Praxiology in social work
Social work needs action theories, and an understanding of how people can create a good life for themselves, a life worth living. A long time ago we rejected the old 'fix-it' role where the social worker is the preferred problem-solver and clients are more or less passive subjects for us to manipulate. Or did we?
W e are taking an increasing interest in processes and structures (psychological, social-psychological and sociological) which encourage readiness for action and a fighting spirit. We ask ourselves what in the social context creates good conditions or opportunities for human beings to change oppressive and degrading situations and to mould their lives in a better manner. This article describes a philosophy and an action theory which have become increasingly interesting for social work as we make efforts to shake off the 'fix-il' role.
Praxiology is primarily an action theory developed on a philosophical base by a number of Marxist intellectuals who turned to the young Karl Marx's writings and thoughts as well as to other sources. Praxiology's prominent early figures we re found in Eastern Europe, for example, Tadeusz Kotarbinski in Pqland, György Lukåcs in Hungary and Karel Kosik in Czechoslovakia. A group which appeared later in Yugoslavia included such renowned critical Marxists as, for example, Svetozar Stojanovie and Mihailo Markovie (editor of the magazine Praxis International) all of whom have a philosophical Marxism which attempts to deal with the Stalinist orthodoxy in Marxist thinking. Well-known praxiologists in the West are Erich Fromm, Roger Garaudy, Paulo Freire and Jean-Paul Sartre.
Praxiology builds on 'praxis thinking', Le. thinking around the concept and phenomenon praxis. Praxis is not interchangeable with practice. Praxis tries to express or describe a perspective which views human action as creating the object and thoughts and ideas surrounding this object, and all are parts of one and the same indivisible process. The person develops her/his thoughts concerning her/his actions at the same time as she/he develops the action, and vice versa. The process itself includes the conditions for both intellectual and practical action, which cannot be separated from each other without negative consequences. This means, for example, that ideas concerning democracy, humanity and equality must develop and find meaning for human beings precisely within the processes in which the persons themselves actively try to create these conditions in their own social life. One can say that this is a central theme in a Marxist theory of social life: self-realization through praxis (Fromm, 1966).
According to this theory a human being tries to realize her/his dreams in the process of confronting and working on material reality. At the same time he/she develops, as an inherent effect of this process of confrontation and revision, new ideas and visions. It is fundamentally a constantly advancing, cumulative process which has only one beginning and one end for each individual - in birth and death respectively. Praxis is also a concept used to describe and understand the development of human knowledge. The development of knowledge is seen as a continuous reshaping of the reality we con front. We create our understanding of reality by working actively on it. The human being's ideas, values and motives merge with her/his practical experiences and proficiency in this analytical and transforming process which is praxis. The human being thereby creates her/himself (as a person) and her/his own world through her/his own actions and in co-operation with others. This is also the base for her/his understanding of and opinion of her/himself.
Göran Ahrne (1981) in his book about everyday realities, building upon the ideas of Alfred Schutz, discusses other aspects of action theory which are also of interest here. The human being plans actions on the basis of her/his motives and the possibilities he/ she sees. One can add from Scotoni (1980) that strain, effort and anxieties inherent in the action must be in reasonable proportions to the expected results.
Through their actions humans try to protect their interests and that which they value. We act on the basis of what we know, can do and have control over. We act out of experience and competence, and usually realistically, that is, trying to reach the goals we believe lie within our own capacity. Our values and motives are thus essential, as are our perceptions of the possibilities for action in our environment. Human beings are reluctant to venture into the unknown, to launch into projects that lie beyond our experience. Organizer Saul Alinsky (1972) also uses this as his starting point: that which has apparent relevance for a person is also what engages her/him most and gives meaning to action.
This in turn tells us that in a theory for action it is important to start from the situation in which people (e.g. clients) find themselves, and include in our thinking their background experiences, values, interests and motives. It is also important to try to understand how people interpret the situation, the inertia phase of structural and situation is possibilities and the restrictions which they confront. (The practical inertia phase is a concept which Sartre (1978: 71) uses to describe the resistance towards the human will which is offered by the structures and organizations which human beings have themselves built up.)
