Guest post: The renaissance of critical and radical social work?
The latest guest post on my blog is by Filipe Duarte, a PhD candidate in Social Work at Carleton University in Canada. His thesis, entitled The Impact of the Politics of Austerity on Social Citizenship Rights, examines the impacts and outcomes of austerity on social citizenship rights with a focus on Portugal.
The trigger for my invitation to Filipe to write a post for this blog was the publication of a special issue of the journal Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29 (2), entitled ‘The renaissance of critical and radical social work?’ which this blog post in a sense celebrates. Filipe has an article in this issue, which he links to below.
I believe there is such a renaissance, thanks in no small part to the work of researchers and activists like Filipe. He has been a great supporter of Boot Out Austerity, so I am honoured that he has chosen to foreground this action in his piece here.
The ANZSW special issue is open access, and there are some great articles there, by Filipe and others - have a read!
‘Boot Out Austerity’ – a new momentum for social work political activism
Social work emerges day by day in the interactions of its practitioners, in writings, in conference proceedings, in codes of ethics, in legislation, and in political and social movements. The forms of its production are varied and diverse.
Social work commitments have their origins in struggles between human beings as to the means by which rights and wellbeing were progressively acknowledged or achieved. Throughout the history of the profession, social work has been committed to promote human rights, social justice and address the root causes of poverty, oppression and inequalities.
Arguably, the profession was born with a political stance. Social workers such as Jane Addams, among others, were leaders in the early human rights movements and in political and social work activism. However, nowadays that political stance remains a notoriously difficult construct to capture.
The Political Dimension of Social Work
The political dimension of social work constitutes the commitment to an active participation of social workers in the political and public arenas. Such commitments are necessary in order to represent and speak on behalf of the most vulnerable, who fall outside neoliberal normativity, i.e. the poor and the homeless, the unemployed, BAME communities, women, children and youth, the LGBTQ community, older adults, people with disabilities, and the refugees and migrants moving across international borders, fleeing conflicts and persecution or other life-threatening situations.
Therefore, the political dimension of social work can be easily identified and expressed in the everyday life of the social worker as social workers identify and reflect on the organisation of their everyday work in situ, on the funding of their workplaces, on their participation in wage or salaried labour, in the organisation of unions, in critical reflection on policies and procedures, and in participating in political and social movements.
Clearly, social work always incorporates elements of political action. Examples of social work political action in the 21st century are the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) created in 2004 in the United Kingdom (UK), a social work action group that brings together academics, service users, social workers and students; the “Orange Tide,” a social action movement organised on the 15th of September 2012 by the Spanish General Council on Social Work (Consejo General del Trabajo Social) that brought together social workers and service users to protest against austerity measures; and more recently the Boot Out Austerity walk, an initiative organised by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) along with service users and other allies, to walk 100 miles from Birmingham to Liverpool between the 19th and 25th April 2017, campaigning against austerity and for social justice by visiting community centres and food banks, to hear from those who have suffered with austerity.
Following the inspiring examples of SWAN and the Orange Tide, the 100-mile Boot Out Austerity walk became the most recent example of social work activism in the UK. Arguably, Boot Out Austerity brought a new momentum for social work political action by inspiring a large range of social workers across the UK and around the world. In the past, the social work movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s grew up from women’s or civil rights movements and trade union rallies. These social work collective movements have fought for social change and social justice.
Therefore, in the 21st century, social workers are both asked, and challenged, to stand against all the attacks on core social work values, principles, and commitments. This requires that social workers acknowledge the political dimensions of all practice and the need to engage in social and political activism to regain influence within the political and public arena.
N.B. This post draws from the article “Reshaping political ideology in social work: A critical perspective” published in Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29 (2), 34-44 (free access/open source).