Special Articles / Shankar Pathak / Social Policy, Social Welfare and Social Development
Recently the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) the first institution of social work which was established in 1936, in Bombay, celebrated the Platinum Jubilee year with a series of seminars and a special function. This historic event went almost unnoticed in other parts of the country. It should have been an occasion for a retrospective look to take stock of the achievements and failures of the fields of social work and social work education, and the problems that confront them by the social work practitioners/ administrators and social work educators. A few broad based observations on these issues will be made to provide a brief historical perspective.
The field of social work continues to be a mosaic with varied patterns. The indigenous and the imported models continue to coexist, the latter a hybrid variety with a good deal of imported elements incorporated in it. Whether social work is a profession continues to be a question on which divergent views were expressed in the U.S.A. by social workers and the sociologists. The question first posed by Flexner in 1915 was answered in the negative by him. Subsequently the debate continued within and outside the field, along with the efforts of social workers who were determined to achieve the status of a profession in the image of the medical profession. Greenwood (1957) in a widely quoted article, gave the judgement in favour of social work. A few years later, Etzioni (1969) differed from him and expressed his view, stating that social work was a semi-profession. A similar quest for professional status began in India which has been discussed elsewhere (Pathak 2012).
What we notice today in the field of social work and particularly in social work education can be described as the process of academicisation. The first school, which changed its name and later its status, had deliberately chosen to retain its independence and autonomy, by not seeking affiliation to the university. Seventy five years later the situation is quite opposite. All the schools are now part of the university system either as departments of college affiliated to a university and /or as post- graduate departments faculties of the universities and deemed universities. The pioneering institution became a deemed university in 1965. It is not possible to examine here all the consequences of this development. Considering the nature and pattern of higher education system in India, with the U.G.C exercising its power directly and indirectly, the processes of academicisation started and it was reinforced by other developments in the field.
Briefly, academicisation means an over -emphasis on academic degrees alongwith the non-recognition and even devaluation of field experience, in recruitment and promotion of teachers in schools of social work. It includes credentialism as described by Titmuss. This has a series of chain reactions which further reinforce the process of academicisation. During the last few decades we neither see any trend in favour of employment of social work educators with considerable field experience or production of literature which draws upon substantially on the practice wisdom of social workers in the field. Education and empirical reality have not established a proper linkage through a system of feedback.
During the early 1970’s social developmental perspective was advocated by a few social work educators which is now generally accepted by most schools but still to be implemented by many.
Social Science and Social Work:
Social science courses have always been a substantial part of the social work curriculum in India. These courses have been considered very necessary for social workers because they should know about and understand the society in which they work with people in a variety of situations. The social science courses are usually described as basic or foundation courses and they are compulsory for all the students, irrespective of the fact that some of them might have studied one or more of these subjects at an under-graduate level. The weightage given to social science courses has varied at different periods of time, and in different universities. However, the precise objectives of these courses, the selection of content and who should teach them and how they should be taught have rarely been discussed seriously. At times, the situation has led to a state of tension between the social science segment of teachers, and teachers of social work courses, if the former were in sufficient number employed within the same institution. Gore called it a state of dynamic tension at the Golden Jubilee function of TISS in 1985. The sources of this tension has been discussed by Ramchandran (1983).The social science teachers seem to be critical of the way in which bits and pieces of social science theories are taken out of context and used by social work teachers/practitioners as part of their ‘eclecticism’ without reference to the validity and applicability of the theories to a different cultural milieu. Social workers feel that the social science teachers lack interest in and commitment to social work; they stand apart as it were, without becoming (or even trying to become) part of the mainstream.
