After Saint Petersburg (Russia) in 2003 and 2004, Gda?sk (Poland) in 2005, Kaunas (Lithuania) in 2006, Messina (Italy) in 2007, Riga (Latvia) in 2008 and Vilnius (Lithuania) in 2009 academic and professional representatives of Social Work from Europe, Russia and Australia adjourned for the eighth time now to discuss the fundamental impact of the economic crisis and the possibilities Social Work has within this crisis movement. Last year Vilnius, the European Capital of Culture 2010, hosted the international academy meeting. This year the conference took place in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia whose historic center is also a World Heritage Centre. High-profile scientific debates closely linked to practical Social Work in Estonia allowed to further develop the idea behind the ''Social Work & Society'' Academy (TiSSA).
As the above list of former venues shows, the academy's focus on Eastern Europe is one of its characteristic features. In the course of the European enlargement TiSSA pursues two major goals. One is to provide Eastern European scientists and professional with easy access to international discourses and at the same time to help them to greater independence of hegemonic expectations from scientific and professional discourses in Western Europe. The second central goal is to inspire Western European and international scientists and professionals to reflect and expand their own positions by direct contact with the processes of political and social transformation in Eastern Europe.
TiSSA considers these objectives to be necessary and at the same time sees them as opportunities to advance a European professional self-conception. Therefore it is necessary to observe and analyse current processes of political and social transformation from an international perspective with respect to their effects on Social Work.
With the mentioned tasks and goals of the ''Social Work & Society'' Academy in mind, the following questions formed the core of the 2010 conference in Tallinn:
1. Will it be possible for future Social Work to act as a responsible and adequate social service with regard to the needs and obligations of its addressees?
2. Which are the circumstances under which Social Work has to meet the existing requirements?
3. Which possibilities and options does Social Work have to provide professional and effective support in times of crisis?
4. Looking at current processes of social change, how should professional standards and the necessary specific and 'technical' knowledge of Social Work be developed and designed?
The aim of the TiSSA conference in Tallinn was to gain clarity on the questions in which social and political areas Social Work can be applied and what its prospects in the ongoing crisis are. Currently there are two crisis phenomena that are being debated in the scientific as well as in the public political discourse: The crisis of the welfare state and the economic crisis.
As in earlier years, three days before the main conference, the so-called plenary session began, postgraduates from different countries met for the PhD-Pre Conference in Tallinn from 22 - 24 August 2010. The Pre Conference gives aspiring junior researchers the unique opportunity to present their doctorate projects in an international disciplinary context and to gain new inspiration for their work. Each presentation is embedded in a debate to support the doctorate candidates in their research projects and to provide room for critical statements and comments. An additional and special feature of this event, to which only doctorate candidates and students have access, is the exclusive commentary on each presented project by an international team of professors.
Specific research questions, specific national social-political contexts, methodic approaches as well as methodological and theoretical frameworks of the individual presentations varied widely. This has shown how versatile and heterogenous Social Work is as an international field of research and practice. The presentations can be summarised under the following umbrella headings: Social Work in times of crisis; social services and social practice; Social Work with children; families and social services; growing up in times of crisis; social problems, and gender-specific issues. Despite the variety in topics and versatility of presentations, continuities and points of contact between different presentations can be found. Social Work is currently affected by changes that pose a new challenge to the discipline and profession in all the different national contexts and all its different shapes.
On two afternoons groups generally discussed the conference topic ''Social Work in times of crisis'' in a frank and critical-constructive atmosphere. The focus was on the question which effects result from the current crises and processes of social change for professional and disciplinary Social Work in an international context. The results were presented and discussed in a plenary session on the last evening of the Pre Conference. This also served as an excellent preparation for participation in the main conference. The questions formative for the discourse were partly derived from the conference's central questions postulated above.
An additional intellectual achievement of the participants of the Pre Conference was to comment the others' works, i.e. to test one's own potential in a discourse beyond one's own topic, to be open for new research difficulties, to develop extra sensitivity for academic debates, and to get to know alternative forms of discourse – in an open atmosphere in an international setting. Another feature of the TiSSA Pre Conference is the opportunity to participate in the successive main conference and pursue further topic specific analyses, make new contacts, and actively participate in the event.
The plenary session was opened at the Institute for Social Work of Tallinn University on 25 August 2010 by Lauri Leppik (Estonia), head of the local organisation committee. Hans- Uwe Otto (Germany) gave a thematic introduction, analytically reflecting current crisis movements and their possible effects on Social Work. Next Hans van Ewijk (Netherlands) talked about how to handle complexity in an open and uncertain society as well as about current issues of transformation concerning different forms of intervention in Social Work. These social changes Hans van Ewijk analyses as a lasting world of discontinuities due to mobilisation and flexibilisation. Prevalent existing responses to growing sociopsychological disorientation can increasingly be found in the area of (mental) health or they become apparent in the shape of penal measures. Here van Ewijk diagnoses the lack of strategies to put more effort into the creation of local social support systems with a mix of informal empowerment by volunteers as well as by locally moored social workers. He advocated a higher effectivity through networking of professional social workers with schools, places of employment, families, and associations.