We can see that the discussion treats at least two types of action: (1) the person acts in order to obtain that desired something, acting with intent because of a given goal; (2) the person act s because forced to do so; he/she acts on the basis of an outside pressure; he/she acts under compulsion. We can of course say that the person also acts on the basis of a go al when acting to avoid compulsion. The point here is, nonetheless, whether the person acts on the basis of his/her own ambitions, vision and plans, or if the action is 'only' an evasion. There is an essential difference between these types of action.
Praxiologists are engaged in attempts to understand how the human being develops consciousness and competence, how the person develops the capacity to shape her/his world in an intentional manner. They are thus also interested in the principles .and practical conditions under which the individual act s and changes her/his situation - and whether such experiences in any way, or in certain respects, can be seen as universal knowledge.
We have seen that in praxiology there is an assumption within the theory of cognition (which is also a normative standpoint and behaviour) of essential character and scope. Using Sartre's words, we can say that the assumption is that experience will spread its own enlightenment (Sartre, 1984: 21). This could be interpreted as sheer empiricism but means that the concrete thinking should emerge out of praxis and return back to praxis, in order to communicate information to the same. Experience must be given information through self-reflection and dialogue: careful consideration and exchange with others in searching discussion. This philosophy and reflection can give us distance from our everyday experiences. Daily life is the source for the most fundamental of our experiences, but it can also be a source of illusions. The monotony of daily life, firrhly established and mechanical routines, easily create a blinding semblance of reality, or a superficiality in which we can not distinguish the essentials because they are so close to us. Through reflection and discussion we can achieve a degree of distance from real ity and at the same time discover patterns we did not see at close range.
In Greek philosophy praxis was the activity through which the good life could be realized. Praxis was thus the merging together of the practical - knowledge necessary for material production (the skill and the craft) - and the moral - the values, ideology and ideals (perhaps meaning of life). Aristotle's Praxis is the synthesis of Theoria and Pronesis, that is, a fusion of reflection (afterthought or the practical knowledge) an_ practical knowledge (handiness or skill). We can also, in principle, see praxis in this way. Praxis is then a process in which experience, know-how and competence join with our dreams, goals and visions and moral position, in the tangible transaction. What we can do and what we want, our habits, tastes and our position, form the background for how we meet actual situations and plan for the future.
Our actions are of course dictated also by many factors other than our experiences and our ambitions. Action is influenced, furthermore, by the social context and the material and structural conditions, forces and counter forces, as well as the situation's general complexity. We can influence these conditions under certain circumstances and to a certain extent, but we can never control them completely. Whether we apply a short-term or long-term perspective to this discussion also makes a difference, as does, of course, the type of questions at hand. Each individual's possibilities for influencing larger questions and long-term changes are for the most part exceedingly small. If her/his ambitions and knowledge are part of a mass movement, however, it is quite another matter. Structures are supported by collectives and can also be changed by collectives.
To go beyond one's boundaries requires insight into what exists. That is, the actions through which human beings step outside the established order of things and achieve a new situation require insight into which possibi/ities are implied in the given situation. A person chooses actions within the framework of historical evidence. Deviating from the established order is therefore not a neutral act or solely a question of will. The situation the individual is confronted with bears within it certain possibilities for and limits as to possible deviation. The individual must understand correctly and make the most of these possibilities and limits.
Praxiology, then, sees the person acting on the basis of both practical considerations and theoretical/ideological conditions. Praxiology also emphasizes that the individual doesn't only exist in the world - he/she also creates his/her own world (and this to an ever-increasing extent). He/she must, so to speak, dedicate him/herself to life - not merely exist! The individual can attain a worth while life by giving a purpose and content to life. In a certain sense, therefore, the person is responsible for her/his own life. Perhaps an individual's anguish stems from a life without meaning, from being only 'a reed in the wind', blown out into the universe!
If we are to give meaning to our lives, it is essential that we have the ability to live lives in which we can shape our existence on the basis of practical requirements and dreams. We need to be able to control our situation and to understand the context of which each of us is a part. In a praxiological perspective certain circumstances stand out as especially interesting for study in an attempt to understand our possibilities for acting intentionally and shaping our lives. It is. a matter of distinguishing those factors which are of special importance as we choose our strategies for action. In the points presented below the variables can apply to both individuals and groups.
"Background: history, experience, frame of reference, attitude
(practice, customs and usage) and expected effects of an action.
Intention: purpose, motives, interests, ambitions and visions.
Perspective: the world within reach, how one perceives the
possibilities (theories and assumptions), examples and models.
