Traditionally, it is believed that social workis a profession based upon an academic discipline and practice which supportssocial and change development, social empowerment and cohesion and liberationof people. The fundamental principles of social work are human rights, socialjustice, respect for diversity and collective responsibility. This professionis highly backed by theories of social sciences social work, humanities, andindigenous knowledge. Social work in its various forms engages people toincrease well-being and their capacity to meet life’s challenges (McDermott,2014). However, growing dissatisfaction to this conventional scope of socialwork is presented in scholarly literature and in the practitioner’s reflection,and it’s argued that with social evolution the role and scope of social workshould also be expended (Ferguson, Lavalette, 2013).
The 21st century is marketed byprofound social changes on a global scale, poverty, healthcare, socialinjustice and various other issues have resurfaced again with extremelythreatening prospects. These rapid social changes raise questions regardingwider role of the state, social policy and social work (Ferguson, 2009). In this context Iain Ferguson (2009) has arguedthat “Another Social Work is Possible”.This assertion is worthy of a profound discussion, since we cannot completelydiscard the contribution historical thought in the integral analysis of theantagonistic relations between capital and labour, complex paths in theprofessional work of social work. Hence the aim of this essay is to discussFerguson’s statement and evaluate to what extent Ferguson’s statement ispossible and desirable. How can and should social workers seek to shape thenature and function of social work? What is meant by ‘another social work’? – Fromthe growing technician / activist debate of social welfare models, Ferguson(2009) focuses the one that conceives social welfare as a residual burden andthe institutional or developmental conception.
The first emphasises the role ofsocial control. There is also a function of neutralising poverty. It is aquestion of opposing resistance with cover programmes to minimum requirementsand eliminating distressing silt. It is a private or public charity organisation.”In this sense, welfare alleviates the problems of the disadvantagedclasses by the benevolence of the middle and upper classes. And it tends tobecome a derogatory term, since stigma is associated with the role of client inthose social agencies that provide services for ‘them’, ‘poor devils’,’useless’, not ‘us’, ‘Self-insurance’, ‘normal’ people. Ferguson (2009) also points out that this isthe co-responsibility of the poor considered as “mere problems” thatthe author wishes to emphasise, which means that it differs from theinstitutional conception that Ferguson (2009) expose.
“This conceptionignores the consequence of change,” he says. The poor are thus a categoryof population that remains in time without opportunities for mobility andpromotion) of status. This conception also ignores the causes that lead topoverty and marginalisation. He does not pretend to be angry with them. In this context Ferguson (2009) articulates forthe need of a new social work, to compensate for their defects and the second,more positive in this set, extends this field of action starting from the ideathat in a society all citizens may need the most varied services that help themto maintain and maintain a desirable level of social welfare.
So that, thisconception differs from the former in two technical aspects: acceptance of thestructural causes of many social problems and acceptance. In this way, the social work services that arepromoted and provided to the population are not only aimed at achievingacceptance of new interventions such as counselling and therapy, but to theprovision of the essential resources to maintain and improve the functioning ofsociety. It is a preventive concept, compared to the palliative of theresidual. Social services thus conceived are governed by the principle ofuniversality which transforms them into public services. Now, these twoantithetical ways of conceiving social welfare belong to an analyticaldelimitation, since in practice, at least in contemporary UK (Ferguson, 2009). The causes of this situation are multiple andcomplex.
But it is not our goal to address them in this work. However, it isnecessary to refer to a new situation that is aimed at the horizon of socialservices and possibly is develop a policy perspective and new social work modelas activist for social change rather than implementing what has been theorised. Ferguson (2009) argues that in the 21st centurysocial workers requires fundamental transformation for its effectiveapplication in wider social context. Social work in the past has takensignificant advantages from the ideas and energy of various social movements inthis wider context such as women’s right movement, the movement for the rightsof disable people etc. the real critique however, in this early part oftwenty-first century, of traditional social work approach of neo-liberalglobalisation is emerging from the advocates of global justice andanti-capitalist movement which exposes the magnitude and gravity of thesesocial problems. However, social work as a profession and social workers asprofessional has not responded to this social call. The fundamental arguments of Ferguson (2009)are evident in everyday realities of social life in this global village.Society proclaims and demands equity before the gaps created by the globalmodel.
