Special Articles / Narayan Gopalkrishnan / Community Work : Theories, Experiences & Challenges
In the 21st century, the process of globalisation continues at a rapid pace, fuelled by improvements in information and communication technology and infrastructure. Very little of what happens in the world is a local event and there is constant interaction between the global and the local. Globalisation has also led to a number of complex transnational problems, such as climate change and the global financial crisis, problems that impact most heavily on marginalised communities and individuals in society. In this chapter, the role that community development can play in enabling professional social workers to respond effectively to the impacts of globalisation is analysed. The themes drawn from this discussion are further examined in the context of social work and social work education. The chapter closes with a delineation of Integrated Social Work as an approach to enabling future social workers to work effectively in a globalised world.
Keywords: Community Development, Social Work, Social Work Education, Integrated Social Work, Micro-Macro Approaches, Globalisation.
The second half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century have involved increased extensions of global networks, intensity of global interconnectedness, the velocity of global flows as well as the impact propensity of global interconnectedness involving a multiplicity of actors and flows, a process commonly referred to as Globalisation (Held & McGrew, 2007). This relatively benign view of globalisation is challenged by a number of scholars who see globalisation as a reshaping of the world and society on global economic principles (Alphonse, George, & Moffatt, 2008; Beck, 2000; Gopalkrishnan, 2003; Heron, 2008), one that is guided by neoliberal ideology that emphasises the primacy of the free market and its ability to respond effectively to social problems. This view of globalisation is frequently termed neoliberal globalisation. The extent that this extends across the globe is greatly facilitated by information and communication technology and infrastructure that enable the increasing speeds and volumes of transactions across the world (Babacan & Gopalkrishnan, 2001). Further, Multilateral Economic Institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization provide an ad hoc system of global governance for neoliberal globalisation that completely lacks democratic accountability and tends to support the interests of the rich (Gopalkrishnan, 2001; Stiglitz, 2004). Another issue with neoliberal globalisation is that inequity in its institutional arrangements also ensures that the economic benefits that flow from it are divided very unequally (Sen, 2004), with the top 20 per cent of the world’s population accumulating 86 per cent of the wealth as against the lowest 20 per cent with only 1.3 per cent of the total wealth (Dominelli, 2010b).
It can be argued that neoliberal globalisation exacerbates the scale and severity of already existing social problems such as poverty, hunger, ill health and unemployment and incorporates new elements of risk such as in the area of natural disasters caused by climate change (Beck, 2000; Gopalkrishnan, 2011). Transformation in the economic maps of the world is also reflected in transformations in the pressures on the environment with the income-poor, less industrialised countries of the Majority World coming off a poor second to the income-rich, highly industrialised countries of the Minority World (Doyle, 2005; Sachs, 2004). These terms of Majority and Minority Worlds will be used through the rest of the chapter, rather than the more traditional ones of ‘Developed and Underdeveloped’ or ‘Global North and South’ as the author is of the view that they represent more accurately the distinctions between these groups of countries than the traditional terms have done.
It must be noted here that these risks are increasingly being spread across countries through global processes such as migration and economic interdependence (Dollar & Kraay, 2003; Sachs, 2004). Poverty itself is becoming global as a result of drugs, diseases, pollution, migration, terrorism and political instability (Nissanke & Thorbecke, 2006; United Nations, 1996). There are a number of issues that transcend the boundaries of nation-states including environmental changes, global warming, world hunger, population growth, and external debt, to name a few (Caragata & Sanchez, 2002). The processes of neoliberal globalization also involve the state placing increased emphasis on reduced public spending and welfare provision, leaving it less able to ameliorate the worst impacts of globalisation (Dominelli, 2010b; J. Ife & Tesoriero, 2006).
The traditional support systems that existed in the extended family and the community are also weakened or demolished by the fluid interactions of global forces, further increasing the vulnerability of large sections of the population (Ahmadi, 2003). Ledwith (2001) further argues that the impacts of neoliberal processes are both gendered and racist, in that they impact most heavily on women, especially those from marginalised groups like the African-American community in the United States. The United Nations (1996) speaks about this negative impact on women in terms of the neoliberal Structural Adjustment Programs imposed on many countries of the Global South, stating that their net impact has been to reduce even further women’s access to entitlements needed to sustain minimal well-being.
