When thinking about the past, present and future of social work it is instructive to bear in mind that its theory and practice is politically located (Gray & Webb, 2013). More specifically, social work in the Western context is embedded in the historical evolution of capitalism. Capitalism is a dynamic, often mesmerising, means of production and distribution which is both creative and destructive. There are some major difficulties with it as a model of development. As Karl Marx pointed out, it exploits working people, extracting surplus value from their labour (Hollander, 2008). Why do you think manufacturing has shifted to distant sweat-shops over the last forty years or so?
We have been talking, in varying ways, about social work and social justice on this blog for a long while now. Is this relationship possible, sustainable, realistic? We do need to keep talking about this and, more importantly, we need to start doing something about it or you can probably forget about it in ten years – the project will have been eradicated! I would like to know what others think – can social work be a force for progressive social change?
This is a guest blog post by Lauren Bartley: a recent graduate and practising social worker.
I’ve spent the last four years at university banging on about social justice while doing the BSW at the University of Auckland. This was the very reason I began a career in social work, because I had deep sense of the injustice in the world and wanted to do something about it. I prided myself on being an activist, a radical. It became my passion, my defining feature. Early into the degree, I realised that there was a major incongruence between what I thought social work was, or should be, and what it actually seemed to be. By the end of my second year, most of my assignments had the same running theme: that as much as social workers espouse the value of social justice, social workers aren’t actually doing it. I deeply connected with Ferguson and Woodward’s (2009) criticism that social workers tend to “play down the structural factors and to focus on individual and personal issues.” (p.8). I was constantly frustrated and dismayed by how little attention seemed to be paid to the wider factors of colonisation, capitalism and neoliberalism, both in the degree and in the profession, and how little those structural inequalities and oppressions seemed to matter to everyone else. I challenged visiting social workers who presented in class, and was intensely critical of them when they said they had “no time” to address structural issues. Putting plasters on people was all social workers seemed to be doing, and this made me angry. A placement at Auckland Action Against Poverty served to fuel this cynicism, and I came to the point of having a crisis of faith, seriously reconsidering social work as a career.
A guest post by Carole Adamson, University of Auckland
I’ve just been reflecting about the election and what I know about Jacinda and her new team in the light of my recent visit to Finland. I’ve been having conversations with people about social work’s role in emergency and disaster contexts, being firmly of the belief that the psychosocial response to disasters is what carries people into recovery and wellbeing, and that social work in our country is often under-represented in planning for and responding to disasters.
What I liked about the emergency and social services response in Finland, and what ties it in to the small glow of hope that I have in relation to the change of government in Aotearoa, is that a psychosocial perspective is honoured not only in practice but in policy and legislation.
A guest post by John Darroch, PhD Candidate, University of Auckland
Over the past week or so there have been a few blog posts on this site focusing on what the new Labour government means for social work in Aotearoa New Zealand. The general view of the authors seems to be that things are looking up, but that we will have to remain critical, and active, in order to push this government in the right direction.
In this post I intend to look more specifically at how the profession should position itself, and what we can do to maximise our impact. While the new government may have noble intentions there is no guarantee that this will always translate into sound social policy. There will be a range of competing interest groups, holding varying ideological beliefs, which will be working to influence this government when it comes to social policy. In particular this post aims to inspire individuals to think about how they can increase their effectiveness, and make their voice count.
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.
The following is the response of the Re-Imagining Social Work Collective to the call for comments and suggestions by the New Zealand Social Workers Registration Board on their definition of ‘social work’ and proposed scope of practice.
Over the last few months, the NZ government has faced multiple demands for independent inquiries: to uncover alleged war crimes undertaken by NZ military forces against Afghani civilians, to acknowledge NZ women who were forced to have their new-borns adopted, and to understand the experiences of the thousands who endured abuse within NZ’s state care system. To all these victims, the government’s response has been ‘no’, ‘go away’.
By Amy Ross (Trade Union Organiser, PSA)
Tuesday’s post by John Darroch explored unionisation as a critical component of social workers being able to realise social change in a practical sense. As a union organiser, social worker and the convenor of the Social Worker Action Network (SWAN) within the Public Service Association (PSA) union this presents a useful opportunity to explore this idea further as well as to elaborate on what the PSA is doing with social workers across Aotearoa.
In a recently published article in the Guardian newspaper a U.K social worker ‘called out’ the platitude (often found in the umbrella pronouncements of social work organisations and in the rhetoric of social work academics) that social work is ‘about’ social justice. The following excerpt from the article makes the central point.
The role of the child protection social worker in today’s world is not to strive to redress the imbalance of our society. And if the reality of what social workers do differs so radically from the ideology, then surely it’s time to look again at what we mean by social work and what the government and society expects of social workers?