Roberto Esposito, biopolitics, social work

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


Intended both as an introduction to the thought of the Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito and as a mapping of current biopolitical analysis, this chapter traces the contributions of recent Esposito scholarship to widen perspectives in social work education and critical pedagogy to the nuances of contemporary theory. The chapter offers a summary of Esposito's insight into the biopolitical nature of social work and its implications for pedagogy. As one colleague recently remarked to the author “social work is the biopolitical project par excellence”. Social work is a striking illustration of the neoliberal biopolitical strategy of governing “from below” whereby agents of the state are intimately connected with calculation or control and direction as micro practices of self-reflection. Social work articulates neoliberalism’s normative attempts of mobilising social agents as reflective instruments of control. It will be shown how adopting a critical pedagogical approach among social work educators, researchers and students can educate and strengthen tactics of resistance (Webb, 2019). Drawing on Esposito’s work, this can be achieved by a pedagogy that critiques professional normalisation as a negative protection, and the way this conditions front-line power relations with service users and carers. As a part of this biopolitical regime, a primary function of social work is to safeguard (negatively) individual, family and community life. From an education standpoint biopolitical analytics can focus social workers on investigating the network of power relations, knowledge practices and modes of subjectification evident in change processes and modes of surveillance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Critical Pedagogies for Social Work
EditorsChristine Morley, Phillip Ablett, Carolyn Noble, Stephen Cowden
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781351002042
ISBN (Print)9781138545748
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2020

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks


  • biopolitics
  • Roberto Esposito
  • social work
  • continental philosophy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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