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Policy practice in incorporated spaces: Social work organisations influencing policymaking in China

CAI, TIAN (2022) Policy practice in incorporated spaces: Social work organisations influencing policymaking in China. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 07 November 2024.


Social work policy practice, which refers to social workers using their knowledge and skills to influence policymaking, has drawn increasing attention from social work practitioners and researchers in Western democratic countries. However, it is still an overlooked field of practice and research in China. The literature reveals that the development of social work in China is characterised by the strong intervention of the Party-state, which purposefully involves nongovernmental social work organisations (SWOs) in social governance through contracting out social services and exercises strict control over SWOs. This raises the question of whether or to what extent SWOs can participate in policy practice under an authoritarian regime. The academic discussion around participatory spaces indicates that social organisations’ participation in policymaking takes place in the intangible spaces that are filled with power relations, which define the opportunities, rules, and boundaries for participation. As policy practice in China has not been widely researched, the study adopts grounded theory methodology to explore in what spaces SWOs participate in policy practice and how they try to influence policymaking in China. Based on the research fieldwork in two Chinese cities, including intensive interviews with 26 senior social workers and researchers, the study develops a new concept of “incorporated space” to understand SWOs’ participation in policy practice in China. Incorporated spaces refer to those incorporated into the Party-led social governance system in which SWOs become a skilful and loyal arm of the Party-state assisting with policymaking. Incorporated spaces are created through the mechanisms of contractual incorporation and political incorporation, which provide opportunities for SWOs to use collaborative methods to influence policymaking on the one hand, but also reinforce the superior-subordinate relationship between SWOs and the Party-state on the other. The incorporated spaces for policy practice have great implications for the autonomy and political agency of China’s social work profession. Drawing on the research findings, the thesis provides recommendations on how to transform incorporated spaces and widen the participation of social workers and service users.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Social work; policy practice; social work organisations; China
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Sociology, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Nov 2022 16:40

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