Monday, April 11, 2011

The Future of Macro Social Work in the 21st Century

Last month, a visitor emailed me an excellent article, Social Work Intellectuals in the Twenty-First Century, about the role of social workers in the 21st century. Although I had already responded to the person, I thought it was important to share it with the rest of the community. It talks about critical social theory and the decline of public intellectuals in American society. Reasons listed include an increased emphasis on professionalization and articles in peer-reviewed publications. The focus on research has deterred many promising social work intellectuals from sparking social change and advocating for social justice in newspapers, blogs and other media venues. I can only name two public intellectuals (Noam Chomsky, Paul Krugman) in the media today. That's a shame.

I am very familiar with critical social theory, and recently completed a project about critical race theory. Social work is a unique field that focuses on practice, research and social justice. Many professions do not mandate their professionals to pursue social justice goals within their code of ethics. However, too often, social workers have focused too much on the idea of professionalism with individuals and not on important issues, such as becoming a collective-bargaining organization that can advocate for higher wages and safer working conditions. Ironically, the first social workers were community practitioners and activists (settlement house movement) who advocated for social justice and system reform.

I will also discuss a paper written by a social work graduate student at Loyola University Chicago. Her paper focused on strengthening community practice in social work. Some social work educators and practitioners were concerned with the absence of macro theory and practice (system reform work, community organizing, advocacy, social activism, community economic development, and human capital development) in social work education. In fact, many of these activities are no longer associated with the social work profession today. She briefly describes the historical micro-macro divide (Charity Organizations Society vs. Settlement House movement) through three periods of conflict (Progressive era, World War II, and 1960s social movements).

She proposes a community development framework for social workers because "it focuses on the centrality of oppressed people in the process of overcoming externally imposed social problems. She also adopts the Christian Community Development Association's tenets of community development: a) relocation - living in the community to develop shared experiences with clients, b) redistribution - providing collective advocacy of the community to secure needed resources, and c) reconciliation - requires dialogue between groups to acknowledge past and present oppression. Overall, this presentation enlightened me because this is the reason why I chose the social work profession. With its emphasis on social justice and community empowerment, I have a passion to help others and engage in system reform.

What do you think is the future of macro social work in the 21st century?

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