I recently had the privilege of attending the 13th Conference of the European Sociological Association in Athens, Greece. At the end of this trip, as we waited for a ride to the airport and the journey home, a rag-tag group of homeless families were sleeping rough in a dusty park behind the bus stop. A frail little girl, maybe four or five, in a torn dress, with matted hair, skin sores and blackened teeth stretched out her tiny arm for some loose change – a studied look of hopelessness in her empty eyes. I have seen this look before – in the intense gaze, both vacant and pleading, of malnourished street children in East Africa and in the teeming cities of India.
It is useful – I think – to reflect on the busy year that is now drawing in and to focus on the hopes and dreams that lie ahead of us. In various ways the aim of our RSW Collective has been to contribute to a re-thinking of the aims and aspirations of social work in turbulent times. Above all it is critical to recognise that social work is influenced by a broader context of economic and political relations.
It is indeed a time for outrage. The far right is exerting considerable political influence in most Western countries to the point where rhetoric and ideological approaches to welfare and society appear indistinguishable. Critical thinking seems to be absent in many school curricula: see for example creationism still taught in faith schools.
The British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron regularly invokes the notion of “common sense” as a means of explanation or resolution to a variety of complex social issues; from referring to a Supreme Court judgment that denied prisoners’ voting rights, as a “victory for common-sense” (Morris, 2013), calling for “an urgent outbreak of common sense” (More Bridger, 2014) when discussing the arrest and imprisonment of the parents of Ashya King, a seriously ill child removed without medical consent from a British hospital in 2014; describing an EU court ruling on benefit tourism as “simple common-sense” (BBC, 2014) and of importance to this debate, urging social workers to use “common-sense” when dealing with child abuse (Holeman, 2015). As it can be seen, Cameron and his government regularly invoke “common sense” but rarely is it qualified. Rather, there is an assumption that everyone shares the same understanding, as it so obviously simple, and so recognizable and universally agreed upon, that it does not merit qualification. Indeed, this seems a key ingredient in what we previously referred to as “thin narratives” (McKendrick and Finch, 2016), using simplistic and anxiety provoking narratives to explain complex social phenomena.
This guest blog post is by John Darroch. John has just completed his BSW (Hons) in social work and is currently studying towards his Masters at Auckland University. He has a passion for issues of social justice and grass-roots organising.