On the positive side, there is evidence to show that the benefits of neoliberal globalisation can flow through to the poorer countries and poorer communities, such as with the commonly presented examples of India and China, but even this is subject to major institutional reforms and changes to governance structures that have significant negative impacts on the more marginalised sections of society (Bardhan, 2006; Dollar & Kraay, 2003). The anti-neoliberal globalisation movements are also a product of globalisation, in that they would not have emerged without the capability for communication provided largely through global corporates, and they represent new opportunities for positive change by making effective use of the new opportunities provided through technology and the media (Babacan & Gopalkrishnan, 2001). Globalisation does provide a number of opportunities for social work and social welfare through global human interaction supported by technology and infrastructure (Sen, 2004), which can have positive implications for society, even providing new avenues to combat many of the negative impacts of neoliberal globalisation through macro community and social development interventions (Babacan & Gopalkrishnan, 2001; Deacon, Hulse, & Stubbs, 1997).
Social Work Responses to Neoliberal Globalisation
The local, national and international impacts of globalisation present significant challenges to professional social workers who are expected to respond effectively to the negative effects of globalisation as well as involve themselves in a critical analysis of the processes involved (Alphonse et al., 2008). The general responses of social work in the past, particularly in the Minority World, have been in the three areas delineated by Payne (1996) as the individualist-reformist, the reflexive-therapeutic, and the socialist-collectivist. Of these, much of the emphasis of social work has been on the first two, both of which do not seek to change the status quo, and tend to set limits on the role of social work in conformity to the prevailing political/economic/social environment (Lymbery, 2001).
The social work profession places considerable emphasis on social justice as being core to practice and this is reflected by the code of ethics of the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) as well as those of the national federations in many countries such as the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom (BASW, 2012; NASW, 2012; Solas, 2008). This is also reflected in the international definition of social work as one that:
…promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behavior and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work. (Sewpaul & Jones, 2005, p. 218)
Working towards an ideal of social justice in this context would require social workers to work at the micro and macro levels as well as to challenge the status quo in some instances. Approaches, such as community development, incorporating values of empowerment, advocacy and anti-oppressive practice, can prove critical in terms of enabling social workers to relate effectively to a globalised world (Lymbery, 2001). Community development is described by Kenny (Kenny, 2011b, p. i7) as ‘born out of a commitment to practicing ways of empowering people to take collective control of their own lives’. The question as to whether community development is one approach that is adopted by social workers or whether social work is one contributor to the larger field of community development is a vexed one and is beyond the scope of this chapter. However, it is very clear that community development approaches are consistent with social work value bases in terms of working towards social justice, community empowerment and the rights of marginalised groups in society (Ife, 2008).
The scope of community development approaches is covered in other chapters, which emphasise the fact that community development approaches provide opportunities for social workers to engage constructively in the promotion of social justice by going beyond individual case work interventions to working with social issues and needs (Mendes, 2009). As Mizrahi (2001, p. 24) argues, ‘Social workers trained in macro intervention methods are needed to help promote and implement systemic change on behalf of vulnerable populations disempowered by the market economy’. Of particular importance is the emphasis on transformational practice in community development, as this is value-based, collaborative, democratic and seeks to resist many of the negative aspects of globalisation (Forde & Lynch, 2013).
However, the history of social work interventions in most countries of the Minority World has shown that social work practice has been and continues to be focused on individualised, clinical, case-management-based approaches (Caragata & Sanchez, 2002; Mendes, 2009; Midgley, 2001). With these individualised approaches, problems that arise due to the structures of neoliberal globalisation can be defined at the individual level, leaving the responsibility of fixing or managing them at the individual level. Problems like poverty can be seen in the light of individual deficits perpetuated by a culture of poverty (Kaufman, Huss, & Segal-Engelchin, 2011). Alphonse, George and Moffatt (2008) state that this process can further intensify the pain experienced by marginalised communities. Individualised approaches also tend to be restricted to urban settings and to further marginalise rural communities and the poorer urban communities. Some authors argue that this emphasis on individualised approaches is also a feature of professional social work in the Majority World, even though many of these countries, such as those in Latin America and the Asian sub-continent, have a rich history of community development (Ilango, 1988; Maritz & Coughlan, 2004). Discussing the single most significant social issue they identify in South Africa, poverty, Maritz and Coughlan (2004) reflect that the minimal intervention strategies of social work have failed the country’s poor.
The social work response to the issues of globalisation is further modified by the widespread adoption, especially in the Minority World, of a new managerialism based on market practices and market discipline, all implicit in the processes of neoliberal globalisation. Forde and Lynch (2013), in their research with social workers in Ireland, draw out many of the dramatic impacts of this dominant discourse on the work undertaken by social workers. This has raised significant issues in terms of the relationships of workers with users of services, access to necessary resources, adoption of techno-bureaucratic solutions as well as competition with profit-based private providers of services (Dominelli, 2010a). It has led to an increasing gap between needs and resources and to an inability of social workers to respond effectively to the needs of the community as against the demands of financial and managerial accountability, and it involves a shift of power from social workers and from the community to managers (Dominelli, 2010a; Ife, 2003; Lymbery, 2001). Services delivered in this system are likely to be less accessible, limited in range as well as delivered at a lower quality level (Dominelli, 2010b). This lack of accountability to the community is also a major stumbling block in terms of effectively dealing with the negative impacts of globalisation as the people who bear the negative impacts find themselves without the power to respond (Ife, 2003).