In view of the emphasis on the social developmental perspective and the goals related to it, it has been argued by Gore that the proportion of social science content in social work curriculum needs to be increased substantially. He states: “If we really want to take on broad social developmental tasks as part of our professional responsibilities, our curricular content in social science will have to be wider and deeper. Out knowledge in the areas of developmental economics, our curricular content in social science will have to be wider and deeper. Our knowledge in the areas of developmental economics, organizational behavior and the analysis of social systems will have to be extended at least to the extent to which we emphasise the understanding of human motivation, psychological processes and abnormal psychology in preparing psychiatric social workers. Is this a realistic goal for our schools? Can this be attempted in a two year programme of instruction where we admit students even without any base in the social sciences? (Gore 1981).
What is the rationale for this view? What has been the experience of other countries in this respect? Martin Davies who has worked for many years as a probation officer and researcher in U.K. and has been the editor of the British Journal of Social Work and Professor of Social Work in the University of East Anglia has made the following observations on this issue:
“The contribution of the social sciences to social work has been primarily a negative, a corrective one. In almost all its empirical work, sociology has countenanced caution against unduly optimistic expectations in practice, as shown that various change or control strategies are normally of only limited value and may be counter productive or have unanticipated adverse consequences..... (emphasis in the original). It is neither easy nor satisfying for me to come to the conclusion that the social sciences have so far been disappointing in their contribution to social work theory or practice. I am myself a sociologist; I enjoy reading sociology; and I practice a variety of sociological research methods in my academic work. I acknowledge that it is possible that sociology may yet succeed in proving that social work is irrelevant and misguided in its assumed role.
Social work education is now strengthening its syllabus in the teaching of practice skills, and there are already signs that in order to make room in the time table for due weight to be laid on these, the emphasis on some aspect of the social sciences will have to be reduced (Davies 1981).
The other implicit assumption in Gore’s statement seems to be that social science has developed knowledge (theories) which can serve as a dependable guide to action leading to social development. This is a highly debatable point. Eminent western sociologists have expressed views which do not support the assumption behind Gore’s statement. Van Nieuwenhuize, the well known Dutch sociologist in a major treatise on the sociology of development has observed:
“Applicability has never fascinated sociologists the way it has economists. The road from theory to practice has hardly ever been seen as a matter of turning a theory model into a planning model. The mediating role of insights pure and simple has been respected to the point of letting it become a stumbling block, hampering application. The link between sociological theory and community development or between sociology and social work is weak” (1982).
Ernst Gellner, who was Professor of Social Anthropology in Cambridge University, and noted for his writings on the theme of philosophy of science, has observed:
But we obtain a different picture if we look at it from the viewpoint not of methods employed, but of the impact on our cognitive world: if we ask whether there is a general, overall consensual cognitive activity, radically discontinuous from the insights and techniques of ordinary thought, and unambiguously cumulative at an astonishing and unmistakable rate, the answer is obvious. In this crucial-sense, in terms of their impact on social order, social studies are not scientific-much as they rightly claim to be so by the previous criterion or criteria. The quantitatively accurate descriptive techniques are not accompanied by correspondingly convincing theory or similarly accurate prediction. The sophisticated abstract models do not firmly mesh in with empirical material. The powerful insights are not consensual; paradigms exist and prevail, but only in sub-communities; and when they succeed each other, the situation is quite different from that which prevails in natural science” (1981). The Indian experience of teaching social science concepts and theories to students of social work has been critically analysed by Ramachandran. He, like Gore, is of the view that “Social, work has to draw quite frequently and heavily from the social sciences” to fulfill its tasks. He says that ‘This knowledge must be rooted in facts and reality, and not merely be based on theoretical possibilities, or hopes based on pious but untested, social science theories of human societies, their needs and expectations”. He is of the opinion that very few of the social science teachers have the necessary equipment in the application aspects of their discipline “and what is worse, many of them do not see the need for it”. (emphasis supplied) (Ramachandran 1983).
My remarks made on this issue so far need not be misunderstood to mean that I am against the inclusion of social science content in the social work curriculum. My own academic background includes study of social science and social work- a little more of the former than the latter. What I have questioned is the need for increase in the social science content and the underlying assumptions about the nature of social scientific knowledge-their relevance as a guide for promoting social change and social development.
