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Societal Change and Social Work

Social work does not live in a vacuum where the changes described above do not reach. Since its inception, the forms of social work have adapted to social orders and rank, the social reality of its own time and the desired societal goals. In her example regarding the development of Finnish professional social work, Mirja Satka describes how social work was first introduced as seminational civil servant work and how it connected to the shepherd system, the premodern societal context as well as the fixed social, gender and generational orders of the nineteenth century (Satka 1995). The problematization of the Nordic child policy and child welfare illustrate how repression and penal sanctions were the salient forms of social work in the nineteenth century, reminding us of Durkheim's thesis on the pre-modern forms of solidarity: pressure on uniformity and the centrality of penal orientation (Eydal and Satka 2004; 2006).

As the modern nation-state formation gradually deepened, law, jurisprudence and the legal scholars of the day formed key pillars for establishing the constitutional stateduringthefirstdecadesofthetwentiethcentury. Satkadescribes(1994, 283–94) how the legislative schemes of social work were followed by the bureaucratic agencies and standardization according to the guidelines of Weberian theses on formal rationality and the centrality of positive law. These developments led
finally to the professionalization of social work in terms of casework adopted from the US in the 1950s. Important gender and generational formations occurred as the theory of maternal deprivation was adopted as well (Satka 2009). In this respect, the different paths, emphases and pace could be seen all over Europe and the Western world (see Skehill 2004; Leskošek 2009).

The golden years, so named by Eric Hobsbawn (1994), in the Nordic states refer the constitution, sedimentation and deepening of the welfare state from World War II until the end of the 1980s (see also Therborn 1995). Urbanization and the transition of the economic structure from agriculture to industrialization to services that took place quite early in Great Britain and Central Europe, were accomplished in the Nordic countries at different speeds. In Sweden and Norway, the share of mining, steel and engineering industry in the production structure was high, but the shares of agriculture and the forestry industry remained significant in Finland and Denmark until as late as the 1980s (Kosonen 1998).

However, an important sociopolitical transformation took place in the course of this period: the compassion of social policy governance that has later been called the Nordic welfare state regime (e.g. Esping-Andersen 1990). The core ethos of the Nordic welfare model consisted of universalism, equality and public responsibility. The aim was to avoid unequal societal distribution by a relatively high level of decommodification, taxation and income redistribution. The service supply is universal and extended to all citizens. The primary model of the Nordic welfare state in welfare literature has tended to be Sweden with its core features of full employment, solidarity in wage policy, the promotion of social equality, and the Keynesian counter-cyclical policy of economics.

However, in the aftermath of the 1990s economic recession, the Nordic states have faced significant changes. One may well ask to what extent the characteristic features of the second modernity have spread, not only in the policy orientations of the Nordic states but in the Western world in general. Furthermore, the debate around the second modernity is not only a general sociological contemporary analysis but it touches the boundary conditions of social work, doctrinal issues and working practices on a large scale. With respect to social work, the change has meant roughly the adaption to austerity policies and public sector expenditure cuts conditioned by the neoliberal economic policies. The Marxist, structural and state-centred interpretations of the social problems characteristic of the 1960s and 1970s are replaced by claims regarding the death of 'the social' (Rose 1996), the individualization of risk (Beck 1992), the development several types of individual risk assessments and the drafting of multiprofessional working models for intervening at the early stage as possible. These phenomena are not new in the US and the UK, where they were put in motion as early as in the 1970s, but in the Nordic states and Central Europe they are new indeed. It seems that new risk discourses, conditioned by new public management, have not succeed in permeating the debate regarding social work in Eastern Europe. Or have they?

Still, we are here talking very emphatically about European, North American and Western change. As global information networks have expanded rapidly, the
international influence of concepts, doctrines and methods has been transported more quickly across national borders within the field of science. They are filtered and converted to fit local needs (see glocal in Franco-Aas 2008). At the same time, traditional and local social orders, such as gender and generational relations, are called into question and the operating environment that sustains them is more difficult to manage. At times, the changes have been rapid and violent. The solidarity and cohesion of societies have been put to the test (Lorenz 2005), just as new grounds and forms of maintenance have been explored for them. In general, it is notable that the first and second modernization share common elements: both are characterized by economic liberalization and the subsequent counter-movement in social and moral areas in particular, resulting in, for example, the close linking of social work with the goals crime prevention (Satka and Harrikari 2008).

In conclusion, modern social work faces new challenges all over the world as its operating environment has changed significantly during the past few decades. This change in the operating environment is influenced by several, multilevel and relatively simultaneous social, political and economic changes in Western Europe. It is reasonable to ask what the status and function of social work are, how it is transformed in varying environments and where it is flowing along with the social, political and economic currents. In times of rapid change, understanding the interconnections between social change and social work is an important issue. For true self-reflection and the renewal of social work discipline and practices, we need to utilize the emerging possibilities and understand the conditions of social work in time, place and space.

 
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