Situation: confrontation with reality, how this reality is interpreted, the actual questions and problems, the social context (the social and physical space).
Means: the activity sphere, knowledge, competence, that which
controls, tools (resources).
Counterforce: opposing interests (power and counter power), the
material and structural conditions (the 'inertia sphere').
In line with earlier discussions of a knowledge approach, it would not be out of place to note that investigations of the above circumstances do not primarily aim at gaining retrospective knowledge about why something has happened. The interest is instead directed forward in an effort to understand the circumstances and conditions
,for change, and for different individuals and groups to act consciously. It is not in the interest of oppressed and victimized people to pre serve the established order but to change it to what will be, for them, a better order in society. To understand the concrete prerequisites for the latter is therefore of central importance. In
Among social workers in general, this line of action and attitude is usually known under the term social-administrative problem solving. Perhaps we can say that it is social welfare's forerunners who have mostly been engaged in the subsequent organization development and system building. I believe that none of these lines of action are compatible with praxiology's philosophy and theory of action. I describe the line I shall argue in favour of as social pedagogical.
The social pedagogical line of action has developed from theories and thinking about the social aspects of knowledge production and consciousness. At the end of the nineteenth century the German philosopher, Paul Natorp, was developing ideas about social pedagogy which represent some of the earliest writing using the term. Natorp was one of the leading figures in the neo-Kantian Marburg school. In 1899 he published the book Sozialpadägogik (Grue-Sorensen, 1976: 215).
The fundamental idea in social pedagogy is that the individual develops in fellowship with others, in interactions within the social group. In simple terms, social pedagogy has the aim of moulding a social context in which the person's consciousness, knowledge, moral being and sociability can develop in a favourable manner. In an earlier book (Ronnby, 1981: 292) I discussed social pedagogy within the context of community work and group activities aimed at bringing about structural changes in the local community. There I considered the value of social pedagogy in work with groups to mobilize the local community, or to build a questioning and active attitude in the group. I regard the group as an essential social unit for building up a platform for social action.
The group is of interest because of its ability to stimulate the Process of change and to produce dialogue and reflection concerning life and the future. Especially for people who have not been involved in active public life and action in public, the group can be a significant base for collective action of a boundary-crossing character. The group's members can motivate one another to examine new aspects of reality, to develop and test their ability to struggle for desired changes or to stand up against threats. In the group the members are motivated and learn to compare and deal with experiences, to describe the world as they see it, and to share their ideas about life and the future. The group can hel p members to feel confident to test their own strength, to question and to develop alternatives. For many the group can provide the support they need to take a stand, to decide on a direction and to live their commitment and assume responsibility. In the group context people can face questions requiring action as the response, questions calling for initiative.
Research on groups (see for example Aubert, 1974: 72, and Heap 1975: 26) describes factors important in social interaction and group dynamics. Among these factors are the following: closeness, similarity, community of interests and values, common needs, mutuality, one or more issues of importance to all members, a gathering place, a degree of interdependence, and prospects of action. Some of these factors can be created within the group process through activities and interaction.
With the catalytic approach the social worker looks upon problems as structures and processes in the society and within the social unit (e.g. the group or the local community) which stand in the way of individuals' opportunities to develop and possibilities to control their life situation. Human beings are not primarily concerned with lessening the anxiety or stress which results from the types of blockages mentioned above, but prefer to cannel dissatisfaction into appropriate action which can lead to change. The function of the social worker, then, is to act as a sort of catalyst to start social processes which, in turn, make possible active and constructive action on the part of those with the problems. Here it is a question of stimulating people to change their situation and to develop themselves in the process. The objective is to create opportunities for oppressed people and people on whom these problems have fallen, to work together to remove the oppressive and destructive circumstances. Through these actions, which require initiative and boundary-crossing, they become able to view themselves and the world from a new 'progressive' point of departure. The social pedagogical line of action can be summarized, in part, in the following principles:
l. Involvement. One must engage strongly in the problem and
enter actively into the situation.
2. Rooting. Problem solution, .activity and operations must have their point of departure among the people (meaning here those concerned, the oppressed or those who have problems).
3. Field. The work must be with the people in their environment.
4. Mobilization. The work involves arousing and developing the
people's latent resources and possibilities.
5. Action. The people themselves must work on and change their situation through active engagement. People must be involved in the change process.
