C A R O L I N E   M c G R E G O R

Caroline McGregor   91 Panopticon

I started my social work degree at the age of 17 in Trinity College Dublin and worked for a few years as a child protection social worker before pursuing a career in academia, where I have worked for over 20 years. Currently I am Professor and Director of Social Work at National University of Ireland at Galway. I research in the field of social work services and policy relating to children and families.


I chose Benthan’s Panopticon because …

… Michel Foucault’s use of it to depict surveillance and self-regulation is something that has greatly influenced my understanding of social work practice and theory. The idea of the Panopticon as a place from where you can see all of the subjects fits well with the idea of regulation in social work, especially with the idea of self-regulation: as the subjects never know whether they are being watched or not, they need to self-regulate.

This is interesting, of course, from the point of view of the surveillance society and the neo-liberal notion of Big Brother is watching. But it is not so much for this reason that I have chosen the object. It is for the more subtle understanding of self-regulation that it has taught me and that I have developed especially regarding child protection practice and training specifically thinking about deliberate abuse and harm. The ideal, when we think of care for children, is that as adults we self-regulate to ensure that we put children’s needs and interests first and do not cause them any deliberate harm. We do this all of the time as parents and carers in making decisions, and we do this for each other within families and communities.

If we could embrace the notion of self-regulation more widely, we could perhaps find a way to engage adults and communities more in sharing the responsibility for child protection and welfare. It would mean that we would have a system where adults who intentionally harm children and do not care about the consequences realize that they cannot get away with it. This should increase the chances that deliberate child harm, abuse, abduction and torture will move towards being significantly reduced if not eradicated into the future.

While being watched and regulated has many negative and sinister possibilities and effects, in some cases, like those where adults deliberately harm children without caring about the consequences, it is absolutely what we need!

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