No one has been able to make economic growth compatible with socialjustice. Efforts to specifically avoid poverty in have been unsuccessful andhuman survival in the region has been progressively deteriorating. On the otherhand, the sustainable model that aims to reignite the development, the culturaladvance and the conservation of the natural wealth, recognises that the activecitizenship with the political power, must interconnect their efforts througheco-educative proposals to achieve social equity (Hare, 2004).
Sustainable human development finds its maximumexpression in the present century, when social order and biodiversity arethreatened, sequestered in their essence, after the policies that apply thepowerful states to the countries submerged in poverty. The emerging paradigmconnected with systems theory places social work professionals in theunderstanding of structural complexity, in which self-organised social subjectsare required to become learning actors, creative, with new socialrelationships, integrated also to share knowledge and projects of life thatprovide the vitality necessary for the implementation of a new social pact(Beck, 2014). Hence, the directionality of social work mustbe framed in a critical revision of its professional project, a holisticreading of the current situation, strengthening its commitment to achieve thetransformations pertinent to social equity in which the most important is torecover the nature of the state in its relations with the market and society. It is well known by all that reconceptualisationwas developed as a process driven by the desire to transform the vision andmission of social work in a context of transcendental changes, such as theexpansion of capitalism, new orientations political power, in the interests ofsocial classes and in the economic model of dependence (Hare, 2004). Ferguson (2009) believes that so for thetraditional sectors of the profession that saw functionalism, the clear horizonto understand the plot accumulated by capitalism, to insert in this directionof social transformation generated great controversy, because to resume thisinitiative meant a manifestation of inexplicable ideologies. Contradictionsbetween the academy and the social welfare institutions at the time, which weresubject to the directions of the governments of the day, distanced from thesocial demands of poor sectors of the population (Lea, 2015).
Why another social work is desirable? – In the21st century there is resurge in the perennial violation ofinternational rights, cultural identity and territorial sovereignty. All thisstimulated by mechanistic principles that have also promoted the transformationof social worker’s conceptions about what social work professionals feel andwant. In examining the fallacies that have been sold for centuries bydevelopment models centred on economic growth and the expansion of markets inglobal networks, social work professionals recognise that capitalist productioncontributed to the generation of human behaviours that build social relationsbased on the reproduction of wealth, using the resources of nature andbiotechnology for the transit to a postmodern society (Ferguson, Lavalette,2013). The case of transforming social work practicefollowing Ferguson’s thesis has its historical roots, in the mid-twentiethcentury, philosophy and science eclipsed in their forms of inquiry, as didenvironmentalist conceptions, which gave rise to behaviour modificationtechniques.
The media along with the technologies, invaded the daily life,achieving a colonisation of the own being; this is the fusion of partialidentities because of social saturation (Rush, Keenan, 2014). A unique achievement during this time is therecognition by the world community of the harrowing threats to biodiversitycaused by war, oil spills, nuclear accidents, solid wastes, watershedspreading, among others. It is known that economic growth is not a conditionfor social development, but it depends on the possibilities of increasingresources as determinants in the achievement of innovations in science,technology and planetary life. Hence, free access to information and socialnetworks that favour equally free competition and dialogue with partners thatallows the search for answers to situations of social exclusion. Therefore,social work should not continue to reproduce the social tensions andepistemological conceptions in the emerging culture model (Beck, 2014). In fact, it must promote a momentous change interms of its mission, vision, and social responsibility. Optical dialogue andtrans-disciplinary work should be given priority to foster an alternative andinnovative project to strengthen people’s democratic access to their civil,social, information and technological rights.
