Special Articles / Shankar Pathak / Social Work and Social Welfare
In recent years there has been an increasing interest in social change in many countries of the world. This interest is not confined to developing countries engaged in the task of national development (the socalled Third World) which are characterised by mass problems of poverty, disease, illiteracy, etc. It is also evident in the affluent, industrially advanced countries which are discovering problems of persistent poverty amidst national affluence. The field of social welfare is not unaffected by this resurgence of interest in social change. Is this, then, an unthought of response to a currently popular international trend or is this the result of certain developments that have been taking place over the years? This is the question that merits discussion.
EVOLUTION OF SOCIAL WELFARE IN THE U.S.A.
Social welfare which began as a religious, humanitarian activity to provide relief to the poor, under-privileged and handicapped sections of society, gradually emerged as a systematic organised service by society to some of its unfortunate members. In this process, later emerged a group of people who took to social welfare as full time work, characterised by 'scientific' knowledge and methods of working with people. The latter development, briefly stated, is what is called professionalisation of social work and the emergence of social work as a profession. Though the seeds of professionalisation of social work were to be found in the activities of the Charity Organisation Society in the U.K., the conscious attempt in developing it as a profession started in the U.S.A. in the early twenties of the nineteenth century.
The social welfare model, including the professional model of social work as evolved in the U.S.A., has been influenced by a variety of factors. These include early Judaeo-Christian ethics, particularly the puritan ethic which emphasised individualism, self-help and the moral character of the individuals; the liberal social and political philosophy which advocated laissez faire approach by the state; unexploited natural resources which seemed to provide plenty of opportunities for anyone to make 'good' in life; a buoyant and expanding industrial economy which made full use of the new scientific discoveries by developing industrial technology, and a mass consumption society which provided a demand for the products of the growing industrial economy as well as benefited by the mass-produced goods, which in turn led to a progressive increase in the standard of living of the people. The great economic depression of the 1930s came as a jolt which shook the very foundations of the American society and led to some rethinking of the social and political philosophy in that country. In the field of social welfare, this led to the growing involvement of the government, particularly in initiating legislative measures for social security. Yet, curiously, the field continued to be dominated by the philosophy of individualism.1 This may be explained in some detail.
Due to a variety of factors which need not detain us here, collectivistic political and economic theories did not emerge as strong forces in the U.S.A. to shape the minds of the population as they had done in the U.K. The political and economic philosophy continued to be conservative-liberal in outlook rather than radical. This meant acceptance of the existing nature of society as essentially good and something to be preserved, discouraging any questioning of the status quo. The tremendous influence of the theory of individual psychology provided by Freud and the Neo-Freudians once again focussed the attention on the individual and led to 'psychologism', i.e., the explanation of human problems essentially in individual psychological terms. The earliest fields to be influenced by the Freudian theory were those of social work and mental health. Later, many of the social sciences also came under the influence of Freudian theory. Another factor which reinforced this preoccupation with individuals as the focus of social work and discouraged any questioning of the nature of society was the quest for professional status. The professional role model envisaged social work as a value-free, neutral, objective, scientific activity. The professional was not to be contaminated by an approach to a task which may be considered political. To work for change of society might involve risks of imposition of values through advocacy of new values and a particular kind of society. It did not mean that social work did not have a set of values. What are popularly called the principles of social work, are mostly values. The operation of these values was to limit the social worker's behaviour with individuals, so that the people had the largest measure of freedom of choice. That this was observed more in breach than in practice, is altogether another matter. At any rate it was never openly admitted.
It is frequently argued, both by professional social workers and some of their critics that the former do not have any ideology by the very fact that they are professionals, i.e., they are objective and scientific. This is a myth. Professional social workers always had an ideology, though it was never articulated, or systematically presented.2 The ideology of the professionals consisted of a conception of society, human nature and their role. The professional social workers generally viewed society as an aggregate of individuals. They believed that the ultimate object of social welfare was the welfare of individuals. This implied that social welfare was an aggregate of individual welfare. They either believed in the goodness of the existing society or thought that if society was not what it should be, it was not their task to change it. There were others (usually politicians), whose business it was to change the society. As citizens, they could contribute to this process by participating in the periodical elections or at most by advising people outside of their professional sphere to vote for a particular party or a candidate. This was in keeping with the professional stance, and was reinforced by the Freudian view of the individual and society, and the interrelationship between the two.