6. Consciousness-raising. Through people's transforming,
boundary-crossing activities, through praxis, they become conscious of their reality, aware of the social, political and economic conditions as well as of their own ability, of paths open to them and of possibilities with which to change destructive circumstances.
7. Control by those concerned. All of this must be done on the people's own conditions, and the aimed for result must be of interest to the people (not primarily the social worker).
Except for the third, these principles could stand as some of the fundamental principles for social work.
The social pedagogical approach can also be said to stand for a sort of educational ideal, which has been taken from the political arena where ideas about the educative and maturing character of the democratic processes have been developed. This line has derived inspiration from, among others, socialist political theories and the
. so-called participation school (which is most nearly liberal, social liberal). The idea is that if people on a broad front become involved and engaged in the steering and development of the society, they will themselves develop as human beings, become more clever and competent to take up life questions and concerns, and better understand the society in which they live. Democracy in its true meaning is not only an ethical, moral, aesthetic and political question, but also to the highest degree a practical pedagogical question - the question of the future of humankind.
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Teaching social work
Teaching social work
In 1977 Sweden introduced a reform of its social work education. The new course was to consist of a social science based course making up 40 points, plus the subject social work. Altogether, the social work subject itself was to make up 100 points. Fort y points of these were for practical social work (one semester equals 20 points).
Social work therefore makes up a large part of social work education. It has been difficult, however, to develop this subject along strict lines. As teachers, we are influenced by the old division of disciplines. We want to protect our own special interests and many believe they know best what social workers should or must learn about in their undergraduate training. It has been difficult to agree on which questions and problems or themes we should concentrate on in order to develop competence in our students.
This has naturally led to many conflicts. Amongst these we have compromised in calling the subject 'social work', when it is really only the old subjects maybe a bit more streamlined than before. This artic1e is. Partly a contribution to, and partly an outcome of, those discussions in which I have participated, on these questions.
Social work as a teaching subject
Definitions, pronouncements and descriptions of social work consist of a combination of what authors understand to be the actual content of social work and what they think it should be, based on their judgement, theories and opinions. Even when we try to decide what social work is, these ideas come into the picture: social work as it appears, real-life demands on social workers and so on, and what we think social work should be.
Added to that is the question of what social work should be as a teaching subject. We are forced to talk about two different meanings.
'Social work' in education is not the same as social work in practice. Does this mean that we simply add teaching aspects to, for example, social work functions? Or does it mean we take up all the old disciplines and give the m a clearer connection with the work and a practical direction in keeping with our understanding of social work's function in our society?
Does it mean that we give the teaching of social work method more emphasis? Or does it mean that we do something completely new, a whole new subject or discipline (something like developing teaching into a discipline in its own right) based on relevant parts of the old discipline, fieldwork and research into social work, together with our utopian ideas about a future social work?
As a basis for reforming the social work course in Swedish schools of social work, the 1977 report defined social work as follows:
Social work is an applied social science subject, directed at giving an understanding of social processes and the background for social problems, as well as developing skills which are a necessary basis for social work intervention in the broadest sense. Within the framework of the subject should be not only the world of social welfare and its potential for solving social problems, but also other forms of social intervention including a broader social/political perspective.
It is important to emphasize that social work is not the same as an expanded version of social methodology as it has been understood up until now. Social work is a new and broader subject intended to bring together and integrate contributions from the different disciplines mentioned earlier.
That is social work as a teaching subject should not be seen, according to this report, as a hodgepodge of psychology, sociology and social method. The different basic subjects' contribution should instead be seen in the form of necessary knowledge to help solve problems. The basic point of departure is social problem solving (cf. p.33-35).
An exact definition of social work is not given here, but we know that it should be an applied subject, connected to fieldwork, problem orientated and cross-disciplinary, and should combine the relevant parts from other disciplines, using as a primary point of departure knowledge of problem analys is and problem solving.
In connection with the development of a professional protocol for social work in Gothenburg, this subject description was done. It provides more guidelines:
The carrying out of social work is directed at tbe study of social problems and at ways of solving these. The area of study should encompass causes of social
problems which affect individuals and groups, as well as the background for problems in the interaction between individuals and their social milieu. The area inc1udes the analysis of different ways of solving social problems, exchange of knowledge which can be translated into preventive measures together with development of the practical methods used in the social welfare area. These methods would consist of social planning, social service for different groups, social and community work and therapeutic work. The subject content is thus based on applied, inter-disciplinary research.