It will also be relevant to articulatestrategies that penetrate the unknown, the spiritual and the ecological, sothat human beings are recognised as actors and protagonists of theirenvironment. This task also entails initiating theconstruction of an enriching know-how, which enables the curiosity and creativecapacity of professionals to be considered as historical beings, who mustassume the leadership for sustainable development as a process for equitablysharing the resources, face new social relations resulting from cultural diversity,with social institutions, civil society groups, social networks and educationalcommunities (Lea, 2015). Because of the above, social work must openpossibilities for a methodological transformation, which will expand the offerof technical-professional alternatives focused on market competitiveness, onthe management of development projects at local and national level, to the ofinternational cooperation, favouring the entrepreneurial vision and socialresponsibility as requirements to achieve the results in the arc of asolidarity economy for life are challenges of the 21st century. In addition to these considerations, it isimportant to note that social movements are now rethinking enrichingperspectives of collective action, centred on the field of identityconstruction, as a key to full autonomy in the expression of their demands.Thus, a professional project in social work should foster an ethical-politicalplatform in which social actors and the state build a social pact that connectsintuition, ethics and the value of socio-cultural diversity with gender equity(Sue et al., 2015). In this context, trans-disciplinarycommunication should be the guideline to enrich social work intervention, bystrengthening the generation of democratic citizenship.
Let social workprofessionals think of building own theory in this century, recreating theirphilosophical platform in holistic ethics, strengthening investigative spiritand self-organising to lead better life projects for the human species. Fornow, let social work professionals take the exercise of seeking this new optionas a historic challenge and find the spaces to build consensus and put it intoaction. There are other challenges that indicate the need to combine tensionsbetween identity, market forces and belonging to humans in all its diversity(McDermott, 2014).
The contemporary social policy and practicechallenges are not only to be a mere instrument of social policy but, asFerguson (2009) says, social work must be an active element in the circularityof the downward dynamics that occurs through decision-making, and in the ascendant,that is carried out through the demands and emerging needs in the context. Itis in this context that both social workers and the population with which theyexercise their profession, where they develop and manifest the needs to whichsocial policy aims to respond. What is the nature of humans? – Marx arguedthat we are individuals only to the degree that history and society enable usto be individuals because human consciousness is sublimed in the history andsociety we live in. Mental life is socially embedded; there is no unsocialisedself.
Marx argued, providing an entry point for reflexivity, that perceptionsabout human nature are influenced by our own social position and by anideological understanding of social reality. Marx also provided a solution tosuch misrepresentations that have influenced radical Social Work: Praxis allowsus to do something about societal dependencies, injustices, and intellectualmisrepresentations. Following Marx, critical thinkers have suggested that human existence takesplace within a societal context, that society is not an external environment oran external variable, but rather an active agent that constitutes the self evenif we are not determined by it. However, one of the main problems stems fromthe question of how we should understand society and which categories SocialWorkers should privilege. This problem is an important site for ontologicalreflexivity because it determines which social justice goal “I” will focus on.
For instance, how can we describe contemporary Western society? We mightdescribe it as developed, industrialised, secular, democratic, liberal,neo-liberal, multicultural, open, advanced; or as patriarchal, neo-colonial,capitalist; or as consumerist, leisure-oriented, communicative, information-based,technological, modern or postmodern; or as combinations thereof. Descriptionscan be based on the economy, political system, industry, technology, knowledgeproduction, and so on. The Philosophical Social Work- To practice effectively in today’s complex and changingenvironment, social workers need to understand how contemporary cultural andphilosophical concepts related to the people they work with and the fieldsthey practice in.
Exploring the ideas of philosophers, includingNietzsche, Gadamer, Taylor, Adorno, MacIntyre, Zizek and Derrida, this textdemonstrates their relevance to social work practice and presents newapproaches and frameworks to understanding social change. This paper proposes aphilosophical social work attitude towards reflexivity that avoidsself-surveillance, individualisation, or a confessional attitude, but rather isintended to inspire informed action in Social Work. This perspective followsParker (2015) who reminded us “to look at how the subjectivity of theresearcher affects and interconnects with that of the researched, and whatforms of agency are facilitated or blocked in the process”.
