Friday, 11 January 2013

Western Social Work Practice in non-Western Countries (Anish Alex MSW, RSW)

Western Social Work Practice in non-Western Countries

The history of modern social work practice begins in the Western world in the 19th century. Due to the complexities associated with the social change occurred during the industrialization and urbanization period affected 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 system called professional social work. The practice of institutionalized care system played key role in the new profession, developed from an Anglo-American standpoint of liberal, Judeo-Christian, capitalist values and philosophies. Western social work practice and philosophies face various challenges in a different ethno-cultural setting (Tsui & Yan, 2010) of non-western countries.
     The historical frameworks of settlement movements and the social care demands of urbanization in the west historically made significant structural and pragmatic changes in the social work profession and created more responsive to the local needs of Western countries (Gray & Fook, 2004). Precisely, this helping profession was originally developed to meet the needs of the ethno-cultural communities of the western industrialized society. The western version of this modern care profession traveled from 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 special focus on historical, cultural and social factors. I argue that western social work practice is not only fit for the culture it faces serious challenges to meet the unique requirements of isolated, remote, and culturally diverse population in other regions. Despite of the debate about the core mission of the social work practice, this profession could achieve a good reputation among western care world by stabilizing or controlling problems of the capitalist societies.

     Nagpaul, (1972) and  Midgley, (1981) viewed that many developing countries like Latin American countries, several Asian countries and much of African countries were not taken ‘social work’ in to a serious account as western world has viewing this profession. There has been a substantial discourse about the insignificance of educating and practicing 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 in to the socio-cultural, economical, historical and political landscape of other regions like Africa and Asia. Due to the huge gap between social development and economic development of many of these countries, western social work practice faces in-numerous challenges to allocate social and economic resources for the vulnerable population (Tsui & Yan, 2010). Also, the in-applicability and inappropriateness of western social work model in isolated, remote settings of developing countries raises 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 to the profession (Gray & Fook, 2004). Liberal, Judeo-Christian and capitalist foundations of western social work education and practice not only struggles to meet the requirements of local people but also possibly not capable to build trust among 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 implementation of western social work model and practice in non-western countries are arguably challenging. Brydon also cited that western social work is not a universal model of practice rather it is an indigenous model. There is little or no integration of wide range of worldviews and different discourses applicable to all regions. Western social work education primarily focusing on individual rights and client’s determination, but in most of the cases the professionals were dealing with communities where family and collective responsibility is predominantly valued than individuality (Nguyen 2005, as cited in Brydon, 2011).  

     A rethinking of “adapting, adjusting and modifying imported knowledge, theories, values, and philosophy” mainly from the Western work to fit in the local social context is unavoidable. However, an integration of imported knowledge base and cultural, social, economical, and political philosophies of the non-western communities can offer new solutions for this difficult situation (Tsui & Yan, 2010, p. 308). 
Revitalization of social work practice in these countries required a multi-dimensional approach includes local knowledge development, promotion of traditional healing models, and reinstating socio-cultural practices. 
In addition many social work professionals from most of these non-western regions were trained in western world. And the social work education in many non-Western countries are following either new or a second hand translation of Anglo-American textbooks and reference materials. It profoundly reproduce and reinforce the believes and values of a neoliberal-euro-centric-capitalist society. 
     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 from all levels may open some new platforms to help those regions; social work educators can raise the awareness about the roots of current social work paradigm in their country with a critical point of view. And help the new generation social workers towards the transformation of more localized social work practice. It is important to engage social work education with local practices, and teaching materials produces locally. However a successful social work intervention in non-western countries may requires an integration of western knowledge and local wisdom especially those who are practicing western social work. 
Anish Alex MSW

Brydon, K. (2011). Offering social work education in an offshore context: A case study of an Australian programme delivered in Singapore. International Social Work54(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 Education29(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 Work41(4), 443-453.

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