The subject covers different levels and areas of society: the individual, family, groups, working life and institutions. Of particular importance is the area of social work processes which convey influence between different social levels.
Social welfare needs and experiences in social welfare work sh ou Id influence the direction of research in social work. Research should be organized such that the results of basic sciences together with practical experience from the field are transformed into practical ways of bringing about change at different social levels.
We can see that the subject of social work includes the following components: the study of social problems, their social causes and their background in the interaction between individuals and their social milieu (we are back to this point!), development of ways and means of preventing and solving social problems and other measures necessary in dealing with social problems seen in practice. Social work is an applied (practically oriented, action oriented) and interdisciplinary subject where social workers' experience and social welfare needs must influence the direction. Separate weight must be placed on the social processes which convey influence between different social levels.
Social work methods are the axis around which the whole subject turns. Method should also come to stand for 'discipline integration' or the 'transformation process' through which 'subject components' meld together and are ground into an assertive, action-orientated social change agent (using Professor Harold Swedner's favourite expression).
This can be illustrated by Figure l. The different topics this contains are not meant to be seen as specific subjects, but more as issues to be discussed further by social workers, for example ethics.)
It is not my intention to examine in detail what these different themes in social work stand for. That must happen through work and dialogue between all those engaged in practical work, research,
teaching, as well as political groups, client organizations and so on. I will make only a few comments here.
I realize that there are several basic subjects which must form a starting point for social work, most importantly psychology, social psychology, sociology, politics and economic theory and philosophy.
Pedagogy (and most importantly social pedagogy) makes up a
separate part of social work practice and social work methods. The
history of social work should naturally not be seen separately from economic, political and ordinary history.
Ethics for social work cannot develop solely within the subject itself as a form of learning the 'right thing to do'. It must be (critically) related to ethical theory, philosophy and moral philosophy, if it is not to become a part of the alienation process which we have to overcome. The aim of ethical studies should be, amongst other things, to reveal and clarify those norms and evaluations which lie behind judgements and actions, and say whose interests they benefit, and why they are so of ten clothed in pure ly descriptive scientific or technological jargon.
The theme of fieldwork experience rests on experience gained in practical social work and the knowledge which can develop in the meeting between theory and practice, in the transformation process where experience is reflected upon and placed in a context and becomes 'theory' - vice versa when theory is translated into practical action. This means not just the practical experience gained by students in fieldwork, but also the further development of knowledge and skills based on the many practical work situations where social workers participate - and the meeting of 'theorists' and 'practitioners'. It is really very important task for all those involved in developing social work, to promote the interchange between field work and educational institutions. An interesting question in this connection is how experiences become knowledge, i.e. when everyday experiences - observations, impressions, experiences, working through ideas - are reflected upon and placed in meaningful conceptual context thus becoming understandable - for others as well - by becoming communicable.
The problem of communication between theorists and practitioners arises from the fact that the words used by each cannot be put into a context which is understandable by the other. Theories used to understand social problems are taken from psychology, social psychology, sociology and anthropology. It can be of special interest to examine how different ways of understanding and explaining causes of social problems are used in social work and which activities they give rise to (and vice versa) as well as what the consequences are.
Action theories are also derived from the above subjects/disciplines and rest above all on a study of the prerequisites for and understanding of human actions. This study of practice (praxiology), I feel, can make an important contribution. Of separate interest for social work is studying the conditions necessary for people to be able to cope with their problems, and how these can be developed, how resources can be mobilized or why they are not mobilized, i.e. the possibilities for change and conditions which prevent it.
The framework for social work is what is defined as the structures and processes which direct or limit social work. In the broadest sense it can be discussed under the following twelve categories:
l. The economic and political system.
2. Economic and political cycles.
3. Legal framework.
4. Administrative/organization system.
5. Budget types, resources and planning for resources.
6. The political steering of society at different levels.
7. Social problems become evident and understood/misunder-
stood, ideologies, perspectives.
8. Social welfare 'culture' - informal structure of social welfare
9. Social scientific developments - social work subjects
10. Professional development of social work.
12. Care and treatment ideologies.
As you can see, theories about social problems, for example, and ethics can arise as part of a discussion about what makes up the con tent of social work.
