Social Work in a Restructured Society
13th annual TiSSA Plenum August 24 to 26, 2015
PreConference of the PhD-Network August 21 to 23, 2015
in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Find here an actual photo review of the 2015 TiSSA meeting in Sarajevo...
Social Work in a Restructured Society
Report on the 13th conference of “The international Social Work & Society Academy
(TiSSA)” from 21 -26 August 2015 in Sarajevo / Bosnia and Herzegovina
Academics and professionals of social work gathered together for the 13th conference of “The international Social Work & Society Academy (TiSSA)” in Sarajevo. This year again, the heterogeneity of the participants prepared the ground for intensive debates from different perspectives and socio-political horizons. There were representatives of social work from numerous European countries and Russia and also from overseas (the USA, Australia, Canada and Japan). In choosing Sarajevo as conference venue, TiSSA decided for a city which is facing special challenges as concerns societal restructuring as well as the building of new structures. The city had been under continuous siege from Serb and paramilitary troops as well as from the remnants of the Yugoslav federal army in the Bosnia war from 1992 to 1995. It was destroyed in part and through the terrorization of its people it became a symbol for the devastating conflict between different ethnic and nationalist groups, which claimed many victims.
The goal of TiSSA conferences is to facilitate the participation of Eastern European professionals and academics of social work while also working for their liberation from West European discourses.
The central conference topic of “Social Work in a Restructured Society” focused in particular on the radical restructuring for the establishment of elements of the logic of the market in all societal areas, including of course also the social field.
As in the preceding years, doctoral students and MA students in their final year from several countries met before the main event at the PhD-Pre-Conference (21-23 August 2015). There were a total of 36 presentations by young scholars who jumped at this unique chance to present their dissertation projects or MA dissertations to an international audience. The dense and highly differentiated programme took listeners on a tour of a wide range of thematic focus areas, such as “Methods and Interventions”, “Social Problems”, “Health and Inclusion”, “International Analyses” or “Professionalism of Social Work”. Following on the presentations, the doctoral candidates were given the first opportunity to ask the speakers questions and make suggestions for further work. After that – and this is a special feature of
TiSSA conferences – a team of international professors was asked as usual to comment in detail on all projects presented. The supervisors this year were: Mel Gray (University of Newcastle, Australia), Catrin Heite (University of Zurich, Switzerland), Anna Meeuwisse (University of Lund, Sweden), Steven Shardlow (University of Keele, United Kingdom) and Hans-Uwe Otto (University of Bielefeld, Germany), as well as a colleague from the host university.
The concrete research questions and goals as well as the specific approaches – concerning theories, methods and methodology – of the individual contributions showed clearly the breadth of research and practices in international social work. A further noticeable feature of the presentations was the orientation of specific national framing concerns and conditions towards their reflection at the European level. This continued a trend that has become increasingly prominent over the last few years and was reinforced not least because of the specific format of TiSSA conferences.
The main conference (plenary sessions) was officially opened on 24 August in the conference hall of the Gazi Husrevbey Library by the leader of the local Organizing Committee Sanela Bašić (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and the chairperson of the TiSSA conferences Hans-Uwe Otto (Germany). Before the opening lectures on this year’s thematic orientation as applied to the host country were delivered, Hans-Uwe Otto gave, as usual, an introduction to the conference theme.
The conference began with a public lecture by Reima Ana Maglajlic (United Kingdom and Bosnia and Herzegovina). She described the political background to the region of this year’s conference by focussing on the exploration and support of social change in South-East Europe. She approached the current process of reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina by discussing opportunities for the political participation of addressees, social work professionals and academics in the construction of a civil society in the widest sense. These were the questions she posed in her lecture: how can the addressees of social work be encouraged to raise their voices and so take part in the reform developments? How can “frontline workers” (Lipsky) be encouraged to take an active part in politics and influence developments? Can the public scientific discourse support these processes? And if so, how? Ms. Maglajlic reached the conclusion that there are certain similarities that addressees and professionals share, namely their experiences during the war which still pervade everyday life. Before the civil war, social work in Yugoslavia was a well-organised profession, primarily in the form of institutionalised care. A paternalistic and charitable approach to the addressees of social work
was predominant. In practical social work, the problem of poverty was largely excluded. From the point of view of social work, Ms Maglajlic contended, there was after the war no long-term perspective which would have been indispensable for its development, nor was anybody prepared to shoulder responsibility for it. This held true also for the Ministry responsible, which declined responsibility for the implementation of a structure of social services and benefits.
