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What does urgency mean for social work today? It seems that whichever way one turns, a sense of urgency is prevalent: whether the persistent time pressures exerted in day-to-day practice, or the recurrent themes of impending crisis confronting the profession itself. Frequently, these strains on time and resource perpetuate a division of 鈥榯heory鈥 and 鈥榩ractice鈥. In some cases, this is simply a re-assertion of the view that a social worker should get the practice done, and think about the theory later. But there is also a sense in which, under the neoliberal governance of social provision, urgency has become far more of an inherent feature of social work. This suggests a need to re-think the ways of acknowledging and representing this urgency, the problem of time that underlies the relationship between social work practice and theoretical inquiry, and the models of critique that can be applied to it. This paper applies an interdisciplinary approach to considering the impact of urgency on practice, by drawing together social work research with the tools of classical rhetoric and philosophy, in order to continue the growing discussions around the conceptual basis of social work, and in particular the concept of time itself within neoliberal social care.


An earlier version of this paper was first delivered as a keynote address to the Annual Conference of R茅seau Europ茅en de Formation Universitaire en Travail Social (REFUTS) at the University of Luxembourg, in 2018. My heartfelt thanks to Claude Haas and Thomas Marthaler for inviting me to speak, and the questions and responses from those present.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).

Notes on contributor

Tom Grimwood is Associate Professor in Social Philosophy at the University of Cumbria, where he co-leads the Health and Society Knowledge Exchange (HASKE) unit. Prior to this he ran the MA Social Work programme at the University. His research focuses on the intersections between philosophical and cultural hermeneutics, and applied social practices. He is the author of Irony, Misogyny and Interpretation (2012), Key Debates in Social Work and Philosophy (2016) and The Shock of the Same (forthcoming).

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