Olga Borodinka (Russia) presented challenges to modern Social Work in developing Russia in times of economic crisis and drew attention to the recent development that an increasing number of addressees require much qualified support. The central problems are the creation, regulation, and accessability of social services offered by social workers. According to Borodinka future developments in Social Work in today's Russian society require changes to the relationship between professionals and clients. To consider clients as passive is the prevalent perspective in Russia which had to be replaced with a determined acknowledgement of the importance of the roles of clients for future Social Work. Big challenges can also be observed with the secondary education of professionals in Russia. The current reform of the education system, which also affects parts of the secondary education of professionals in Social Work, is being carried out yielding to pressure from the markets rather than reflecting social requirements. According to Borodinka however, instead of short-term economic considerations the community's interests and possible and desired benefits for society should be formative for the reform. Next scientists from Belgium (Thomas Maeseele, Rudi Roose), Switzerland (Gabi Hahn, Nadia Baghdadi), Russia (Burova, Grishanova, Slepukhin), and Lithuania (Jolanta Pivorience) talked about international social problems and Social Work. For an example the presentation by Gabi Hahn and Nadia Baghdadi be mentioned here. Before the background of the debate about minarets in Switzerland they showed how Others, the Muslim community in this case, are defined using ethnic differences and in how far this ''stigmatisation'' influences the discourse on immigrant integration. The importance of transcultural sensitivity as a necessary skill of professionals in Social Work was also emphasised.
The day was concluded in groups working parallel to each other. The topics were research prospects of Social Work – Fabian Kessl together with Susanne Maurer (Germany), Rasa Naujaniené (Lithuania), Alex Kleine and Nina Thieme (Germany) – and opportunities and circumstances of growing up for children and youths – Irena Leliugiene together with Wiktor Djacenko (Lithuania), Odeta Merfelaité (Lithuania), Spiros Pantazis together with Maria Sakellariou (Greece), and Didier Reynaert, Maria Bouverne-De Bie and Stijn Vandevelde (Belgium).
The second day was characterised by highly interesting visits to Social Work institutions and organisations in Tallinn. On the final day of the Academy conference central topics were 'managerialism and Social Work', 'Past, present and future of social educational sciences in Europe', and especially 'future prospects of Social Work in times of crisis'. Presentations from Germany (Holger Ziegler), Denmark (Niels Rosendal Jensen), Finland (Mikko Mäntysaari), and Australia (Mel Gray) revolved around the question, in how far managerialism supersedes the project of professionalisation. According to Holger Ziegler the welfare professional mode of regulation based on autonomy with regard to actions and decisions is being replaced by a managerial regulation which climaxes in the concept of effect-oriented regulation. The implementation of this managerial regulation was helped on by rife scepticism towards welfare professional regulation.
Under the heading 'Surviving the crisis: Modelling knowledge production, translation, and evidence-based practice' Mel Gray (Australia) looked at the interaction between theory and practice in Social Work. A model of knowledge generation and transfer into Social Work was presented. Also an analytic model was developed which will show the complex paths and detours of knowledge from its production to its application. Gray's conclusion is that not all knowledge will affect practice. And even the knowledge that will eventually influence practice will be delayed very much on its way from production to its practical application. Finally she claimed that the theory of knowledge generation as a means to strengthen evidence-based practice will be formative for the future of professionalised Social Work.
Heinz Sünker (Germany) based his deliberations on empirical results and looked at insights and diagnoses that resulted from historical events in 1968 and how those events influenced the development and social consciousness of critical Social Work. He concluded that any democratic and social development is highly dependent on the assertion of an emancipatory concept of education for all citizens and as such also for professionalised Social Work.
Karin Böllert (Germany) and Catrin Heite (Germany) centered their presentations around questions concerning (1) the relationship between (post-)welfare and professional Social Work, (2) Social Work within the Bologna Process, and (3) the labour market of Social Work. Based on te concept of autonomy they defined addressees as individuals endowed with rights. Heite and Böllert showed that a decrease in public responsibility for the production of welfare and the increasing activation of individual responsibility affect professionalism in Social Work. The general orientation of 'activation', which describes the transformation of welfare state regulation regimes, is based on Social Work as a means of activation. Böllert and Heite found that new structural requirements of employability which emerged in the course of the Bologna Process undermine the position of Social Work as a place for scientific research and as a place for the education of professionals as well. With regard to the labour market of Social Work it became clear that the paradigm of activation has led to a considerable demand for professional social workers in some areas, yet at the same time an increasing number of professionals find themselves in tenuous employment situations.
On ''The Future of Social Work in Times of Crisis'' presenters from Finland (Synnove Karvinen-Niinikoski), Italy (Walter Lrenz), Lithuania (Laimute Talimiené, Vilija Targamadzé, Eglé Kvieskaité), Germany (Jörg Fischer, Eberhard Raithelhuber), and Sweden (Leili Laanements) talked about future challenges and requirements Social Work has to face in the current process of social transformation. The debate focussed on political difficulties concerning primary education, social politics and secondary education as well as on current social movements and the influences that market processes have on social services.
The 8th conference of the international ''Social Work & Society'' Academy in Tallinn followed an ambitious agenda. More than 50 presentations covered a wide range of international as well as national social problems, the role of Social Work and research prospects as well as analyses of new forms of government and regulation regimes. The lively final debate, in which young participants were prominent much of the time, the chance for intriguing contacts, the visits to practically working organisations in Tallinn as well as more informal opportunities and expeditions into the beautiful historic city center all contributed to another successful realisation of the TiSSA idea.
Translation: Sabrina C. Meier