This post attempts to show the common tensions apparent in three seemingly rather different arenas of activity. It is motivated in part by my need to return to the issue I insufficiently addressed in the post "Self and Society", in part by the concerns expressed in a recent issue of the blog of the Norbert Elias Foundation as to how to make Elias's ideas more easily available to the general public, and in part to follow through on the partial insight into the role of my own profession I commented on in the "An Anniversary Moment" post. Each of those posts is better understood in the light of the significance of the others.
It may already be apparent to some readers, I suspect, that I was rather too easily inclined to jump into criticism of Bauman's address to the School of Social Work in Amsterdam. It's retroactively impossible to disagree. To explain how that critical misunderstanding came about, I need to return to a slightly more detailed account of the incident I've already talked about in the "Anniversary Moment" post. That account should lead to a somewhat more thoughtful response to those expressing concerns on the Norbert Elias Foundation blog about how to make their ideas more easily available, but also to examining more carefully the manner in which social processes come about, and themselves lead to our preference for particular choices.
What I did not reveal in my earlier account of the faculty meeting I described as critical to my own thinking (in "An Anniversary Moment") was that that meeting occurred after a series of other meetings by faculty that had been undertaken specifically in order to help us come to terms with our own disagreements and understand them better. We were, in fact, ostensibly searching for a unified definition of the role of social work in society which we could all justify as consistent with our own moral concerns, and which would also having clear indications for the practise of our profession. After several inconclusive meetings, that effort was aborted, and shortly afterward the meeting I have already described occurred. In effect, we weaselled out of our disagreements, and "agreed to disagree." The meeting I've already described was simply an initial outcome of that failure to see the importance of the pattern of our differences. (I should hasten to add that the meetings described occurred some thirty years ago. . .)
The relevance of that earlier posting to my subsequent response to Bauman's article in the International Journal of Social Work is that Bauman was directly alluding to a presumed mandate for social workers in society that basically denigrated and humiliated those needing social work services. It is indeed apparent that many people who use those services do find
the experience humiliating. It's also evident that services are often structured in such a way as to convey that, at least in relation to the issue of adequate income, each of us is individually responsible for our inability to provide sufficiently for ourselves and our families.
This was, of course, the point that Bauman was trying to make in his article, particularly in so far as attempting to alert social workers to the possibility of their own collusion with such an attitude.
Unfortunately, and certainly without Bauman's awareness or intent, his description of the situation facing social workers, and indeed all of us who are concerned with our own responsibilities in relationship to our fellowship with other people, tends to resolve into the polarities of a "Which-side-are-you-on?" argument.
And that nicely portrays the nature of our problem . . .
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