It should be emphasized that the social welfare state and social politics are not a part of social work. On the contrary, social work (both practically and educationally) is a part of the social political process which the welfare state represents. It is precisely for this reason that the welfare state and its social political processes are an important theme to study as the knowledge basis in social work. It is especially interesting to examine the relationship between formal and informal ways of managing social questions.
Social work methods - social methodology
What does it mean placing social work methods in the axle of the wheel in Figure I? Methodology should thereby be understood as a process that integrates and transforms disciplines, and through which experience and theoretical knowledge become a practical activity for bringing about change. However this is more complicated than it first appears. 1 do not think it is possible here to c1arify the whole problem complex, but will merely suggest the directions in which 1 think methodology should be going.
We, that is certainly methodology teachers, always used the concept 'social work methods' to mean the teaching of social methodology. Later on the term social work methods become more popular, and was often used interchangeably with social methodology, even though method and methodology are not quite the same.
One can question whether the concept of social work methods is really reduction in meaning and scope compared to social methodology. 1 am unsure about this, but 1 have observed that work methods are often spoken of in relation to professionalization. But whether this means a reduction in meaning compared to methodology is debatable. On the other hand maybe social methods methodology means not just the methods social workers use in their work situation, but also social intervention and social problem solving in a broader context.
It is important to decide what social methods is all about. We could say that social methods is the study of methods of helping people towards accommodating to and functioning in a quickly changing society and of ways of improving social welfare conditions. Against this viewpoint one could argue that it is too much oriented towards assimilation, and conveys an idea of the social worker as 'the expert' and 'the fixer'.
I have therefore chosen another perspective and attitudinal framework - name ly the social pedagogic (educational). Here we rely on a number of theses (premises) which amongst other things say roughly this:
People develop in fellowship with others - in interaction and cooperation with others. People arrive at an understanding of their reality through having an active interchange with it, through working and changing it and at the same time thinking about it. People develop - develop themselves - through engaging in and changing their situation and through participating actively in social (community) life in all its variations. Knowledge about oneself develops through action taking, through trying and testing one's potential and through pushing further the limits of possible action. People become more competent through active participation in cooperation with others and through their ability to deal with life's problems.
This approach is more akin to an educational viewpoint, or what was earlier referred to as 'basket making'. Social pedagogy relies on a
different kind of relationship between people. Whilst one can say that in the established teacher role, the teacher acts as problem solver, leader and so on, that is, is the active subjective agent in relation to the object student (object client), social pedagogy works with people in co-operation with them and in facilitating communication between them. The attempt is made in co-operation each from their own separate point of departure, to work together on problems. Cooperation becomes the active subject working with a certain object in the form of a question or problem complex which one co-operates in solving because one feels it is important. One begins a co-operative venture and in the process of researching, working through, and changing things, develops knowledge. Insight, trust, knowledge and.
certainty develop in a process consisting of individual working through of a problem; investigating, reflecting, testing, conceptualizing and so on, as well as group activity, group stimulation, dialogue,
working together and achieving new experience.
We could say that in social pedagogy there is a value ideal that people, through being able to co-operate in an active and varied way, develop their potential for influencing their own conditions and for social methods, which judgements and values we use, on whose interests we are depending and what the consequences are of choosing certain directions of action rather than others.
We need to be aware of the history of social work in order to understand how it developed, which intentions and functions survived in different areas and in different contexts. We need to be clear about which attitudes, theories and ideologies play a roIe in our interpretation of specific phenomena or problems. This does not mean that we must necessarily make this the basis for our actions. Other factors (including irrational ones) can influence the situation. These can be the predetermining factors in the situation, the possibilities and limitations we see for action, that which is practical and so on. We of ten know from the very beginning which resources we can count on, what is going to be difficult and what is not possible. We choose 'tactically' to interpret and make decisions about problems in such away that it corresponds to the 'world within our distance'. Theories can playa legitimating role, which we should be aware of.
We should also try to clarify for ourselves the attitudes and theories we hold in social work about what influences human behaviour. How do we use this knowledge to shape our own attitudes towards influencing the people we work with to act in a certain way? What results do we expect to achieve by particular interventions? What is the basis for our decisions? There is much to be clarified in our social work methods.
