On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the first conference of the international “Social Work & Society“ Academy (TiSSA), representatives of social work from the professions and academic institutions assembled in Bucharest. As in the years before, it was the heterogeneity of the participants that was instrumental in the intensive discussions from diverse points of view and socio-political backgrounds. A great number of representatives of social work made their way to the Romanian capital, not just from European countries and Russia but also from overseas, i.e. Canada and Japan. The choice of Bucharest – an Eastern European city also called the “Paris of the East” because its French-influenced architecture – as the conference venue of the 2012 TiSSA event was a gesture primarily towards our East European members, both academic and professional, in the hope of making it easier for them to attend and also of making them more independent of Western European hegemonic debates.
The central topic of “Social Work & Society – Between Private, Public and the State” focused on the new European model of the welfare state’s agenda of “activation”. What the implementation of policies of “activation” does is to cover up the increasing social inequality and its perception as a class division between rich and poor. This European activation discourse makes it necessary, inter alia, for social work to enter into a fundamental debate about the importance of solidarity and social justice. In these times of socio-political changes, the field of social work must reposition itself with regard to these questions if it does not want to weaken or, worse, lose its critical function for the persons affected as well as its role for societies in the process of modernization. This is the reason why the conference witnessed a number of stimulating presentations of current positions of social work followed by vigorous discussion sessions.
As in earlier years, MA students in their final year and PhD students from diverse countries met for the PhD-Preconference in Bucharest from 24-26 August t 2012. This event offers junior researchers a unique opportunity to present their doctoral or MA projects to an international audience, an opportunity grasped by no fewer than 35 young scholars. The very full programme featured such topics as “European Problems and Social Work”, “Family and Childhood”, “Violence, Youth, Social Services” or “Professionalism of Social Work”. Following on the presentations, the PhD students in the audience were given a chance to ask questions of, and/or make helpful suggestions to, the speakers. In addition, and this is the hallmark of TiSSA Pre-Conferences, detailed comments were made on the student projects by an international team of professors, which this year was made up of Karin Böllert (University of Münster, Germany), Catrin Heite (University of Zurich, Switzerland), Rudi Roose (University of Ghent, Belgium), Adrian Dan (University of Bucharest, Romania), Maria Roth (University of Bucharest, Romania) und Hans-Uwe Otto (University of Bielefeld, Germany).
The concrete research questions and aims as well as the specific theoretical and methodological frames of reference of the individual contributions clearly showed the many aspects of social work as an international field of praxis and research. Another striking aspect of the individual presentations was a contextualization of the specific national socio-political frameworks orientated towards a reflection also of the European level, a trend which has been increasingly noticed over the last few years and which was reinforced by the specific format of the TiSSA Conference.
The Plenary Session was opened on 27 August in the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work of the University of Bucharest by the chair of the local organizing committee, Adrian Dan (Romania), and the chair of the international Steering Committee, Hans-Uwe Otto (Germany). There were welcoming addresses from Denisa P?tra?cu (State Secretary, Ministry of Labor, Family and Social Protection), Lacramioara Coches (General Director, Ministry of Labor, Family and Social Protection – Social Assistance General Directorate), Danut loan Fleaca (Director, General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection, sector 1 Bucharest) and Maria Roth (Vice-President of the Association of Schools of Social Work in Romania / a representative of the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Sociology and Social Work). Hans-Uwe Otto gave an introductory talk on the issues of the 2012 TiSSA Conference, “Social Work & Society – Between Private, Public and the State“, followed by a retrospective review of the beginnings of TiSSA in St Petersburg in 2002 and of its history to the present day from Olga Borodkina (Russia).
After the official welcoming addresses, Adrian Dan (Romania) opened the Conference’s scholarly proceedings with his lecture on “The Social Situation of the Romani Population of Romania and CEE Countries”, in which he presented the social, material and political marginalization of the Roma population especially in Romania but also in Central and Eastern Europe generally. Next, Anna Meuwisse (Sweden) characterized the increasingly evidence-based work of Swedish social policy as a deprofessionalization process of social work. Her address was followed by Walter Lorenz (Italy) who focused on a dialectic transformation process: on the one hand, there was the privatization of the public space, on the other hand could be observed the publicizing of the private. Social work as defined by Lorenz was a negotiating platform at the interface of the private and the public. From the danger of the instrumentalization of social work in the promotion of the privatization of the public, Lorenz drew the conclusion that interventions of social work need necessarily have a political character so as to (re)establish opportunities for the addressees and chances to shape the public space.
