Socialnet reviews: susanne gerull: poverty and exclusion in the context of social work

Susanne Gerull: Poverty and Exclusion in the Context of Social Work. Juventa Verlag (Weinheim) 2011. 236 pages. ISBN 978-3-7799-2212-4. 19.95 EUR, CH: 30.50 CHF.

Series: Study modules social work.
Research at DNB KVK GVK


The author is a professor of the theory and practice of social work with a focus on poverty, unemployment, homelessness and low-threshold social work at the Alice Salomon University in Berlin.

Background information

The book appears in the series “Study modules social work” as a basic text for diploma and bachelor’s programs. This volume prepares the material of a semester as an independent teaching and learning unit, wants to encourage self-study and provides further information.

In the foreword, the author makes it clear that she worked as a social worker for 15 years after completing her studies in administrative homelessness and during this time "got to know thousands of poor and socially excluded people" (p.5).

This own experience led her to the idea of ​​writing a monograph on the subject of poverty in order to create a theory-practice transfer.

Objective and structure

The volume is designed so that individual chapters can be read individually, but it can also be worked through systematically. This includes case studies, questions at the end of each chapter and suggestions for further reading and references to informative websites.

The textbook is divided into three sections.

The first main part

The first main part is to lay the theoretical foundation in six chapters. The first chapter deals with the most important definitions and concepts of poverty. This is followed by a chapter on measuring poverty, followed by a historical digression on the development of poor welfare towards the modern welfare state.

Social inequality and social exclusion are then discussed, just like the sociopolitical dimensions of poverty, and finally the context of poverty and gender is presented.

These overviews are informative and introduce the topic. However, the presentation is a little italic, so the concept of the living situation will follow Neurath and Weisser dealt with very generally, just like the concept of chances of realization only on Amartya Sen refers and no reference to the second central protagonist, Martha walnut, contains, which in its approach is entirely from Sen differs. Nor does the reviewer understand why Peter Glotz is used in his statements about the two-thirds society. Here might be a reference to Heitmeyer and his disintegration considerations. This relates to his considerations on the integration-disintegration of society, because elsewhere the author certainly goes on with the ongoing investigations Heitmeyer et al (P.67f).

The "working definition of poverty for social work" following this sub-point, however, summarizes the existing knowledge about the causes of poverty and exclusion in a striking manner. However, why this enables “resource-oriented, professional interaction (sic !, F.V.) with poor people for social work” (p.28) is not entirely clear. The definition primarily explains and potentially creates the basis for possible action goals and intentions. If the author demands "a holistic view of the life situation and the scope of action of those seeking help" (p.29), the factual consequences remain very vague.

In the sense of the theoretical considerations for the description of social life situations described above, in my view it would have made more sense to use the capability approach and / or the agency approach of (largely embedded in it) Homfeldt / Schroer / Schweppenhausen. Even if thisnew“Can be critical of the theoretical paradigm, it is certainly helpful to show which conditions of a“ worthy life ”belong to a society and what enables a person to lead it.

The sociological part on social inequality and social exclusion would surely have been differentiated by differentiated milieu-theoretical considerations and lifestyle analyzes (M. Vester u.a., Sinus study, S. Hradil, G. Schulze) can be supplemented or by the considerations of Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and his comprehensive study of explanations for social differentiation and demarcation of social classes. Elsewhere, the author (p.158) briefly discusses Bourdieu and takes up his habitual theorem, but this would have m. E. already belongs to inequality in the basic sociological outline.

The second main part

In the second main part, the author presents various dimensions of poverty: poverty and work, work and health, poverty and housing, poverty and education, poverty and consumption, poverty and participation. These individual chapters provide concise and precise information about relevant areas of life. This is especially true for the first chapter of this part: poverty and work.

The aspect of family and health has recently come into focus. The family comes under pressure “to produce healthy people, but there are also different options and opportunities to ensure the health of their members. Perhaps the aspects could have been related even more to the differentiated family conditions and forms?

The third main part

In the third main part, the author defines poverty of "special target groups", here child poverty, old age poverty, poverty and migration. These representations provide a good overview of groups of people who are particularly at risk of and exposed to poverty. In the chapter on child poverty, it might have made sense to draw the link to the living situation of single parents more than it does in the chapter (pp. 174, pp. 177f.), Because the cause of poverty and exclusion is often hidden in the one-parent constellation. booth (2008) did this e.g. B. succinctly presented in a book about the "excluded". Some of the wording here is somewhat imprecise: "The hierarchical school system in Germany is also seen as one of the main causes of child poverty" and – the author continues: "This is how social status dictates the educational success, income and career prospects of children in Germany “(P.178).

In conclusion, the author encourages social workers to get involved. Mielenz greetings!


The advocatory function of social work conjured up here runs like a thread through the book. This is formulated somewhat voluntaristically. Even if Susanne Gerull also sees the limits of this approach and denies the urge for a better life as an approach, since it is important to respect the self-determination of people, so the presentation sometimes stops in general: "Basically, social work must interfere much more in the area of ​​work – and not only deal with the consequences of individual disadvantages and restrictions ”(p.98).

Here a bit shimmers that of B. Müller described burden of great hopes!


All in all, a workbook for a seminar on poverty. The author of these lines just had parts of it read and discussed in a seminar.

The students see this volume as an introduction to the different subject areas and aspects. The approach to draw conclusions for social work from the individual descriptions in the chapters should be emphasized.

The author emphasizes the need for further work, which should be agreed.

However, social work should be careful not to venture into socio-political territory like an empty formula: “Social workers must have the political mandate of social Actively accept work and interfere in all decisions that have a direct or indirect impact on people in poverty ”(p.214). The recourse to the "system-preserving function" (p.210) of social work is reminiscent of past discourses. Or in another place: "The central aid paradox of social work has been the tension between help and control since the 1970s" (p.64). Here brief theoretical explanations for the description of the role of the social are mentioned, without further discussion of their importance.

Perhaps it would be better to emphasize the necessary legal, methodological, analytical and disciplinary knowledge in order to be able to act professionally?

So some clues remain rather vague, the author demands "general intercultural competences" (p.210) for the job with migrants, but what they consist of, this is only very generally indicated.

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Prof. Dr. Friedhelm Vahsen
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Friedhelm Vahsen. Review of December 22, 2011 on: Susanne Gerull: Poverty and Exclusion in the Context of Social Work. Juventa Verlag (Weinheim) 2011. ISBN 978-3-7799-2212-4. In: socialnet reviews, ISSN 2190-9245,, date of access 14.01.2020.

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