Sanela Šadić (Bosnia and Herzegovina), in the opening panel discussion, described the challenges for social solidarity in a restructured society. For this purpose she had conducted a survey of 204 students from the areas of communication, sociology, social work, economics and law. She found that a majority (87.8%) only trusted family members, while a minority (12.2%) named friends and/or partners. She noticed an extremely weak degree of trust in the state’s solidarity as a matter of principle although the students considered trust very important (97.5%). These figures can be explained by the fact that in many life situations students saw trust as a central factor that strengthens relationships and facilitates communication. Students were also of the opinion that a lack of trust and solidarity changes people’s lives, which become more egoistic, less empathic, and unsatisfactory. This marked scepticism about politics and politicians rests especially on the concrete disbelief that the new political situation will create new life chances for them. To explain this fact, Ms Šadić worked on the assumption that trust in Bosnian and Herzegovinian society was being negatively influenced in particular through a crisis in moral values (corruption, lack of respect, egoism, greed) and too little economic security (increase in the poverty rate). At the end of her lecture she referred to the pedagogic aspect of solidarity and the ethical challenges of work with people in need.
The topic of the first thematic panel discussion dealt with European orientations. It was introduced by Anna Meeuwisse (Sweden) together with Roberto Scaramuzzino (Sweden) in a talk on their project of the Europeanization of volunteer organizations in social welfare. Their EU-funded project “Beyond the welfare state: Europeanization of Swedish civil society organizations” (EUROCIV) explores the general question of how processes of Europeanization influence the opportunities of civil society organisations which are committed to the well-being of their members. Or to put it differently: to what extent can members realize the potential inherent in this new orientation, and to what extent are these new chances subverted by unintended consequences? The two researchers’ interest is in understanding what impact the role and activities of civil society have within the European
Union, and how the new chances at participation and resources arise. The project’s empirical focus is on Swedish civil-society organisations that work specifically with disadvantaged people.
Albert Scherr (Germany) saw concepts of national, ethnic and religious identities as sources of serious conflicts. Such categories define membership and belonging as well as social and symbolic borders between “us” and the “others”. Scherr saw the alternative approach for social work in an approach orientated to human rights. In multi-ethnic states social work– as a profession committed to the idea of human rights – should propose a process of social relationships which is not determined by forms of ethnic, national or religious hostility or superiority.
The final contributions in the panel discussion on European orientations came from Rita Braches-Chyrek and Heinz Sünker (both from Germany). In their presentation “Democracy, Capitalism and the Future of Social Work” they took as their starting point the contradictions between democracy and capitalism, and that social work is a product of these contradictions. In a capitalist system social security and freedom, in the form inherent in democracy, cannot be realized. Basic democratic principles such as participation can, however, be used to advance the development of the societal system, to contribute to the liberation of social work from the double task of control and support, and help social work to devote itself entirely to its addressees’ support.
After the panel discussion there were parallel sessions on disability and inclusion on the one hand, and childhood and youth on the other. In the section on disability and inclusion Jeffrey Draine (USA) presented forms of interventions for men with mental disabilities who had been released from prison. Draine’s conclusion was that such people would find the transition from prison to liberty a challenging undertaking even in the case of interventions that provide sufficient funds and support people’s resilience. Key elements in overcoming these challenges were the access to and capacity of community services. Draine proposed the view that tackling social isolation and restricted network resources are more important for successful transition than mere access to psychiatric care.
“We are haunted by a ghost in European social policy and social work – the ghost of inclusion“ – that was the beginning of Ruth Seifert’s (Germany) talk on “The Rhetorics and Realities of the Concept ‘Inclusion‘– Social Work and its Discontents in Times of Crisis”, a title that marked her critical perspective. Following Levinas, she did not ask what social
exclusion is, but concentrated on the question of what phenomenon is understood as exclusion and on what grounds. On this basis, she discussed why specific phenomena in certain social- historical contexts were or were not marked as exclusion. At the political level, inclusion is a top-down strategy. Social work would therefore be well advised to raise the question of who speaks from what (subject) position, and how exclusion and inclusion are framed and articulated.
Ulrike Nennstiel (Japan) continued the critical review of the concept of inclusion. In her talk she crystallized similarities between policies of inclusion in Great Britain, Germany and Japan that are characterised by normative preconditions of competiveness and self-responsibility.
In the parallel session on childhood and youth, Christian Kjeldsen (Denmark) was the first speaker. His aim was to present a multivariate, multilevel analysis of the quality of life and social participation of youth in Europe. His model was based on the Capability Approach and offered an operationalization of this approach using European secondary data. The analysis of the two aspects was mainly based on the survey on the quality of life. His analysis used Sen’s theoretical assumptions and attempted to operationalize them in a reliable index, a first step in the broadening of social work’s information base for the assessment of social justice.