Social work in the first instance is a product of the social welfare state's social politics, or part of it. Development of social methods is strongly influenced by and based on these circumstances. Therefore, in social method, we should integrate an analysis and knowledge (which exists and is being produced all the time) about the possibilities in and hindrances to the social welfare state's social politics (content, structure, intentions, functions, action arena, conflicts). With out this we resort to 'trial-and-error methods' when we have to find appropriate means. .
We should also concentrate on creating an awareness of difficulties and obstacles which, in many different disguises, confront our efforts to change things. Reality can be experienced as a moving, shifting, jelly-like mass, a security blanket we are prisoners of, a diffuse opponent as well as a world of opposing interests which continually confront us. Opposition can also be experienced as the unintentional effects of individual and collective actions which go against our aims being able to deal with problematical situations according to their needs, interests and abilities. From this perspective, social method becomes away of helping and stimulating people to be come involved in community social life, to be able to act as competent and responsible individuals in a collective sense - and at the same time through this interaction, to be able to grow and develop as human beings.
This is expressed very ordinarily, but in several articles and in practical work in the field I have tried to show what it can mean in practice and how to go about it (See Social Field Work, Lund 1975, The Social Welfare State, Lund 1981 (Chapters 5 and 6) and Social Works M9dels of Explanation Stockholm 1983, in Swedish).
The point I want to make as a basic philosophy behind social method is, amongst other things, the following:
Problem solving for a person without the person being involved in developing it (the fixer role) is of ten only a chance solution (though in certain acute situations naturally quite necessary). This means that we, as social workers, do not have to take on the role of guardians of the social order, seeking to fit our clients into existing expectations and social demands. An old social work principle is to try to see the problem from the client's perspective. But do we do this so as to be smarter at getting the client to sub- mit? There is another principle called the client's self-determination. This is a principle which has been threatened by the modern Swedish welfare state - despite recent social service reforms.
Directions of action in the development of method
How do I visualize this integration of social work's knowledge bases in the new social work method subject I propose? When we think about social methods and directions we are thinking in terms of future-directed activity. We plan in a concrete situation a certain range of activities in order to achieve a certain goal. We have a goal, and in our thoughts we are projecting ourselves actively into the future. It is also a process where we, at one and the same time, look backwards and forwards and interpret the present situation's possibilities and limitations. In praxiology (the science of practice) one can distinguish five important factors used to analyse people's actions, and for developing tactics and strategies. The five areas we should inc1ude are: background, situation, intention, me ans and opposition (or hindrances).
I think that these areas (each of which contains a host of variables) can be fruitful for structuring discussion and the development of knowledge. We must be aware of the context in which we develop and good intentions. Without insight into which structures and processes are opposed to social action, social workers' efforts will result in deep disappointment, frustration, confusion and hopelessness. Social work methods should not encourage social workers to try to save the world, but to see the crack in the wall which can be opened up for alternative initiatives. This is not enough in itself. We must also accept the task of understanding clients and the social group.
In order to develop co-operation and in order to be able to function as a 'catalyst' for stimulating change (or sometimes for preserving things as they are by standing up against negative change), we should also see and understand that which our colleague sees and understands. This can be done by analysing the five areas of analysis for developing methods of action: background, situation, intention, means and opposition.
It is important to be clear about the other's frame of reference, interests, perspectives and experience and the expected effects of a certain action.
The aim is to try to arrive at an understanding of practice, to understand how individuals' and groups' histories (background, experience, competence etc.) are welded together with the desired future (intentions, expectations, theories and dreams) in an active working through of attitudes .in the actual situation. That means that praxis is, amongst other things, when a person tries to realize his/her dreams, hopes and interests. We do not act on the basis of force and routine alone.
It all revolves around understanding how people act, from both a practical and a theoretical viewpoint, their material conditions and knowledge, everyday and utopian visions. The actual situation which challenges us at every point with enticements, tensions and conflicts is transformed through human activity, background and intention into a new situation.
It will be important for us to understand (and understand how to develop properly) these different conditions and activities. Through action, disadvantaged and repressed people can achieve greater freedom - freedom to act! Human life gains new meaning when people can realize personal dreams.
