Words matter. Maybe social workers know this better than most. They are often the tools of our trade after all. How we describe the world – how we communicate our analysis of ‘the social’ – helps to construct our belief systems in subtle and important ways. Language use is influenced by changing political, economic and social systems, although much of this is only obvious looking backwards.
A guest post by John Darroch
As we experience growing social and economic harm resulting from the coronavirus outbreak it may seem tempting to put political questions aside. After all, this is a human crisis, and one which requires immediate action. But the scale of this crisis, and the harm we are experiencing, is a result of our economic system. The fear and stress that we are feeling about losing our jobs, about not having sick leave, about paying our rent, are not individual crises. They are not crises caused by our individual actions. Nor are they the inevitable result of a global pandemic. This is a crisis of capitalism.
A guest post by Jackie Newton.
Jackie identifies as a feminist and a socialist. In this post she reflects on her social work practice journey over most of forty years (1978-2018) – in and against the state – with DSW, CYPS, Health at all levels, NGOs – in cities, provincial towns and rural settings.
Looking back, she feels that the radical potential of social work has been unhorsed by structural barriers set within the politics and economics of liberal capitalism. This post questions what might have been and asks us to honestly consider where social workers can stand today.
This is a guest post by Bex Amos, social worker.
My name is Bex and I am a social worker. I first noticed my addiction to social working when I started experiencing the common symptoms of irritability, low mood, intrusive thoughts and insomnia. My diagnosis was indisputable when I started using risk-analysis assessments to measure the ability of parents to care for their own tamariki. I now like to call myself a recovering social worker, but the road to sobriety is a long and painful journey.
A guest post from Michele Jarldorn – Flinders University, Adelaide.
Just a few days before Christmas when the temperature in Adelaide reached over 40 degrees for the fourth consecutive day, I watched with sadness as the Cuddlee Creek bushfires burned an area enmeshed in my childhood memories. It’s not just bushfires – unprecedented heatwaves are killing our wildlife. I have lived my entire life in Adelaide and grew up knowing that this was the driest state in the driest continent. But, in my 56 years I have never seen Australia so dry; some towns have literally run out of water. This is not just one day or even one week of catastrophic fire danger though; Australia has been burning since September, yet Prime Minister Scott Morrison felt it was okay to go on holiday to Hawaii. This lack of leadership, according to Richard Flanagan “symbolised contempt for all Australians” (2019). For the First Nations Peoples of Australia, the utter disregard and resulting degradation of country is another in a long line of injustices of theft, lies, racism and dispossession (Pascoe, 2018).
This one is about the politics of dispossession, poverty and incarceration in neoliberal New Zealand. It is no secret that Māori, Pasifika and working-class families generally carry a disproportionate burden of social suffering in our society. Look around you if you don’t believe me. We need to dismantle the structures that perpetuate social inequality.
This one is for the lawyers. Child protection and the appropriate legal framework to facilitate ‘best practice’ is a subject which has been vigorously contested across Anglophone societies over the last forty years. These debates reflect differing disciplinary perspectives and differing ideological influences such as the tension between the discourse of individual children’s rights on the one hand and claims to collective cultural autonomy for whānau Māori on the other. Much of this friction is generated by, and reflected in, the economic and political changes that have developed since the 1970s, when the so-called ‘Welfare State consensus’ started to unravel. Parton (2014) argues that changes to child protection practice over time are best understood as responses to changing (and contested) constructions of the preferred relationship between the state, the family and children; and more specifically the children of the poor.
A Guest post by David Kenkel
Trigger warning: this post discusses bleak likelihoods that are painful to consider. The unmentioned backdrop to social work’s future is that the world has passed an ecological crisis point of no return and there is little chance that near-term catastrophe can be averted (see Bendall, 2018). This is a situation that the western world has not yet begun to face. This is a post about hope. Not hope that we can avert the coming environmental predicament, but hope that as communities face inevitable crisis, they will rediscover collective solidarity and wiser ways of living together. Social work can have a key role in this transition back to sanity.
The Government promised us capitalism with a human face. To be fair, serious political attention is being directed at the social consequences of capitalism for the first time in decades. However, the soothing language of wellbeing can be deceptive. I think it is important to understand that this public policy initiative has serious limitations which are disguised in the current political context. Aotearoa New Zealand (ANZ) is a small liberal capitalist society. This model of economic, social and political arrangements sets the possibilities for reform and limits our perceptions of alternatives. I will argue here that we need to think outside of the liberal capitalist box if we are to imagine (and make) real distributive 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.