Anita Burgund (Serbia) had chosen the title of her talk “Youth Participation in the Decision- Making Process for Youth at Alternative Care in Serbia” in reference to her study on the perception and experiences of youth in social work measures in Serbia. She had worked on the assumption that participation is crucial for their optimal development and will lead to their better integration into society. In her quantitative study she interviewed young people from disadvantaged families and living quarters as well as professionals of social work, and found that the youth showed some understanding for the lack of support from social work professionals. According to the youth’s statements, the professionals are all right even if they see them rarely or never, which they explained to themselves through the lack of time on the part of the professionals. The professionals’ behaviour was thought nervous, but this was understandable and human. Ms Burgund’s conclusion was that youth accept their relations with social workers even when they have no expectations of support. Instead, they rely on their own strengths. The specific type of their participation in decision making is determined by the proposal of the professional concerned. Ms Burgund made a plea for the further support of the participation of clients in social work in Serbia.
The work of this panel discussion was rounded off by two contributions, Anna Smirnova (Russia) on the topic of “Young People Agency and ‘Risky’ Behaviour” and Udžejna Habul (Bosnia and Herzegovina) on “Protection of the Child without Parental Care in a Restructured Society”. Given the societal restructuring in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with civil war and the political transition to a nation state having caused massive needs in the area of social protection, the demands on the social work profession have increased, especially as concerns the implementation of the protection of children and youth. Ms Smirnova and Ms Abul showed how human rights, in particular the rights of children and young people and social justice – which are of fundamental importance to social work – are continually flouted in practical social work during the transformation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In accordance with a well-established tradition, there was a show of a film of social criticism with a link to social work followed by a question and answer session. In his film, Willem Blok (The Netherlands) gathered together professionals, teachers and students from the areas of care, social work and music from a model project in Ireland, with the aim to exchange and talk about ideas and views on the importance of music for the development of young people with mental disabilities.
On the second day, the traditional “National Day“, Asim Mujkic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) painted a detailed picture of the political situation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He established a connection between the emergence of a state that was defined in ethno-cultural terms and the dominant, neoliberal form of capitalism. The depoliticisation of the population, which accompanied the development of the state, can be seen as serving certain economic interests. From the speaker’s optimistic perspective, the manifest indifference of the state’s institutions to the needs of the people can, at the same time, be regarded as sowing the seeds of conflict and the development of the resistance of the civil society to the ethnonationalist narratives of the state. After his talk, conference participants had the chance to visit various institutions of social work in and around Sarajevo.
The third and final conference day was opened by Steven Brandt, Rudi Roose and Griet Verschelden (all from Belgium) on the topic of innovative practices in social work. Taking the global definition of social work by the International Federation of Social Workers as their cue, they determined the goal of social work as the meeting of the challenges of inequality, discrimination, exploitation and suppression and the effecting of changes to these conditions. Social work today has a tendency, so goes a criticism, to neglect the relationship between the individual and society, and to focus primarily on the problems that individuals have.
Accompanying this aspect, the speaker contended, there is a deprofessionalization of social work in terms of a managerial administration of the individuals’ problems. The Belgian research group, by contrast, pleaded for a nuanced, constructive approach. Using Mannheim's essay “Das Problem der Generationen” [The problem of the generations] they were in favour of an intergenerational dialogue among professionals in terms of culture and politics, as well as knowledge and experience, an exchange offering the professional opportunities for learning from the views of the different professional generations. This perspective demands, they claim, from social work that it tackles and works actively for historical collective memories as well as present-day developments by applying a dynamic, relational mode of thought.
This was followed by Lesley Cooper and Lynne Briggs (both from Australia), who presented their study of non-profit organizations during the 2010 earthquake in New Zealand. Their findings seem to suggest that the lack of formal, governmental involvement, the im- and explicit rejection of emergency planning combined with independence, capability to react and the flexibility of the people responsible have created a space for initiative and the provision of new social services by non-governmental organisations. The start of a new consultative service run by volunteers and the provision of operative experiences concerning the strategic management of volunteer services made possible the establishment of innovative social services, which were ready for action within three days.
Jillis Kors (The Netherlands) introduced his concept of the social entrepreneur as originator of solutions to social problems (on the spot). According to him, a social enterprise is a company which pursues primarily social goals, whose profits are reinvested for social purposes in the company or the community. This explains why social enterprises are not driven by the necessity of profit maximization for owners and shareholders.
Finally, Marsha Zibalese Crawford (USA) gave a talk on “A Case Study: NGO Capacity Building through the Methodology of Community-Based Participatory Approaches”. Her presentation was a case study of the implementation of a participatory approach as community work. Her focus was on the connection between NGOs and members of the project team through the development of a strategic partnership.
