by Anish Alex MSW, RSW
The history of modern social work practice begins in the Western world in the 19th century. The complexities associated with the social change that occurred during the industrialization and urbanization period affect traditional patterns of family and community support systems in the Western world.
As a result, a modern organized form of support and care system has been developed to supplement and complement family and community care systems called professional social work. The practice of an institutionalized care system was developed from an Anglo-American standpoint of liberal, Judeo-Christian, capitalist values, and philosophies. Western social work practices and philosophies face various challenges in different ethnocultural settings (Tsui & Yan, 2010) of non-western countries.
The historical frameworks of settlement movements and the social care demands of urbanization in the West made significant changes in the social work profession and create more responsive changes to the local needs of Western countries (Gray & Fook, 2004). The social work profession was developed to meet the needs of the ethnocultural communities of the Western industrialized society. The Western version of this modern care profession traveled from the West to fit in the local needs of other regions of the globe as part of charitable efforts of missionaries, British colonialism, globalization, and open trade.
This article attempts to examine the implications of Western social work practices in non-Western countries with a special focus on historical, cultural, and social factors. I argue that Western social work practice faces various challenges to meet the unique requirements of isolated, remote, and culturally diverse populations in other regions. Despite the debate about the core mission of the social work practice, this profession could achieve a good reputation in the Western care world by stabilizing or controlling the problems of capitalist societies.
Nagpaul, (1972) and Midgley, (1981) explain that many developing countries like Latin American countries, several Asian countries, and much of African countries were not taken ‘social work’ into serious account as the Western world has viewed this profession. There has been a substantial discourse about the insignificance of educating and practicing the Western model of social work to resolve the social problems of developing countries (as cited in Payne, 1998).
The indigenous thinking of social development started to question the dominance of Western social work education and its practices in non-Western countries. The profession is still trying to connect the Western model of social development to the socio-cultural, economic, historical, and political landscape of developing regions like Africa and Asia. Due to the huge gap between social development and economic development in many of these countries, western social work practice faces in-numerous challenges to allocate social and economic resources to the vulnerable population (Tsui & Yan, 2010). Besides, the in-applicability and inappropriateness of the Western social work model in isolated, remote settings of developing countries raise the question of its relevance in diverse and complex societies.
Apparently, critical psycho-social assessments and targeted social work interventions in the local complex remote setting with a foreign ideology created new challenges for the profession (Gray & Fook, 2004). Tsui & Yan illustrates that culturally and socially liberal, Judeo-Christian and capitalist foundations of Western social work education and practice possibly not developed as a trusted professional to meet the requirements of people, hence political and professional existence of professionals in the social work sector became a question in non-western countries (Tsui & Yan, 2010).
A qualitative study conducted by Brydon (2011) found that the implementation of the Western social work model and practice in non-western countries is arguably challenging. Brydon explains that Western social work is not a universal model of practice rather it is an indigenous model. There is little or no integration of a wide range of worldviews and different discourses applicable to all regions. Western social work education focuses on individual rights and clients’ determination, but in reality, the professionals are dealing with a society where family and collective responsibility is predominantly valued over individuality (Nguyen 2005, as cited in Brydon, 2011).
A rethinking of “adapting, adjusting and modifying imported knowledge, theories, values, and philosophy” mainly from Western work to fit in the local social context is unavoidable. However, an integration of the imported knowledge base and cultural, social, economic, and political philosophies of the non-western communities can offer new solutions for this difficult situation (Tsui & Yan, 2010, p. 308).
Many social work professionals from most of these non-western regions were trained in the Western world. In addition, social work education in many non-Western countries is following either new or a second hand translation of Anglo-American textbooks and reference materials. It profoundly reproduces the beliefs and values of a capitalist society. Revitalization of social work practice in these countries required a multi-dimensional approach that includes local knowledge development, promotion of traditional healing models, and reinstating sociocultural practices.
Social work education and classrooms should create a space to incorporate the challenges of local social work practices in the context of regional social development. Moreover, a remedial approach at all levels is inevitable; social work educators can raise awareness about the roots of the current social work paradigm in their country with a critical point of view. And help the new generation of social workers towards the transformation of more localized social work practice. It is vital to engage social work education with local practices and teaching materials produced locally. However, a successful social work intervention in non-western countries requires an integration of Western knowledge and local wisdom especially those who are practicing Western social work.
Original Source: http://anishalex.blogspot.ca/
Brydon, K. (2011). Offering social work education in an offshore context: A case study of an Australian programme delivered in Singapore. International Social Work, 54(5), 681-699. Doi: 10.1177/0020872810382527
Gray, M & J. Fook. (2004). The quest for a universal social work: some issues and implications. Social Work Education. 23(5), 625-644. Doi: 10.1080/0261547042000252325
Ming-sum, T., & Miu Chung, Y. (2010, May). Developing social work in developing countries: Experiences in the Asia Pacific region. International Social Work. pp. 307-310. doi:10.1177/0020872809359746.
Pawar, M. (2010). Looking Outwards: Teaching International Social Work in Asia. Social Work Education, 29(8), 896-909. doi:10.1080/02615479.2010.517018
Payne, M. (1998). Why social work? Comparative perspectives on social issue and response formation. International Social Work, 41(4), 443-453.
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