Learning from immigration controversies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Social work is a profession that works within various contexts and is shaped by contemporary economic, social, political, and cultural forces. Subsequently, front line activity entails implementing assessments and providing service provision with individuals and families often experiencing the worst effects of austerity, inequality, and injustice. Such activity often takes place within controversial contexts that are not difficult to identity; from UK ‘Brexit’ negotiations to the recent ‘#Metoo’ movement, such events influence society in uncertain ways, sometimes detrimentally, other times, they challenge outdated ideals. In this chapter, I take inspiration from Science and Technology (STS) studies in ‘controversy analysis’ (Venturini, 2010) in order to bring the contemporary controversial landscape of immigration into dialogue with social work practice. The aim being to learn from the concept of controversy, and interrogate what it means for practitioners, students and service users “to live, to know, and to practice in the complexities of tension” (Law and Hassard, 1999, p.12).
In order to address these concerns, I draw from my experiences conducting ethnographic ‘controversy analysis’ fieldwork with the Asylum Seeker Housing Project (ASH) in Glasgow, UK. I start by examining a report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on asylum accommodation in the UK (House of Commons, 2017). Asylum accommodation is a notoriously controversial issue and the evidence gathered during this year-long inquiry provides detailed learning opportunities for those working with this service user group. Notably, key concerns emerge such as health and safety issues, reports of overcrowding and the degrading treatment of asylum seekers. I then delve into further controversy and explore the issue of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ (NRPF), a legal condition imposed on those subject to immigration control.
In this chapter, my aim is to investigate immigration controversies and interrogate how social work operates within this context. There are tensions between the notion of immigration control and social work practice that need to be critically addressed. While pro-immigration slogans and rhetoric such as ‘Refugees Welcome’ are worthwhile strategies, my intention in this chapter is to zoom in on the complexity of this context, and learn from controversy. What is happening in these moments, who is implicated and what is the impact? Maybe then, it becomes possible to begin to combat a discriminatory immigration environment that is rife with injustice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSocial Work with Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants: Theory and Skills for Practice
EditorsLauren Wroe , Rachel Larkin , Reima Ann Maglajlic
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherJessica Kingsley Publishers
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781784506742
ISBN (Print)9781785923449
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 2019


  • immigration
  • no recourse to public funds
  • social work education
  • asylum


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