Safeguarding or Surveillance? Social Work, Prevent and Fundamentalist Violence

Stephen Cowden, Jonathon Picken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Downloads (Pure)


This paper seeks to critically explore the construction of the Prevent
counter-terrorism initiative within Social Work in the UK, and to consider
the implications this has for Social Work. We begin by discussing the
conceptualisation of ‘radicalisation’ in the work of Arun Kundnani, one of
the leading critics of Prevent, pointing to the limitations of this as a means
of grasping the nature of Salafi-jihadi groupings. We then move to a
discussion of the development of counter-terrorism policy in the UK,
looking at the way the 2015 legislative guidance has re-situated
radicalisation from a ‘security’ issue to a ‘safeguarding’ issue. We see this
as significant for the way it has facilitated Social Work being directly drawn
into the orbit of Prevent, with radicalisation being re-constructed as part
of Social Work’s concern with the vulnerability of children and young
people involved in wider forms of exploitation, including Child Sexual
Exploitation. We consider the reception of this shift within Social Work as
well as look at evidence into how this is working in practice. We then
consider challenges to this ‘safeguarding’ paradigm, which argue that this
has involved Social Work being drawn into the ideological monitoring of
Muslim communities: a ‘surveillance’ paradigm. We conclude by arguing
for a critical defence of a safeguarding approach based on the harms which
fundamentalist violence clearly represents to children and young people
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-131
Number of pages41
JournalFeminist Dissent
VolumeNo. 4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Stephen Cowden is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Coventry University
and his research is concerned with Social Work theory and practice, Critical
Pedagogy, and the Sociology of Religious Fundamentalism. Stephen is a
joint commissioning editor for the series New Disciplinary Perspectives in
Education for the publisher Peter Lang and with David Ridley he is editor
of The Practice of Equality: Jacques Rancière and Critical Pedagogy
(forthcoming 2019). He is also with Gurnam Singh, Sarah Amsler, and Joyce
Canaan, co-author of Acts of Knowing: Critical Pedagogy In, Against and
Beyond the University (2013). He is a member of the Editorial Collective of
Feminist Dissent.


  • Safeguarding, Surveillance, Social Work, Counter-terrorism, Salafi-Jihadism


Dive into the research topics of 'Safeguarding or Surveillance? Social Work, Prevent and Fundamentalist Violence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this