After these introductory lectures, the Conference proceeded to deal with the topic of “Social Perspectives of Social Work”. In his lecture on “Social Work as a Common Good – Radical Social Work Revisited“, Heinz Sünker (Germany) asked for a reconsideration of the tradition of radical social work, which makes a conscious effort to find its own social embeddedness in order to recognize the threat of a particular political instrumentalization in the interest of the dominant powers. This reconsideration makes it necessary, first, to establish a link to a social theory of present-day social analysis as well as a social policy of social work. Second, attention must be given by social work to processes of its own professionalization, and this in respect both of its potential to further critical approaches and its ability to thwart them. The first day ended with parallel working groups in each of which four specialist talks on the topic of “Social Services” were delivered. There was ample opportunity in these groups for more intensive discussions and presentations.
On the second day, traditionally the “National Day”, Maria Roth (Romania) gave a detailed and comprehensive lecture on Romania’s social situation and its system of social work. According to the “Strategic National Report Regarding Social Protection and Social Inclusion (2008 – 2010)“, the demographic situation of Romania can be described as follows: the overall population (19.5m at present) is decreasing ( at the steady rate of 0.2% since 1990), with young people up to the age of 24 becoming strikingly less numerous (there was a decrease of 8.3%), whereas the share of the older generation, i.e. people over 65, is going up (the 1990 to 2007 figure shows a growth of 4.6%). These facts have of course a significant impact on the labour force available in the 15-64 year age bracket: this figure has gone down by nearly 2% from 1990 to 2007. On the other hand, in a mere7 years, from 2000 to 2007, Romania’s GNP has tripled. This increase led to a restructuring of the Romanian economy, with a massive fall in the GNP share of the industrial sector (from 40% in 1990 to 25% in 1999), and a substantial rise in the private sector (68.4% in 2000 as against 86.6% in 2007) and the service sector (26.5% in 1990, and 50% in 2007).
In accordance with the “Strategic National Report Regarding Social Protection and Social Inclusion (2008 – 2010)“ , 18.5% of Romanian citizens live on the poverty line, of which 70% live in rural areas. What is noticeable is the fact that the largest minority group in Romania, the Romani people, who make up 41.9% of the population, have no monthly income, a figure that is twice as high as that for non-Romani people (whose share amounts to 20.2%).
Maria Roth further detailed, in accordance with Law 116/2002 (which references the prevention and containment of social exclusion), that exclusion is defined by the Law as the isolated position of individuals or groups with restricted access to all kinds of resources. The aim of the Law is the guarantee of access to basic rights like work, housing, health and education.
A first set of data on the impact and the means of implementation of this law were published in 2008. It should be noted, however, that the implementation of the Law was haphazard and that it is being revised and will be introduced again into Parliament in the near future. A general criticism of this law, crucial to the development of social work in Romania, is that it allows to define many people as marginalized and disadvantaged, and that the financial and infrastructural means of the government and the individual towns are insufficient to meet demand.
After this introduction to the social system and social work in Romania, the various institutions of social work were presented which the conference members were able to visit. Here is a list of the institutions:
1. The General Directorate of Social Assistance and Child Protection of the city of Bucharest. The central function of social assistance is the protection of people who, for economic, psychological or social reasons, are unable to fulfill their social needs, and develop their own capabilities and skills for social integration. Basically, the General Directorate gives support to these groups of addressees: excluded people, people discriminated against, older people, singletons and families in need, adults and children with disabilities, abused children, abandoned children, and poor people and families.
2. An institution run by the GERON Foundation. This NGO was founded in 1991 with the goal of offering medical services to outpatients. Since 1995 the GERON Foundation has supported associative behavior, has activated and organized personal, financial and material resources, has developed “working partnerships” with other NGOs, universities, nurses training colleges, local administrations, governmental institutions and potential sponsors. The Foundation supports structural change in the whole of the social life of older people on the basis of its comprehensive knowledge of their needs as well as the medical, care-giving and socio-political system in Romania.
