Anarchist theory and social work/social development

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sherbu-kteer
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Jul 3 2018 13:20
Anarchist theory and social work/social development

Hi all. I'm studying social work and am preparing to do an honours thesis on potential relationships between anarchist ideas and social work practice. Particularly developmental social work practice*. Does anyone know any constructive work done in this area previously? I've had a look in academic databases but haven't found much; I know there's a book edited by Martin Gilbert about anarchism and social work hosted on the libcom library.

Not to bore you all with the details but my idea so far is to sketch out an anarchist understanding of social development (maybe referencing Proudhon's ideas about mutuality and progress, Kropotkin's mutual aid, etc) and then develop this understanding into either an ethical framework or a practice model for those working in the area.

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about what I'm attempting to do, if you think there's any leads I should look into, etc. If you have any feedback on my thesis idea I'd be more than happy to hear that too!

* Developmental social work is about enacting social change that promotes the wellbeing and capabilities of whole populations. It's usually framed as social work that focuses on the development of entire communities, not just individuals. An example of developmental social work practice could be something like working in an NGO mobilising resources to try and improve women's literacy in a particularly deprived area. It's not just about providing immediate solutions to specific individual problems, but general social uplift.

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Ivysyn
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Jul 9 2018 00:54

I would look at the history of Anarchism as a social movement that took part in labor, women's, and anti-colonial struggles. Some reading on this could be Anarchism and Anarcho-syndicalism in The Colonial and Post-Colonial World, Introduction to Anarcho-syndicalism by Selfed, Fighting For Ourselves by Solidarity Federation, Anarcho-syndicalism In The 20th Century by Vadim Damier, and Socialism, Anarchism, and Feminism by Carol Ehrlich.

sherbu-kteer
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Jul 18 2018 15:35

Thank you for the suggestions, I will definitely look into those.

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Croy
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Jul 21 2018 09:02

I would look into the social model of distress and the social model of disability as well as communities of care.

sherbu-kteer
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Jul 21 2018 14:54

I've studied these a fair bit as part of my course already but I'm always looking for more in depth reading on them, especially if it relates to anarchy! I'll have a deeper search on this, cheers

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Lucky Black Cat
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Sep 17 2018 07:54

I don’t have an answer to your question but just want to say that I’d never heard of developmental social work until reading this. It sounds pretty cool. smile I hope more social work can take this direction.

At the same time, there is a problem I can see in it, at least based on your description (which is all I know about it, so correct me if I’m wrong). It sounds like the change would be coming by the agency of professional social workers, rather than getting people mobilized to change their own communities. I think this would be a tension with anarchism.

sherbu-kteer
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Sep 17 2018 21:14

I hope it can be taken in that direction too! Your point about tension between professional social work and popular mobilisation is completely valid and you aren't the first to notice it. Social work as a vocation grew out of the actions of late nineteenth century reformers, like Jane Addams and Octavia Hill. These early social workers were much more like activists; they often directly agitated for their clients, participated in unionisation programs, and generally saw political activism towards the alleviation of poverty as an integral part of what they did.

With the rise of the post-war welfare state social work became professional, and the activist parts of what they did dropped off. They became part of the 'coordinator class', to use the Parecon term. There's a book called 'Unfaithful Angels' which is apparently about this but I haven't had a chance to read it.

Anyway. My hope is that by attempting to integrate anarchism and social work I can carve out a potential path forward for social workers working in this area, so they become less like social workers and more like activists. In the activist role, they wouldn't function as mere mediators for capital, but as actual instigators for popular change, along mutual aid/Proudhonian reciprocal/generally libertarian lines.

The main problem is funding... what government agency or big name NGO is willing to pay a salary to anarchist so they can do anarchist things? Still, there's plenty of room for 'sneak' anarchism, encouraging egalitarian mutual aid schemes without necessarily advocating explicitly for anarchy. This is one of the reasons I'm interested in Colin Ward -- he was interested in things like friendly societies, mutual medical funds, etc. Even though they weren't explicitly anarchist, they were positive developments that embodied a libertarian social ethic. Even if they didn't realise it. So a social worker could work, say, for a government agency interested in building up credit unions or something.