All of these factors point towards the need for a renewed focus on macro approaches that can work effectively towards managing the impacts of globalisation.
Community Development in Social Work Education
The preceding discussion on how social workers engage with the problems of globalisation also raises the issue of how social work education is to maintain its relevance in a rapidly transforming world. As with social work practice, social work education in the Minority World continues to have a dichotomy between macro and micro approaches to practice with an emphasis towards the latter. Macro approaches are often not seen as core to the business of the social work profession and this bias is reflected in the nature of the programs and field placements within these programs (Kaufman et al., 2011; Mizrahi, 2001). Community development is one such macro approach to practice both within and outside the social work field and is generally a required subject in all the schools of social work in Minority World countries like Australia (Mendes, 2009).
Kaufman, Huss and Segal-Engelchin (2011, p. 914) suggest that, despite the ubiquity of the subjects, there is a dominant view that community development is ‘not generally regarded as an integral part of the types of activity undertaken by social workers within social work agencies, but rather its practice is peripheral to the profession and is performed by individuals within organisations outside the realm of social work’. Accordingly, it continues to be a marginalised sub-field of practice (Fisher & Corciullo, 2011), a marginalisation that is reflected in the social work curriculum where there is little community development content in any of the accompanying direct practice subjects, and also reflected in the Australian Association of Social Workers’ ‘Practice Standards for Social Workers’ document where community development warrants only a two-word mention in a thirty-one page document (Mendes, 2009, p. 251). In social work education this is also reflected in terms of community development subjects being often taught by inexperienced sessional staff rather than core academic staff (Mendes, 2009). This marginalisation of community development raises significant issues in terms of the abilities of the social workers trained within this system to respond effectively to many of the issues raised earlier (Lee, McGrath, Moffatt, & George, 1996). This marginalisation may appear to be less intense in a Majority World country like India where community development is one of the main streams of specialisation in social work education. However, the extraordinary impacts of globalisation on the extremely marginalised groups in the Majority World (Nissanke & Thorbecke, 2006) makes it even more important that community development approaches are maintained and emphasised within social work education in the Majority World.
While the extent and intensity of the problems raised by neoliberal globalisation require social workers to be equipped with the tools and approaches to work at both the micro and the macro levels, they also need to be critical thinkers who can participate in critical action. Social work education needs to be considered in the light of the nature of education as described by Ledwith as:
...located at the interface of liberation and domestication. This is not a neutral space. The power of ideas has the possibility of either reducing us to objects in our own history or freeing us as subjects, curious, creative and engaged in our world. (2001, p. 177)
As Alphonse, George and Moffatt (2008, p. 155) argue, ‘the current global context calls for a paradigm shift in the social work curriculum … from its current emphasis on clinical or generalist practice, including the person-in-environment fit, to more critical theories’. Several scholars reiterate this need for new paradigms of practice in social work, pointing to models of community, social and ecological development as viable options to enable social workers to respond effectively to the globalisation of social problems (Ahmadi, 2003; Dominelli, 2010b; Gopalkrishnan, 2011). Starr, Mizrahi and Gurzinsky succinctly point to this need, reiterating that:
in this era of fiscal constraint and political conservatism, it is essential that graduate schools of Social Work recruit and prepare professional practitioners skilled in organizing and planning to play a role in improving the social conditions of functional and geographical communities (1999, p. 23).
A renewed focus on community development approaches in social work education is not sufficient in itself. Neoliberal globalisation and international conservative pressures have caused a shift in the focus of community development from empowerment-based community approaches to resource management and accommodative forms of ‘active citizenship’ especially in the Minority World (Kenny, 2011b). Programs such as ‘neighbourhood renewal’ are forms of community development that maintain the status quo rather than challenge systems and work towards constructive change (Mendes, 2009). There is a need for social work education to return to the basics of community development approaches involving bottom–up empowerment. This involves the adoption of approaches that place development in local communities and involves an active citizenry that defends, looks out for and advocates on behalf of the community, especially those that are marginalised within it (Kenny, 2011a). At another level, these approaches also need to incorporate the paradigm of international development that works toward dealing with the issues raised by the processes of neoliberal globalisation through international collaboration and action. The choice here is enunciated by Dominelli (2010b, p. 8) as ‘to continue with oppressive forms of practice that impoverish people rather than help them or become allies in the endeavour to create liberating forms of practice that affirm people’s rights and redistribute power, goods and services across the globe’.