Freudian theory with its orientation to the past could not have provided a basis for social change. A theory of social change is futuristic in orientation. According to Freud, fullest freedom is essential for the gratification of the individual's needs which will result in happiness. Some restraints on this freedom are inevitable, because of the necessity of preserving society and social order. This restraint on individual freedom and its consequences in the form of neuroses, are the price to be paid in the interests of civilisation. Freud has been described as essentially a pessimist. Ernest Jones calls him a cheerful pessimist. Freud's view toward social reform seems to have been ambivalent. Though he conceded the theoretical possibility of changing society, he had little hope of this happening. In effect, he viewed society as given and unchanging, and the individuals had to make as best an adjustment as they could to this reality.3 Thus emerged the role of professional social workers, as enablers who would facilitate individual change and help the individual to adjust to his social environment.
Some people have attributed the main reason for this philosophy of adjustment and psychologism to the dominant position of social case work, which was the earliest method to be developed within the field. They bemoan the fact that social work in the U.S.A. lost interest in sociology, with the advent of Freudian individual psychology. But for this unfortunate development, they argue, social work might have continued to maintain its links with sociology and thus provided a better perspective of social problems and ways of tackling them. This argument is partly valid in explaining the swing to the extreme as a result of the influence of psycho-analytical theories. The case work theoreticians and practitioners are not to be blamed entirely for this state of affairs. It is said that the social workers were pushed out of the American Sociological Association by the sociologists, because they did not consider social workers as sociologists. This meant that, perhaps, the one link that still existed with the field of sociology, and which might have provided a corrective influence to the theoretical basis of American social work was snapped, and the field was wide open to the full flood of Freudian psychiatric deluge.
It is tempting to speculate what would have happened to American social work had this link with sociology not broken. Could it have retained the social perspective of social problems? On the basis of available evidence one doubts it. Even where sociological concepts started trickling into social work literature as a result of the development of two other major methods of social work, namely, group work and community organisation, the continuing trend towards the individual-oriented approach in social work was not reversed for quite some time. On the contrary these methods, particularly group work, veered round to the case work orientation of psycho-analytical knowledge. And community organisation was influenced by the functional structural school of sociology which emphasised social integration, consensus and maintenance of social equilibrium. Such a view of society and social processes, is unlikely to provide a perspective for an active approach to social change.
By the middle of 1950s we notice a beginning of the reversal of the trend toward increasing professionalisation with its associated consequences and a gradual swing back to the earlier social reform orientation. The slogan was to put the 'social' back into social work. One can explain this reversal of trend as a characteristic process of cyclical social change within the field of social welfare.4
From this point onwards, there is a noticeable interest in sociological theories and the influence of these theories on the evolving new concepts in social welfare. The introduction of the concept of social functioning as the goal of social work, of the role theory in case work, the greater emphasis on the community organisation method, development of newer techniques of case work for work with the clients of lower socio-economic class, questioning and rethinking of the organisational procedures for delivering direct service, great flexibility in the policy statement of the Council on Social Work Education which permitted innovation by the schools, increasing interest in the social systems theory and its influence on social work literature and educational programmes, are some of the major highlights of this new trend toward social change, social reform and social action.
This trend towards social reform and social action should be viewed in the perspective of the prevailing social climate in the U.S.A. during the fifties and the sixties. The sources of this change in orientation may be described as both internal and external to the institutional system of social welfare. The external sources of the change were the growing restiveness of the ethnic minority communities, particularly the Negroes and Peurto Ricans who had been denied social, political and economic equality; the gradual upsurge of mass movements for minority rights, supported by the liberal progressive segment of the white population; and the American involvement in the Vietnam War, which led to a series of protest movements especially in the universities where students began to question some of the features of American society. These developments had their effects on the social welfare institution-the students of social work, the clients of public welfare who were mostly ethnic minorities and a segment of the social work profession. The internal sources of change included a growing sense of dissatisfaction about the nature of professional techniques and organisational procedures which seemed to take precedence over the needs and interests of clients; developing awareness of the class bias in much of social work professional practice; and a sense of failure of professional work oriented to amelioration of individual problems, rather than to dealing with the origin of these problems in the social system through preventive approach. It will be extremely difficult to separate the internal and external sources of change. In actual fact, both these sources of change have interacted to produce the new situation in social welfare in the U.S.A.
INDIAN SOCIAL WELFARE IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The individual-oriented, ameliorative, professional model of social welfare was imported into India in 1936 when the first school of social work was established in Bombay. This, in a way, was a model contrary to the one that had been in the process of development for about a century, and unsuited to the needs and conditions of Indian society. Indian society, from ancient times, has never accepted the concept of the individual in the western sense. The society in India was, and even now is, a strongly group-oriented society. The emphasis has always been on the concept of duty rather than right. It emphasised the person's obligations to others in the group-whether a family, a kinship group, caste or the society in general. Lokasangraha according to the Bhagawad Gita was the goal of all human actions. The concept of social welfare was much wider than the residual concept of welfare to the handicapped and weaker sections of society.5 It was much akin to the modern institutional view of welfare and included preventive aspects as part of it.
