Home Sociology Social Change and Social Work
The Conditions of Social Transformation Invite a Holistic Response
There is a broad consensus among the different schools of economists that the main duties of governments include increasing the overall efficiency of the economy and reducing the social inequalities among citizens, which, in the long run, should also serve the first aim. In recent years, growing global competition and increasing fiscal problems have shifted the role of governments and policy emphasis toward creating economic efficiency. In the light of the examples presented in this volume, many of the European welfare states continue to struggle with this issue and related dilemma. They are ensuring economically efficient social services while eroding the welfare state that safeguards a good everyday life for citizens. For example, the Nordic nation-states, which used to be a strong backbone and stakeholder in organizing professional social work as well as its former forms
As a result, the Western nations have subverted one of the two main duties of the state, that is, to reduce the social inequalities among its citizens, in favour of the other, to increase the overall efficiency of the national economy in the globalizing market. More important, they have done this without recognizing how reducing social inequality, when carried out effectively, also benefits the economy as a whole. In the end, neither of the traditional duties of a government is fulfilled. Therefore, the present national policies are in need of careful rethinking
– even in terms of the economy. It has been suggested that the transition toward a more sustainable society and human-centric, individual well-being presumes a new stewardship role for the government (Hämäläinen 2013, 24). In this role the government engages in continuous long-term dialogue, experiments, and cooperation relationships with selected forerunners and key stakeholders in order to renew a particular activity system. Dutch research on transition management (e.g. Rotmans and Loorbach 2009), based on real cases of systemic changes, has been used as an illustrative example of what this kind of alternative policy making could mean in practice.
Since the Enlightenment, industrialized societies have been dominated by a reductionist view of the world. This view casts societies as a kind of rational machine. For example, in decision making it is typical to assume that phenomena are static and linear and to base the decisions on the assumed continuous quantitative information. For decades this view has been effectively supported by Mode 1 knowledge production (Gibbons et al. 1994; Nowotny, Scott and Gibbons 2001). In the Mode 1 approach, professional researchers seek universal laws and theories, focus on individual agents and differentiated levels of analyses. This worldview, briefly speaking, is instrumental, a characteristic that the so-called machinery of Mode 1 knowledge production supports well. Its practitioners tend to believe in top-down control and management, and in the process they often forget the ultimate goal of the activity at hand (see Hauss; Leskosek in this volume).
These features might fit with the present state of the many European welfare states but they certainly fit less well with the complex social issues and problems of people's everyday lives in today's highly unpredictable and interdependent societies. Fortunately, there are alternative philosophical assumptions of the complex human systems, and novel forms of knowledge production have been devised and involved in scientific research. Moreover, in the present conditions humanism-oriented scholars in the social sciences have been challenged to establish continuous relationships and cooperation with, for example, scholars
As Lorenz, Marthinsen, and Julkunen and Karvinen-Niinikoski (in this volume) argue, European social work researchers, and social work practitioners in particular, have had methodologically and ideologically motivated tendencies to restrict themselves to, for example, the recent mechanical offerings of new public management (Patomäki 2007) and evidence-based practice, with only minor voices of critique (Gredig and Marsh 2010). The recent European societal conditions have been favourable for such developments, and the present state of the profession has been aided by many simultaneous factors, such as shortterm decision making in the public sector; a lack of open dialogue inside welfare organizations and between social workers and civil society; rigid mental frames, be they economic, academic, managerial or professional; difficulties in coordinating cross-organizational change processes in practice; and political power struggles. The convergence of these and many other issues has created a time-resistant barrier to broader transformation and the struggle for straightforward benefits for people's well-being, which is, after all, the systemic aim of modern social welfare. Experts and scholars of social intervention, however, have always had alternatives. We might defend the positions that have been achieved in the existing structures for as long as possible and meanwhile limit ourselves to avoid seeing the extent of the whole game that goes on anyway. Alternatively, we might rely on inborn human curiosity and ask what needs to be done and how. What needs to be known to enable and empower us and our clients to move forward, to progress toward the next-generation model of the European welfare society and sustainable production of individual well-being for all groups of needy citizens? And let us not forget ourselves, too, as active participants in the ongoing process of social
|< Prev||CONTENTS||Next >|