The assets-based approach: furthering a neoliberal agenda or rediscovering the old public health? A critical examination of practitioner discourses

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Abstract

The 'assets-based approach' to health and well-being has, on the one hand, been presented as a potentially empowering means to address the social determinants of health while, on the other, been criticised for obscuring structural drivers of inequality and encouraging individualisation and marketisation; in essence, for being a tool of neoliberalism. This study looks at how this apparent contestation plays out in practice through a critical realist-inspired examination of practitioner discourses, specifically of those working within communities to address social vulnerabilities that we know impact upon health. The study finds that practitioners interact with the assets-based policy discourse in interesting ways. Rather than unwitting tools of neoliberalism, they considered their work to be about mitigating the worst effects of poverty and social vulnerability in ways that enhance collectivism and solidarity, concepts that neoliberalism arguably seeks to disrupt. Furthermore, rather than a different, innovative, way of working, they consider the assets-based approach to simply be a re-labelling of what they have been doing anyway, for as long as they can remember. So, for practitioners, rather than a 'new' approach to public health, the assets-based public health movement seems to be a return to recognising and appreciating the role of community within public health policy and practice; ideals that predate neoliberalism by quite some considerable time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-464
Number of pages10
JournalCritical Public Health
Volume27
Issue number4
Early online date25 Oct 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2017

Keywords

  • assets based approach
  • social enterprise
  • public health

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