The social system, however, was more oriented to the preser- vation of harmony and stability rather than change. The hier- archical division of society into four Varnas and the later evolution of the caste-system, with the detailed definition of the duties of members of the society both in relation to the life-cycle of the members, and with reference to the family and society, and the value system underlying these social arrangements which permitted freedom in the spiritual sphere but exercised great control in worldly matters, are indicative of the supremacy of the goal of social harmony. Yet, from time to time, there have been attempts, notably by the religious reformers, to question some of the prevalent values and social arrangement which led to the emergence of religious protest movements and new religious sects. So pervading has been the influence of the hierarchical value system that in the course of time, most of these new religious sects developed the very features of the larger society, which had led to the birth of these reform or protestant sects.
Following the British conquest of the greater part of the Indian subcontinent and the advent of a long period of colonial rule, Indian society gradually underwent several major changes in the political, economic and social spheres. Among the major changes were the introduction of the new legal system based on the western ideas of property rights, rule of law and judiciary, the emergence of the market economy, the development of railways and communications, and a new educational system which opened the windows to the western ideas of liberty and individualism, and which later led to the limited introduction of political democracy. These changes in turn led to others in the major social institutions like family, kinship, marriage and caste. There also emerged new elite groups which were to a major extent influenced by the western liberal-rational outlook. They were mostly the administrators and politicians, and professionals like lawyers and educators. From among these emerged the movement for social reform during the nineteenth century.
The beginning of social reform movement is traced to the work of Rammohun Roy. A number of social reformers who came on the scene in different parts of the country for a period of almost a century, concentrated their efforts in changing certain features of Hindu society like the caste system, child marriage, sati, idol worship, widowhood, etc. The underlying social philosophy was to some extent based on the modern western philosophy of freedom and equality. While some of them did establish schools and institutions to provide service to individuals affected by the undesirable aspects of the Hindu society, their main attack was on the societal aspects. In this task they relied on the methods of creating public opinion through education and propaganda, influencing the government to pass social legislation to eradicate or control undesirable social practices. This elitist, reformist movement was confined to only a small segment of the society, mostly consisting of the western educated middle-class.
With the appearance of Gandhi, the social reform movement took a significant turn. First of all, social reform activities were linked to the movement for the political independence as part of an integral socio-political movement. Secondly, it became a mass movement drawing in its fold a large number of people from different strata of society and also from among those whose welfare was the central focus of the social movement like dalits and women. Thirdly, in addition to the earlier methods of creating public opinion and influencing the governmental policies, the new social political movement encouraged the people to resort to direct action by their own individual and collective effort. In other words, the accent was on social action by the people themselves, like picketing, individual satyagraha, mass non-cooperation and in certain situations even fasting unto death. This was not just an educational, persuasive effort of an elite group, with faith in the political processes of modern democracy, as in the case of earlier social reformers. It was aggressive, agitational, action-oriented, collectivistic in its economic and political philosophy and what is more, constructive in its approach. In its basic essentials, the model of social reform and social reconstruction evolved by Gandhi was truly an ortho-genetic Indian model in tune with the national heritage of social reform in many respects, yet innovative to the point of being revolutionary in many other respects.6
It is at this juncture that an alien model of social welfare was abruptly introduced. It was completely out of tune with the social conditions of the country at that time as well as the national heritage of social reform and social welfare. It was a model designed to meet the needs of an industrial-urban society characterised by an increasingly complex division of labour, social differentiation, and specialisation of function. It was ameliorative, individualistic, linked more to the processes of social control than to social change. The newly emerging group of professional social workers failed to establish a link with the indigenous model of social welfare that had emerged by that time. In their quest for legitimacy they leaned towards the pre-Gandhian social reformers. Being the products of western education and belonging mostly to the new urban middle class, they found a greater sense of affinity with the pre-Gandhians rather than with Gandhi and the post-Gandhian Sarvodaya group. They frequently professed the need to adapt the alien model to the Indian situation. But, in fact, more was done to nurture it in artificial conditions, by making the people and their problems to fit into the model rather than vice versa. It was not until the middle of the 1950s that attempts began to adapt some parts of this American social welfare model to the Indian culture. The first article to appear on cultural factors and case work practice drew upon the sociological knowledge of the Indian culture and society.7 Subsequently, most of the work of Banerjee has been to provide an indigenous basis to social work practice, by relying mainly on concepts of social welfare in ancient India, and values and concepts of social work from the Upanishads and the Gita.8
It is indeed surprising that the professional model of American social welfare came to occupy a dominant position within a short span of fifteen years, despite the fact that until 1948 the first school of social work had almost wholly consisted of Indian social scientists. One expected that the sociological perspective of human problems with their roots in social structure and social relationship would have prevailed. It is known that there was a strong opposition from the social science section of the faculty of this institution to the introduction of social case work courses. Not because it was alien, but because of the view that it was futile to deal with 'cases' when no attention was paid to the social causes which turned people into 'cases'. We have no details of the inside story of the actual battle fought between the social scientists with their sociological orientation to human problems and others with the professional orientation. It is now clear that it was a losing battle as far as the social science view was concerned, which was indeed tragic for the future of social welfare in India.
