Description Parallel Stream Session B.1

Description Parallel Stream Session B.1

Parallel Stream Session B (11:15-12:30)
Stream B.1: Social work and justice.

Jeroen Gradener (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) and Peter Raeymaeckers (University of Antwerp).

In Flanders as well as in the Netherlands, the abstract notions of social justice and human rights are increasingly seen as the cornerstone of social work practice.  At the same time, social workers are confronted with a societal context where the rights of the most vulnerable target groups are violated. More specifically, social work researchers and educators are addressing the detrimental impact of decades of neo-liberal social policy on social service users. A great variety of research in Flanders and the Netherlands has been exposing structural injustices in social policy and social work practices. Here, researchers refer to for instance how the increased provisionality of access to social and financial support, as well as the emphasis on self-reliance when in need for everyday care, especially have burdened low-income families  These injustices ingrained in social policies has been said to galvanize feelings of insecurity and precariousness among the most vulnerable , while for the general public it also has simultaneously been undermining a sense of solidarity and of voice.  As a consequence, the traditional role of social work in safeguarding the legitimacy of ’well understood self-interest’ of the welfare state has been undermined.

This decline of explicit engrained notions of social justice in welfare state arrangements generated a number of tendencies in current social work practices both in Flanders and the Netherlands:

  1. Social workers’ awareness and at the same time their lack of ability, to address the structural origins of many of the social problems their clients are experiencing, undermining the feelings of control of both service users and professionals;
  2. A disruptive paradigm of rationalisation of social services provision with its focus on ready made arrangements, output-led evaluation of the feasibility of continuing government funding, and the logic of provision. This denies as well as alienates both social workers and  social service users from a focus on individual preferences and abilities to well-being;
  3. The limitations of social work to address individual ability or agency to sustainably improve one’s life fostering feelings of blame and legitimizing a more punitive and control-based approach in social work; .

Against the background of these tendencies, this workshop will explore similarities and differences between how in Flanders and the Netherlands, notions of social justice and human rights are constructed in everyday practice.  While explicitly inviting other aspects to be addressed, we are stimulating presentations that could focus on for instance how social workers navigate in practice between (1)  the notions of cold versus warm solidarity (or rights versus benevolence), (2) the logic of provision versus the acknowledgment of clients’ needs; and (3) mechanisms of administrative control versus the emancipatory mission of social work.