right now that are servicing the city.

Take the immigrants rights’ movement in the United States in 2006. Without being conscious of this immigrants decided not to go to work on a day because they were protesting some of the legislation that was being proposed. Because of that Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles shut down. New York partially shut down. The immigrant population, including the undocumented, refused to go to work for a day and the whole city stopped. This is a tremendous power. I think that the Left has to have imagination and ask, ‘how do we organise a whole city?’

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The Bottom Dog Bites Back – Call for Articles

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The Bottom Dog, a publication of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, was first published on 20th October 1917. The paper brought together the forces of industrial unionism and radical elements among the craft unions. By the time the Dog's first editor, Ben Dineen, died in November 1918, forty-eight editions of the paper had been published. The Dog began its life in order to represent the interests of the oppressed (the “bottom dog”), whether oppressed in terms of class, race, nation, sex or otherwise.

Always and everywhere the Dog worked to expose social injustice and to highlight the plight of those whose stories are omitted in polite society, insisting that the “bottom dog would only come into his own when every worker, male and female, was thoroughly organised”. The Dog has always attempted to give voice to the oppressed and has always focused its attention on issues such as bad housing, low pay, unemployment and poor working conditions.

Since the attacks on the working class are as fierce as they have ever been, The Dog is now ready to return as a quarterly publication (from December 2013). The current editorial team is determined that when the Dog returns it will bite hard. With sincere respect to the history and spirit of the publication we take the 1975 editorial statement as our starting point:

“The Bottom Dog is not a platform for any political party or faction. It is rather a forum open to all workers who wish to contribute articles or ideas etc. The paper covers issues where the working class is under attack or on the advance e.g. redundancies, unemployment, wage freezes and attacks on workers' rights, repression, sex discrimination and womens' rights, strikes, sit-ins and trade-unionisation, especially when they relate to, affect, teach lessons or show the way forward for workers in this country.”

The Dog aspires to be a voice of, and for, the working class – a space where workers, activists, scholars and all others committed to furthering the interests of the working class as a class, can develop and disseminate ideas, and prepare for the struggles ahead.

To this end, The Bottom Dog is currently inviting article contributions. These will normally be 250-700 words. All submissions and expressions of interest can be sent to bottomdog@limerickcounciloftradeunions.com. Accepted articles will be published in the printed edition or/and on our website: http://www.limerickcounciloftradeunions.com/apps/blog/

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Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat

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Book Review: Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat (Pluto Press, 2013)

 

Salvador Allende’s last speech may well have contradicted the perfunctory process of an expected historical epilogue. The mere fragments of time prior to the initial horror unleashed by the military coup on September 11, 1973 may have annihilated the actual era of the Unidad Popular; however it ensured Allende remained an integral part of Chile’s collective memory. Of greater fortitude than nostalgia, Allende’s revolutionary process has managed to retain its relevance beyond the conformity of time.

‘Salvador Allende: Revolutionary Democrat’ (Pluto Press, 2013) goes beyond the expected portrait of Allende as president of Chile, delving into an understanding of his life as a committed activist whose ideology was garnered both from Marxism as well as a profound insight into social inequalities. Despite a relatively privileged background, Allende’s upbringing in Tacna and later in various areas of Chile enabled profound perspectives through an observation of colonial processes, workers’ resistance, popular movements and the contradictions assailing Chilean society. Dispelling the critique of Allende as utopian, Victor Figueroa Clark demonstrates that, far from the multitude of generalisations associated with Allende, Chile’s political process with Allende at the helm was of tangible importance for the left on a global level, as well as for current Latin American governments who have embraced a perpetual struggle against imperial exploitation.

Allende’s life may be perceived as a series of experiences culminating into a profound concern for society and freedom, to the point where the definition of freedom becomes at times a source of controversy. Despite US intervention in Latin America proving detrimental to socialist progress, Allende’s respect for freedom of opinion went beyond the norm. Parallel to his insistence upon flexibility within socialist ideology in order to attain ‘unity of thought’, future dissent was also tolerated, departing from the trend of maintaining revolution through force and opting for revolution ‘as a profound and creative transformation’.

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Marxism and Social Movements

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New Book: “Marxism and Social Movements” 

Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky and Alf Nilsen, eds., (2013), Marxism and social movements. Leiden: Brill (Historical Materialism book series).

482pp. hardback; ISBN 9789004211759. Paperback version with Haymarket to follow; some chapters available online.

Marxism and Social Movements is the first sustained engagement between social movement theory and Marxist approaches to collective action. The chapters collected here, by leading figures in both fields, discuss the potential for a Marxist theory of social movements; explore the developmental processes and political tensions within movements; set the question in a long historical perspective; and analyse contemporary movements against neo-liberalism and austerity.

Exploring struggles on six continents over 150 years, this collection shows the power of Marxist analysis in relation not only to class politics, labour movements and revolutions but also anticolonial and anti-racist struggles, community activism and environmental justice, indigenous struggles and anti-austerity protest. It sets a new agenda both for Marxist theory and for movement research.