The introduction of the nationwide programme of community development and later family planning during the 1950s stimulated some interest in a section of the professional social work group to relate the American model to Indian conditions. This, however, was not easily achieved. There was a continuing controversy for some time about the question whether these two fields (and also the field of industrial relations and personnel management) could be considered fields of social work.9 By the time this issue was resolved, the profession had missed the opportunities of participating in two major programmes of social change and social development. Yet, there was some positive result that came out of this exercise. And it was not just the acceptance of the idea that these two were fields of social work. What is more pertinent and significant for our purpose, is the developing interest among the professional social workers, slow though it was, in social change and social development. Another factor which contributed to the process of change in the direction of the indigenisation of social welfare and further interest in social change is the long delayed process of cross-pollination through contact of ideas. The leaders of the Gandhian social workers and the professional social workers came together in a series of meetings in 1964 at the initiative of Jayaprakash Narayan. 10
The Sarvodaya group had all along believed in social reconstruction, which was the goal of their constructive activities in the rural areas. Their aim was to establish an egalitarian society which was free from exploitation of man by man. The focus of their work was the village communities, rather than the marginal group of individuals suffering from destitution, broken homes and physical or mental disability. The goal was the prevention of social problems like rural poverty and the practice of untouchability, which was possible only through a radical transformation of the present social order which was based on exploitation and violence. The Gandhians had a clear conception of a society they wanted to create in place of the present society. They had an ideology, howsoever utopian it may appear to others, and they were not ashamed of it. Not for them the pretence of science, the objectivity, the neutral role, and the theoretical principles and concepts of modern social science. They did not believe much in training.11 They emphasised more the spirit of dedication to the cause, the purity of means and commitment to the central values of truth and non-violence.
It is difficult to state precisely the impact of the Sarvodaya conception of social transformation and social welfare on the philosophy and course of action of professional social workers. It is not, however, a far-fetched argument to say that the several contacts that took place between these two groups over a period of time, did contribute to some rethinking among the professional social workers regarding the goal, philosophy and methods of social welfare in India.
Another source of change in the same direction was from the experience of participating in the process of planning for social welfare which began from the early 1950s. A few leading members of the professional group of social work (usually social work educators) were associated to a limited extent, with the various committees that were established by such bodies as the Planning Commission and the Central Social Welfare Board. Though invited as experts, they seemed to have found it more of an educational experience, opening their eyes to the macro-level dimensions of the social problems and their solutions, and the limitations of their professional knowledge and approach with its micro-level orientation, based on the residual conception of social welfare.
The association with national developmental programmes like community development and family planning, the experience in the planning process and the contact with the Sarvodaya group were the three main internal sources of change that gradually led to a broader orientation of social workers in India. There were some external forces too which contributed to this development. Among these, continued intellectual contacts with the field of social welfare in the west, especially the U.S.A. through literature and travel, and the influence of international organisations occupy a prominent place.
The social work educators and the national level planners and administrators constitute the elite in the field of social welfare. These groups continued to draw intellectual sustenance from the west and more particularly from the U.K. and U.S.A. where there was already an intellectual ferment as described earlier. This was bound to have an impact on the elite here, though with a time lag that was inevitable. Even now, an overwhelming proportion of literature that is used in the schools of social work, and in national level planning and policy making organs is produced in the U.K. and U.S.A. This is further strengthened by a variety of international contacts developed in advanced countries in the west, and participating in international seminars and conferences sponsored by the U.N. system and such non-governmental organisations as the International Council of Social Welfare and International Association of Schools of Social Work. The latter are mainly financed by the advanced western countries and so controlled by them, and they express the same 'new' ideas again and again. Though verbal fashions may change, the substance often remains similar. These organisations also influence the elite in developing countries like India, through cultural and material aid. The latter by way of internationally funded or aided programmes in the developing countries, and the former through liberal donation of literature produced in the advanced western countries, consultancy services to the governments and training and research institutions, financed study tours to the developed countries and participation in international gatherings, etc. The cumulative impact of these internal and external sources of change has culminated in the popularity of the ideas of social change, social development, institutional change, etc., and programmes of family planning, elimination of mass poverty and reduction of income gaps among the population. It was natural that after a time lag, social welfare too would join the mainstream of this change, whether purely as a matter of ideological reorientation, or more seriously as a commitment to a cause, and its achievement through deliberate actions.
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