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Challenging Social Work: Borders, Boundaries and Bridges

Many countries are confronted with social and political forces that aim at strengthening symbolic and social boundaries such as class, gender, race and nationality. The strengthening of these boundaries leads to processes of othering, in which a strong focus is placed on distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Today, these distinctions are often translated and expressed in debates about a diversity of themes such as ‘we’ versus the ‘refugees’, the West versus the East, Europe versus the US, left versus right and so on. Hence, social work practice and research is challenged to position itself in the face of these often-polarised debates. In doing so, social work often seems to rely on essentialist concepts. Such an essentialist approach leads to methodological claims of truth rather than to democratic debates about possible diverse perspectives on social problems and answers to these problems. However, driven by a social justice agenda, social work practice and research should challenge these borders and boundaries, opening them up by also acting as a bridging rather than dividing force.