This article critically examines the problematic status of ideology (and discourse) with regard to social work, and, in relation, questions any contested elevation of sociological theories which suggest we now live in a ‘post-hegemonic’ age. Three types of ideology relating to social work are explored, and it is proposed that such case examples (among others) have, and continue to, maintain a significant influence within state social work. Examples include the role of science, neo-liberalism and professionalism. Each is examined through the work of Althusser, Gramsci and Foucault to underline their significance. •Findings: Within social work there is evidence to support aspects of the social or political fragmentary trends stressed by advocates of a post-hegemony thesis. However, here it is argued instead that reliance upon hegemony has actually increased rather than disappeared as social work has become less structured, more uncertain and increasingly dependent upon unpredictable markets of social care. •Applications: Critical yet careful analysis of the relationship between ideology and social work can help us to increase understanding of social work practice and education.