The Trouble with Touch? New Insights and Observations on Touch for Social Work and Social Care

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Abstract

This article overviews multidisciplinary knowledge on touch and explores its relevance for social work. It evaluates the limited literature from social work and related practice-based disciplines which suggests how potentially harmful and risk-averse many current 'professional' touch practices are. Alternative biological and psychological literature is analysed, elucidating the importance of regular positive touch for good physical and mental health, the adverse consequences of abusive touch or touch deficit and the corresponding potential for restorative touch practices. Social-psychological, clinical and consumer research is also drawn on, demonstrating links between touch, persuasion and aversion, and registering clear gender, age, sexuality, power and cross-national differences. The analysis is then extended through an examination of sociological and philosophical literature which guards against viewing the mind and body as unrelated entities, evaluates work-based touch within organisational contexts, and highlights the profound influence of history, culture and social class. This synthesis of diverse multidisciplinary literature therefore illuminates the potential consequences of social workers adopting an uninformed, defensive and avoidant or control-orientated stance towards touch whilst simultaneously constructing new insights to help social workers acquire more nuanced understandings and practise more knowledgeably and empathically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)773-792
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Volume47
Issue number3
Early online date12 Jul 2016
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jul 2016

Keywords

  • Touch
  • tactility
  • health
  • multidisciplinary
  • abuse
  • the body
  • embodiment

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