The field of international social work has been suggested in the literature as one where these approaches come together and where social workers can gainfully engage with many of the issues raised by globalisation (Ahmadi, 2003; Caragata & Sanchez, 2002). Also referred to as ‘developmental social work’ this approach incorporates many of the traditional community development empowerment–based approaches within an inclusionary and international approach to social work (Maritz & Coughlan, 2004). Many of these ideas have been developed in the Majority World where it has been suggested that the enormous nature of social problems has led to adoption of collectivist approaches to social work, approaches that have then been transferred to the richer more industrialised nations (Caragata & Sanchez, 2002). One example of this kind of movement of ideas is the transfer of approaches involving conscientisation and grassroots movements of health and well-being from Latin American countries to social work as practised in the United States (Cornely & Bruno, 1997).
While this marrying of local participatory approaches with international alliances formed around a common vision of an alternative world is clearly an important way forward (Kenny, 2011), the term ‘international social work’ itself does not reflect the true nature of integration of individualised, case-work approaches, local community-based approaches and international approaches that is necessary to respond to the global issues impacting at the local and the global level. The concept of ‘Integrated Social Work’ is suggested as a more appropriate one that would involve a tripartite structure integrating the three approaches to practice. Integrated social work would respond effectively to the needs highlighted by Kaufman, Huss and Segal-Engelchin (2011), that while there is a need to include a systematic process of emotional working through at the community and social levels of intervention in social work, it is also important to utilise socially constructed realities within individual social work, essentially an integration of approaches. Integrated social work provides the opportunities for integrating the micro and macro approaches and also integrating action at the local as well as the global levels.
The argument towards adoption of an integrated approach, such as the one discussed in this chapter, is presented by Midgley as:
...remedial, preventative and developmental functions are not mutually exclusive and, as social workers in many developing countries are now demonstrating, it is possible to integrate these different functions within the same practice setting... However, if these functions are to be successfully integrated, social workers will need to recognize the value of the profession’s diverse commitments and appreciate the extent to which they all contribute to human welfare. This will, in turn, requite a greater commitment from the profession’s leadership to build consensus and end the internecine disagreements which have plagued social work from its formative years. (2001, p. 30)
Integrated social work would have to emerge out of a consensus in the social work profession on the shared goals of practice. It would have to involve the development of a unique knowledge base that is based on the micro-macro and the local-global linkages as central to practice. It would also integrate micro and macro skills and practice, where micro approaches are utilised in macro practice and macro approaches are utilised in micro practice. This is based on the shared understanding that diversity of practice is focused towards common ends. Integrated social work would clearly encourage the development of multiple partnerships and networks across and within the different levels of practice, including individuals, communities and across nations, based on mutual trust, respect, and an understanding of shared goals. It would also involve the transfer of knowledge, skills, practice methods and human resources across and within the different levels of practice. And finally, integration would be the basis for social work education where subjects are consistently linked to each other and to the different levels of practice, thereby contributing to an integrated whole.
The concept of integrated social work as discussed here has not been explored to any extent in the literature. The term has been used in the context of amalgamation of community development programs with social work programs (TAFE, 2012) and also in the context of integration of social work theories (Evans, 1976; Salas, Sen, & Segal, 2010) but the broader conceptualisation suggested here is one that needs in-depth analysis. At one level, this integration of approaches appears to be a matter of common sense, and this is the basis of the conceptualisation around other approaches such as international social work and developmental social work, and yet this has not been possible in the past. The literature points to some of the reasons for this and also some of the opportunities that they represent for the future.
With some exceptions as cited earlier, much of the movement of knowledge in the social work field has been from the Minority World to the Majority World. In this process, the focus on individual casework has impacted strongly on the way social workers are working in the Majority World, but not enough of the community development based approaches developed in the Majority World have travelled the other way. Caragata and Sanchez (2002, p. 222) argue that maximum benefits would be derived when social workers engage in international problem-solving activities from a collaborative learning model and with a full understanding of the differences and similarities that exist between countries. They suggest that the shared understandings emerging from such a process would enable an effective response to social problems such as poverty, cultural imperialism and violence (Caragata & Sanchez, 2002, p. 223).