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05-07-2013RM

The roads to power: capitalist democracy and socialist strategy

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This article comes from an abortive book project that I was working on about five years ago. The questions that it raises about political strategy for the radical left now appear far more pressing than they did when I wrote it, in the light of events in southern Europe and especially Greece. It sets out two alternative strategies for left-wing parties in capitalist democracies—one passing through the established parliamentary institutions, the other going beyond them—by summarizing the views of two important Marxist thinkers, Ralph Miliband and Ernest Mandel. It was originally published in Spirit of Contradicition on the 1st of July.

On the eve of the global economic crisis, the French socialist writer Daniel Bensaid announced the ‘return of strategy’ as a topic for discussion among progressive and radical forces. According to Bensaid, a long defensive period was drawing to a close: ‘We are coming to the end of the phase of the big refusal and of stoical resistance . . . [characterized by] slogans like ‘The world is not a commodity’ or ‘Our world is not for sale’. We need to be specific about what the ‘possible’ world is and, above all, we need to explore how to get there.’[1] Bensaid argued for renewed discussion, not of ‘models’ for radical change, but of ‘strategic hypotheses’: ‘Models are something to be copied; they are instructions for use. A hypothesis is a guide to action that starts from past experience but is open and can be modified in the light of new experience or unexpected circumstances.’[2] 

Labour and socialist movements in the industrialized North have been dealing with the challenges posed by bourgeois or capitalist democracy for many years. These questions are now of equally pressing interest beyond Europe and North America, as various forms of capitalist democracy take root from Brazil to South Africa. A ‘strategic hypothesis’ of the sort called for by Daniel Bensaid must address the opportunities and difficulties which such political systems present for the Left. 

Classical perspectives 

The body of thought known as ‘classical Marxism’ can be of limited use for any survey of capitalist democracy, and for obvious reasons. Marx and Engels died at a time when absolute monarchies still dominated European politics and universal suffrage was a rare phenomenon. The leading thinkers associated with the Russian revolution and the Communist International witnessed a period when parliamentary democracy appeared to be in danger of extinction. As Eric Hobsbawm recalls: ‘The twenty years between Mussolini’s so-called ‘March on Rome’ and the peak of the Axis success in the Second World War saw an accelerating, increasingly catastrophic, retreat of liberal political institutions . . . the only European countries with adequately democratic political institutions that functioned without a break during the entire inter-war period were Britain, Finland (only just), the Irish Free State, Sweden and Switzerland.’[3] 

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Book Review: Social Work and Social Theory- Making Connections by Paul Michael Garrett

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Book Review: Social Work and Social Theory- Making Connections by Paul Michael Garrett (Polity Press, 2013)

At the outset of this text Garrett outlines his view that there is a frequently unrecognised value in applying social theory to social worker’s day-to-day education and practice. In this book, he makes the case that theoretical engagement can help social workers to navigate those “indeterminate zones of practice” (p.1). Garrett notes in his introduction that social work is often seen and represented as a practical, common sense profession- an ideal activity for “retired City bankers and ex-insurance brokers” as Garrett notes, quoting a UK government official (p.2). The reality is, of course, far more complex than this and Garrett positions himself in opposition to the harmful, yet enduring, belief that social work is, or indeed can be, “theory-less”

The book concentrates on critical social theory developed in Europe by contemporary thinkers and attempts to highlight where these theoretical positions and social work may meet, intersect and be beneficial to social work. At the outset of the book, Garrett explains two theoretical omissions from the text. The first of these being the work of Michel Foucault which he explains by way of noting that much has already been written linking Foucault’s work to social work. Furthermore, Foucauldian theory is thought to a greater or lesser extent on many post-graduate social work courses and I felt the omission could be justified. The second omission which Garrett addresses is around feminist theorists. Garrett acknowledges the absence of feminist theory in the text but states that the book itself is informed by a feminist analysis.

Garrett’s first chapter proper is focussed on the questioning theories of modernisation. He begins by questioning what happened to post-modernity, and its relationship to social work education. Garrett makes two important claims- firstly, that social work academia came to postmodernist thought much later than other disciplines and secondly, that the social work academy’s short engagement with postmodernist theorisation did not impact upon the day-to-day practice of social work professionals primarily because of the complex, sometimes impenetrable language of postmodernist theorisation. However, Garrett does acknowledge that the postmodernist turn in social work and the “blurring of boundaries between professionals” (p.23) along with the move toward actuarialism in social work did change how services were delivered. In line with this shift toward counting, and drawing on the work of Fredric Jameson (2000), Garrett argues that “a new kind of superficiality” (Jameson, 2000:196, quoted by Garrett) evident in late-capitalism was mirrored in the development of one-size fits all social work “tools” which have become increasingly prevalent, particularly in child protection and probation practice.

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