Such a criticalattitude towards reflexivity provides the conditions for the possibility of reflexivityto challenge the status quo. The paper attempts to provide a useful heuristicwhen dividing reflexivity into ontological, epistemological, and ethicaldimensions, and when applying these dimensions, as interconnected as they are,to reflect upon Social Work (theoretical, academic, practical or political). Italso proposes that reflexivity is a first-person psychological concept, meaningthat it should be applied to yourself, that is, to your own theoriesand practices, before it is applied to the other.
This entails anunderstanding of the reasonable perspective of the other as legitimate as ourown view (even if these perspectives disagree). Epistemologicalreflexivity – Social Work produces, distributes, and consumes knowledge.Epistemological reflexivity challenges our knowledge, our assumptions aboutknowledge as well as our practices of knowledge. Academics have arguedthat epistemological reflexivity needs to be applied at all stages of research,including “the selection of problems, the formation of hypotheses, the designof research (including the organisation of research communities), thecollection of data, the interpretation and sorting of data, decisions aboutwhen to stop research, the way results of research are reported, and so on”.
Differences between the researcher (this may include practitioners) and theparticipant or client (the Other) in terms of gender, ethnicity, class, age,experience, and so on come into play in the production and dissemination ofknowledge. These social labels may reflect different rationalities, values,languages, and norms that can be traced to cultural or subcultural contexts.The researcher, informed by his or her cultural assumptions, may preferresearch topics, methodologies, interpretations, interventions, and so on, thatneglect or even violate the participant’s unique subjectivity and livingconditions. The Social Worker may impose his or her own version of health,empowerment, and resistance onto the other, a rationality that is shaped underthe influence of existing power relations. Ethicalreflexivity – We have suggested that any kind of social or psychologicalactivity is inherently a moral project because it engages with persons,communities, or cultures. Ontological and epistemological decisions haveethical dimensions.
The conducting of research has a moral dimension as havingthe presentation of research and the practice of Social Work. Giventhe huge amount of literature on ethics that indicates the complexity of thedebates, we will only present some examples that intend to represent ethicaldilemmas and issues that Social Workers might encounter or that they need toreflect upon. Conclusion – It concluded that Ferguson’sthesis for the possibility of another social work is indeed possible. Both theincreasing social injustice in almost every sphere of social life in thisglobal world and growingly redundant social work practice warrants afundamental transformation in the objectives social work practices and role ofsocial worker in shaping and implementing social policies. As members of society, practitioners alsointeract with other subjects, with the social whole and with the structure.
Social workers are in the normalised part, majority in society, where the powerof objectification resides. Therefore, they have a vision about the problemsand the material manifestations of the object, the discomfort. This vision, obtained as a member of thesociety, is consubstantial to his person, to his citizenship, and of which theyhardly come off when they intervene as professionals.
Putting it is necessaryanother construction of the object that allows social work professionals toestablish distance from the social consideration of discomfort, in front of ourown personal vision and that allows social work professionals to enter fullyinto the world of the other, i.e. try to understand what it means, what itrepresents, how the situation of malaise in order to develop a professionalaction that focuses on the autonomy, on the participation of the individual inthe solution of his problem. It is possible with the use of an instrumentalapparatus that emphasises the qualitative, the unique perspective that eachsubject gives to each situation that lives, and with the knowledge andmanagement that helps to become aware of own considerations. Smith (2012) summarised the current status quoon the issue very well: “there is the re?exivity of academics in a particular?eld, say social theory, interested in persuading colleagues to examine thetaken-for-granted concepts, values, and practices of the ?eld.
Thequestion is what this reflexivity embellishes. I think that Maton (2014) makesvalid points when discussing the attitude that might emerge from reflexivity:”it has now become a sin to not be reflexive. The term is used as a marker ofproclaimed distinction and originality, with position-takings effectivelyclaiming, ‘I am a reflexive actor producing reflexive accounts of reflexivemodernity, while you are unreflexively and inadequate, an outdated relic of abygone era'” (p. 54).