Mendes (2009, p. 250) states that the minority of social workers view community development as a key practice skill that should be used in most social work interventions, while the majority view it as a specialist skill to be used only in specific circumstances when working as social workers. This point, viewed in conjunction with the earlier discussion around the marginalisation of community development, is a major bottleneck when working towards effectively responding to the issues of globalisation. A widespread adoption of the integrated social work paradigm would help to overcome this view of macro approaches in general and community development in particular, and enable social workers to be more effective at various levels of practice. Through appropriate building of consensus around shared goals and methods, integrated social work could provide new vigour to social movements as well as community and individual practice (Pawar, 2000).
The marginalisation of community development approaches in social work is also reflected in the attitudes of social work students, at least in the Minority World, who largely tend to prefer individualised approaches to community-based approaches (Maritz & Coughlan, 2004). Some of the possible reasons for the negative attitudes include unfamiliarity with the area and that it is too broad and overwhelming as compared to the other studies that they undertake (Mendes, 2009; Kaufman et al., 2011; Pawar, 2000). A key response in integrated social work would be greater integration between community development and social work theory and practice subjects, as for example a subject on interpersonal skills examining how these skills could be used at the community and social level (Heenan, 2004), as well as community development subjects examining their relevance at the individual level (Mendes, 2009).
Another issue is the lack of field placements that include opportunities for policy-practice and social action, as well as negative practical experiences during community development based field placements (Kaufman et al., 2011). A response to this would be improved access to a development-based field practicum supported by sufficient orientation to development approaches and active learning methods that would also improve the positive experiences of students in the field of community development (Heenan, 2004; Mendes, 2009). The orientation and support is of particular importance as Kaufman et al. suggest:
successful social change-oriented training must sufficiently address the emotional impact of meeting individuals who experience the social suffering first hand, in order to enable students not to become overwhelmed and to apply their social systemic theories to individual cases of suffering – a difficult conceptual shift. (2011, pp. 927-928).
They suggest that this would enable students to integrate the personal with the social and shift to a more complex social construction of suffering and a positive attitude towards developmental approaches. Increased collaborations at the international level will also provide greater opportunities for students to undertake international placements that will help in terms of developing a more complex and in-depth understanding of social problems as well as develop their skills in micro-macro approaches. Another option is the development of community-based integrated projects that would provide active learning opportunities to students while providing benefits to the community itself. These would need to be approached very carefully as they can involve considerable cost to the community if they fail. Further, they can be time and resource intensive (Mendes, 2009). Nevertheless, if organised effectively, with appropriate community participation and ownership, they can provide excellent opportunities for developing the theory and skills for integrated social work.
There also appears to be a problem with the marketing of social work programs, where the programs largely attract students with little or no experience in political activism (Fisher & Corciullo, 2011; Kaufman et al., 2011). These students, while intellectually understanding the context of social problems and the use of macro approaches to working on these issues, are likely to choose the more conservative approaches within their working careers. In this context, Fisher and Corciullo (2011, p. 363) suggest that the task is to figure out how to increase the marketability of social work programs to politically active students as well as activists in the community, to get the message out that these degrees open multiple career path opportunities for politically active individuals.
Globalisation based on neoliberalism is a fact of life in the 21st century. While it provides unique opportunities for human achievement on the one hand, on the other it is causing enormous pressures on the environment as well as on the poor and the marginalised communities across the world. The negative impacts of neoliberal globalisation are further exacerbated as nation-states are increasingly withdrawing from their traditional roles that enabled them to buffer vulnerable sections of society. In this context, social workers have a very significant role to play in responding effectively to the global issues as well as their local impacts. This assumes even more importance when considered in the light of the emphasis given by the social work profession to the tenet of social justice. Historically, social work responses have largely been in the nature of individualised, case-management based approaches with not much emphasis on broader community or international approaches. Social work education is also reflective of this bias in practice. This focus on micro approaches, while benefiting many individuals, is not very effective at responding to the social, political, economic and environmental impacts of neoliberal globalisation.
To work towards dealing with many of the issues raised in the discussion around neoliberal globalisation, social workers would need to adopt an approach that incorporates individualised, case-work approaches, local community-based approaches and international approaches. Some alternative approaches presented by scholars have been discussed in this chapter, and the conceptualisation of ‘Integrated Social Work’ has been suggested as one that brings together many of the key aspects of this integration. This would involve the integration of micro approaches with macro approaches as well as work that involves integrating the local with the global. Based on consensus around the goals of social work, this approach would involve respect for the diversity of ways in which social workers respond to the needs of the people they work with. A key aspect of integrated social work would be the consistent integration of subjects within the social work curriculum so as to enable students to enter the field of practice with this focus. Finally, some of the barriers to the practice of integrated social work have been discussed along with some future opportunities for change, especially in the context of social work education.
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