3. CONCORDIA is a humanitarian, non-state, non-political, charitable organization, with the aim to facilitate the social, educational and familial reintegration of children and young adults who live in socially difficult or impoverished families or already on the streets.
As Bucharest offers a wealth of tourist sights, there was, after this look at practical social work, a guided tour of the Parliament Palace. This building is the city’s tourist highlight presumably not only because of its size – as an administrative building it is second only to the Pentagon in Washington D.C./USA – but also because of its origin. The Romanian President and dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had it built from 1984 to 1989, complete with parks and avenues, under highly dubious conditions: among these was the fact that a number of houses, churches and synagogues were razed to create the space for the Palace, which was built by 20,000 workers working three shifts. The Palace’s floor area amounts to 65,000 square meters, and the total built-up area is 365,000 square meters. After the fall of Communism and Ceausescu’s execution in 1989, the building has been used, i.a., as the seat of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies.
On the final day of the Conference, a number of topics were on the agenda: “The relationship between social work and social policy”, “Problems of childhood and families”, “Problems of youth”, “Professionalism”, “Training schemes in social work”, and “Faith communities and social work”.
Contributions from Japan (Ulrike Nennstiel), Romania (Mihaela Cozarescu, Stefan Cozarescu, Diana Dumitrescu), the Netherlands (Jeannette Hartman) and Lithuania (Edita Stuopyte) dealt with the influence of neo-liberal developments in socio-political strategies as well as their impact on the discipline and profession of, and the research into, social work.
In addition, there were offerings on “problems of childhood and families” and “problems of youth”. In the presentations on the latter topic, the main problem areas were those of youth in the transition from school to, respectively, professional training and a job. Sergiu-Lucian Raiu/Maria Roth (Romania) presented findings from interviews in which both the goals of youth in diverse life situations (school, family, community) were to be captured and were also placed in relation to their place of living. Thomas Ley (Germany) and Christian Kjeldsen (Denmark) reported on the interim results of the European project of “Making Capabilities Work“ (WorkAble), in which twelve European countries take part. The basic question posed by the WorkAble project is not just what personal, social and institutional conditions are necessary for youth to be successfully integrated into the labour market of the European knowledge society, but also how their autonomy and freedom of choice can be adequately considered and taken into account in the transition from school to work. In this way, the focus is not exclusively on the one-dimensional question of the needs of the European labour market (human capital); instead, the project concentrates decidedly also on the extension of the choice that youths have in the transition from school to the world of work. The project carried out case studies which were related to the Capability Approach from an analytical and heuristic perspective. Alkje Sommerfeldt (Germany) underscored the project’s main aim, which consists in the expansion of youths’ capabilities in order to guarantee them the opportunity to take an active part as agents and citizens in the European knowledge society. This aim is of special importance not merely for the addressees themselves, but also for a future Europe which is endangered by the exclusion of youths from education and the participation in the labour market. Olga Borodkina (Russia) concerned herself in her contribution with an uneven playing field and above all with the influence of the degree of financial and other forms of support from families on the professional careers of young adults in Russia.
The last contribution before the final discussion came from Karin Böllert and Nina Oelkers (Germany), who presented their research project (starting in 2013, in collaboration with Wolfgang Schröer (Germany)) on the nexus between social services and faith communities. The project’s main aim is the investigation of the representation of faith communities in the regional production of welfare.
As the delivery of services in the Federal Republic of Germany, because of the growth of a welfare state and the concomitant expansion of the social services, is undertaken for the most part by NGOs (on the principle of subsidiarity) and, more specifically, by organizations shaped by the churches, the project tries to answer the question of what assumptions can be made about the form of the (person-related) welfare production of the churches. The presumption is that, due to the dominant position of the churches in Germany, the influence of other faith-based communities on the design of welfare production is limited.
The final debate on the topic of this year’s TiSSA Conference ”Social Work & Society – Between Private, Public and the State“ was introduced by Fabian Kessl’s (Germany) talk on “Going against the State? Social Services and the current political protests – The `England Riots 2011’”. Using an empirical case study, Kessl described the possibility of considering the 2011 riots in England as a political revolt which can be used to reflect on the transformation of the public sphere, the welfare state and new ways of shaping human relationships.