The advocacy of social developmental perspective and goals for social work practice have led to some debate recently, Whether social work curriculum should continue to support the status quo in society or advocate and work for system change (Desai 1985). A further issue debated is on the very nature of social development as a goal and the related social work roles and tasks.
There is a strong and vocal section of social work educators who fear that the identity of professional social work, so painstakingly built over several decades, is about to be lost in our zeal for social change and development. These educators are also apprehensive that the new curriculum in social work will not do justice to the traditional roles of social worker which requires substantial course content related to practice courses/field courses and field work. Even among the prochangers there are divergent views on the inclusion or exclusion of officially sponsored programmes as part of social development such as family planning and population control, I.C.D.S., community health programmes etc. While one section wants to include such programmes in the definition and scope of social development, another section strongly differs from this view, advocating a radical stance by social workers with reference to the issues of social injustice, exploitation and oppression (including gender related discrimination and oppression). The latter group includes those whose ideology ranges from Freire’s conscientisation to pro-Marxist ideologies that aim to bring about a major social structural change not excluding confrontation and conflict as part of their strategies.
Social Development Perspective and Roles
Some questions need to be considered here. Can we prepare or are we capable of preparing “agents” of change? Are the graduates ready to work in official programmes of social change such as I.C. D.S, population control and family welfare, anti-poverty programmes, and health programmes of immunization,” nutrition and health education, and nonformal education? Or do we intend to prepare social activists who will work in or establish micro-level voluntary organisations, working for the liberation of the oppressed, through social action, with varying degrees of radicalism? The second option will include confrontation with vested interests by organising the weak and the exploited sections of the population, to fight for their legitimate share in the fruits of development.
A study by Ramachandran of the alumni of TISS working in the various field settings, revealed two different groups of social workers with two distinct and unbridgeable conceptualisation of social work practice emerging by the end of this century. He calls this difference between the two groups as the Great Divide (Ramachandran, 1986). A majority of social work educators are highly skeptical of our legitimacy and competence to prepare social workers for the radical, confrontationist practice in the field.
The Task of Integrating the Two Models:
Gore (1981) is strongly of the opinion that we should not be very ambitious about our concern to link social work practice to social development, which according to him, is only a tertiary area to our central concern of helping the unadjusted and the handicapped sections of our populations. I agree with his view that social development is a multidisciplinary field in which social workers have a part to play along with the other professions. But I do not agree that our interest and roles in it are peripheral.
I am inclined to agree with Adiseshiah who has asked “the schools of social work to give some time to studying the structure and factors of ownership and assets distribution in our society and the lop-sided decision making networks flowing from them along side of the professional training and practice in social work education and praxis per se they are engaged in” (1981). He also expressed the hope that such a study will enable the social workers to work alongside of others committed to organizing the poor, the exploited and the disadvantaged to fight for their rights.
The problem still remains to be faced at two levels —(a)at the level of designing an unifying theoretical framework which harmoniously integrates the two different models of social work practice, holding them together as part of a single professional entity; (b) at the level of designing a social work curriculum that is of two years duration which produces social workers competent to work in either of the two practice areas. The first part of the problem is more serious in my opinion. I am reminded of the question addressed to me by Rima Balachandran, one of the few thinking, reflecting new band of young social workers who tried to venture into unchartered territories, and wanted to belong to a profession with a long tradition of compassion and service for the poor and the handicapped. She, alas, is no more. But the question that troubled her mind needs to be pursued until we find a satisfactory answer. It is a long and difficult search for a new paradigm for social work practice which deals with the problem of identity and image of this doublefaced profession, which has dogged its trail since its birth in the west. The answer to the second part of the problem depends to a great extent whether we succeed in framing a new paradigm for social work and practice. Even then, the practical problem posed in the second part has to be faced.
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