The second panel discussion dealt with the theme of methods and reflection in social work. In the first talk, Christian Stark (Austria) underlined the importance of reflexive intercultural competence for studying social work. He located social work between the thematization and dethematization of culture, warned of a static concept of culture and a culuralisation of social differences that have their causes in social inequality and disadvantages..
Antoanneta Potsi (Germany), Antonelle D`Agostino (Italy) and Caterina Giusti (Italy) presented their multidimensional study in a talk on “Children‘s Capabilities in Times of Crisis”. Their work throws light on the lack of tender loving care for children in the so-called PIGS states (i.e. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) at the start of the economic downturn and the imposition of austerity measures, and furnishes relevant data about the well- being of the children.
The final contribution came from Tetiana Syla (Ukraine) who dealt with the sustainable development of social work. She used a broad understanding of the term which employed the dimensions of the social, the economic, and the ecological to achieve its aim of a thoughtful development. This broad reading of sustainable development asks social work to reflect on its role in social welfare and community development.
In the section on “International Perspectives“, Amal Alnasasrah and Heidi Paredes (both Israel) presented their findings from a project led by Marsha Zibalese-Crawford (USA) on the self-perception of Bedouin women and the people around them in villages in the Negev Desert. The project’s aim is to empower the women, improve their confidence and feelings of self-value, and support them in their struggle to overcome social isolation.
Further contributions to the panel were the presentations by Johan Vandenbussche, Rudi Roose and Ilse Derluyn (all from Belgium) on the relationship between social work and politics; Bettina Wuttig’s (Germany) talk explored the embodiment of neoliberalism in people’s lives, and raises the question of the impact of transnational lifestyles, and what lessons if any can be derived from it for social work. Steven Shardlow (United Kingdom) posed the question whether market, freedom and social justice are irreconcilable forces in present-day social work. Going on historical experience, societal development cannot be read as a continual improvement with people’s interests in mind. This becomes obvious when one looks at the financial crisis and how it was resolved. It has led in the whole of Europe to dramatic processes of economic and social exclusion that pose serious challenges for social work. It must intervene in the interest of its addressees using the whole range of its classic offers of help, thus contributing to the shaping of society but also throwing down the gauntlet to politicians.
In the final section of the panel discussion on international perspectives, Olga Borodkina (Russia) gave an introduction to the topic of migration processes and social work in Russia; Charles Bell (United Kingdom/Rumania) illustrated the potential uses of European perspectives on social work with the example of Rumanian skilled workers in the UK; Sabine Schutter (Germany) threw light on the public discourse about young refugees as well as the most recent developments in migration policy. Social work is, according to her, both the addressee of these discourses and the initiator of various images of refugees; the final contribution came from Mel Gray (Australia) who demonstrated that neoliberalism is far from advocating increasingly liberalized markets; instead, it represents a political intervention strategy which serves to subject more and more societal areas to the use by market forces. The social sector and social work are not exempt from this. To intervene in this process in the interests of its addressees, social work has to develop finely differentiated ways of engaging with the various levels and strategies of neoliberal governance.
Jo Moran Ellis (United Kingdom) used her talk on "Trust in Participative Social Work – Shaping New Relations of Care and Support in a Restructured Society?” to introduce the final debate of the plenary session on this year’s TiSSA conference on “Social Work in a Restructured Society”. “Trust” was a key concept for her in the effort to win over the addressees of social work to taking an active part in the offers of help, but also to strengthen social cohesion and to overcome the remoteness between citizens and politicians.
To sum up, there were basically three aspects that cropped up in most of the conference papers:
· the analytical understanding of societal change and restructuring, with ‘neoliberalism’
being the major steering mechanism at the political level;
· the identification of approaches to the “reconquest” of the social, of the essence of the welfare state as well as citizens’ political sovereignty through moments of participation, of the experience of trust and solidarity, and through intervention in political discourse; and finally
After 13 years of successful planning, organizing and running “The international Social Work & Society Academy” (TiSSA), (starting in St. Petersburg and further on Gdansk, Kaunas, Messina, Riga, Vilnius, Tallinn, Hradec Kralové, Bucharest, Tirana, Sofia und Sarajevo) Hans-Uwe Otto (Germany) took his leave as chair of the TiSSA steering committee. He is not only the Academy’s founder, he has also managed since the first TiSSA conference in 2003 to make a substantial contribution to the establishment of international relations in the East European countries in the field of social work at the scientific and practical levels. The steering committee and all participants of the TiSSA conferences express their warmest thanks to Hans-Uwe Otto for all his invaluable work. Rudi Roose from the University of Ghent in Belgium was elected as new head of the steering committee.
· the description of social work’s task and mission between the demands for political intervention and empowerment of its addressees, for the strengthening of participatory activities, for help for the individual as well as the community.
Author: Mark Humme & Sybille Nonninger
Translated by: Michael Paetzold