Power, discourse and privilege: power relations in the field of child protection

Whycer, Mavis (1995) Power, discourse and privilege: power relations in the field of child protection. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]

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The aim of this project is to consider Michel Foucault's concept of disciplinary power and his idea of knowledge-power in a specific site of power relations. The site selected, the field of child protection, affords a study of various forms of power operating at different levels and within different institutionalised contexts, against a contemporary background of cultural change and discontinuities. The discourses and discursive practices of privileged agents in the
human sciences, and the privileging effects of institutionalised rules,are analysed and discussed. It is argued that the market-driven discourse of resource management is privileged over the discourses of the human sciences; that the privileged knowledge/truths of the human sciences are increasingly being challenged and opposed, through the ubiquitous discourses of the media, by organized alliances of subjects, and by a population generally less compliant than in previous generations; and that the exercise of disciplinary power by expert agents is being increasingly regulated by the State through the privileged rules of the law. The conclusion reached is that privilege and resources are significant factors in power relations and that specialised knowledge is only one of a range of privileging resources that are always in play in a complex field of force relations.

The methodology used draws on research into theories of power, on analyses of power relations and discursive practices, and case studies. It incorporates theory with an experiential perspective derived from 18 years employment in local authority social work and management. The discourses and discursive practices of social work intersect with theoretical discourses; and first-person narratives from the author's work experience are used as illustrations.

In chapter 1, Foucault's theories of discourse, disciplinary power and knowledge-power are introduced and critically reviewed. Theories of organizational power and the notion of agency are considered in chapter 2. Chapter 3 reviews Foucault's idea of bio-power, the historical intervention of the State and its agents in the family, and the changing concept of childhood. Changes in the family, and professional, legal and managerial discourses intersecting in the field
of child protection, are discussed in chapter 4.

A case study is used in chapter 5 to illustrate and analyse power operating in the field of child protection in 1987, prior to the Children Act 1989. The privileging effects of specialised knowledge and other factors affecting power relations are identified. In chapter 6, sections of the text of the Children Act 1989 are analysed to identify the ways in which the discourse of the law now seeks to address the power imbalances between parents, children and the
professional agents. The ambiguities of its language and the way it privileges the agents with the right to exercise discretion in their practices are discussed. The power of the agents, the politics of child protection, and media power are considered in chapter 7. The discourses of social work and its historical development as part of the state apparatus of discipline and control are discussed in chapter 8. A case study is used to illustrate power relations among social
workers and other professional agents in the field of child protection, and to identify key privileging factors in the operation of power, among them the organizational mechanisms and statutory instruments that empower the agents.
Chapter 9 summarises the main points in the preceding chapters and discusses the ways in which privileged knowledge-power is regulated and increasingly resisted in contemporary society.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: B. > Theses
Item ID: 13439
Depositing User: Adam Miller
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2015 11:49
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2021 16:46
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/13439

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