Why agential realism matters to social work

Stephen A. Webb*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
45 Downloads (Pure)


This article is a theory-building exercise, which focusses on Baradian agential realism to build a framework of key concepts and their interrelationships to show how and why this perspective matters to social work. It makes a statement about the relevance of agential realism, in the writings of Karen Barad and other feminist post-humanist thinkers, to rethink fundamental concepts, which are embedded in social work discourse, especially those humanist notions that relate to agency, subjectivity and reflection. It charts how agential realism can become foundational for social work knowledge. The article is intended both as an introduction to the thought of Barad and as a mapping of current agential realist scholarly trajectories. It guides the reader through the conceptual terrain of agential realist thought by explicating the key concepts of intra-action, entanglement, diffraction and agential cuts. In order to furnish an accessible engagement with Baradian theory, the article marshals case studies and references, drawing on ethnographic and qualitative research, which relate to social work. It concludes by showing how agential realism can provide a rich ontological framework for social work and highlights how it disrupts some of our long-held cherished beliefs about what it means to do social work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2964-2981
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number8
Early online date2 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Agential realism
  • diffraction
  • entanglement
  • intra-action
  • post-humanism
  • social work theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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