My opinion is that method is and should be a 'praxis construction', that is, a place where critical thinking and the influence of physical activity combine in reflected action. This does not mean we should abandon attempts at 'pure thought' on the one hand, or 'pure action' on the other. But what it does mean is that action is carefully reasoned, experience thoroughly analysed and action well planned. Principles should be adapted to the learning situation. This may mean that theoretical knowledge is used during practical work and experience during 'theoretical semesters' - like other social pedagogy principles generally.
In conclusion to this analysis of social method, I will point out that the comprehensive integration of knowledge areas in social work to which I am referring is not something I visualize happening in the heads of every methods teacher. I see it as a collective process between many participants where the whole thing results in students and teachers developing these aspects and perspectives on social work, when in the concrete situation we reflect on and discuss our directions practice.
I have purposely toned down skills training and methods, as I think understanding problems, philosophies and action theories (for example historical perspective) is more important in social work than rule books and social technology. The emphasis in social work methods should lie in developing a social pedagogic approach.
VÅR TIDS SKRIDSKOÅKARE
Marsmorgon. Solen lyser från klarblå himmel. Blankisen ligger bländande svart. Då och då hörs kraftiga knallar. Solens värmande strålar sätter materian i rörelse. Råkarna, som frusit till under natten, öppnar sig igen. De mindre isflak, som bryts loss av ismassornas rörelse, rasar ner i vattnet med ett krasande ljud och ett plask. Tillfälliga isbildningar, som uppstått i sprickor och råkar under nattkylan, överlever inte den solida, tjocka ismantelns rörelser. Det snabbt skapade förgås lika fort.
Blankisen lockar till sig många skridskoåkare, långfärdsåkare. De kommer i grupper, klubbar och föreningar. Standardutrustade: långfärdsskridskor, stavar eller pikar, isdubbar hängande kring halsen, ryggsäck innehållande klädombyte i täta plastpåsar och matsäck, vindtäta byxor och jackor, svarta och/eller röda. Disciplinerade grupper åker i formation på gåsarad. Först åker ledaren eventuellt med klubbens flagga fladdrande på sin pinne, fäst på ryggsäcken. Med ett småfräsande, ibland klapprande, ljud glider de fram över isen i hög hastighet.
De mindre disciplinerade, åker i droppliknande formation. En och annan nybörjare eller äldre, som inte riktigt klarar tempot, släpar efter. Några friåkare, ensamvargar och solitärer syns också. Unga, starka, vackra grabbar åker gärna i team för sig. Hastigheten och uthålligheten är betydligt högre och stilen mera professionell. Utan till synes större ansträngning, susar de förbi alla andra. De är i karriären och framgången beror på benstyrkan, ambitionen och den fulländade tekniken. Högst självmedvetna äger de det senaste i utrustning, framförande och stil. De är välinformerade och har solglasögon för att inte bländas och bli fartblinda.
En annan egenskap är att de har långa ben, som lätt hoppar över råkarna. Där de mindre avancerade tvekar och fumlar och ibland trampar fel, tar eliten ett djärvt hopp över till ny fast is och fortsätter obekymrade i hög fart framåt. Skrattar lite åt dem som tvekar att hoppa. De senfärdiga, eftertänksamma och försiktiga hamnar alltid på efterkälken. Höghastighetssamhällets logik gäller också på isen. Elegans och precision i stil och framförande, den självmedvetna djärvheten, som markerar stor självtillit och det höga tempot, allt medverkar till intrycket av framgång och suveränitet. Långfärdåkarnas yuppies.
Men någon gång händer det att de suveräna gör en felbedömning eller har lite för bråttom. Då tar isen tillbaka sitt. Det behövs bara ett felhopp, felbedömning eller missad kontroll av isen för att plurra i råken. Den långsamme och prövande råkar inte ut för detta. Men ibland sviker modet och de blir stående på fel sida. Kvinnor med kortare ben och mindre djärvhet, som kanske tänker för mycket över situationen: att hoppa eller inte hoppa, börjar lätt tveka. För att ta det säkra före det osäkra, låter kvinnorna de långbenta och självsäkra männen gå före och visa vägen. Men det händer ändå att tjejerna plurrar, därför att de inte har rätt benlängd, inte helt anammat männens stil eller inte har samma självtillit och gå-på-anda.
Att plurra i en råk är inte roligt. Det är iskallt, men ingen katastrof. Man tar sig upp igen. Livet går vidare. Det är inte som när man i början av säsongen, susar för långt ut på tunn is. Då är man illa ute, särskilt om man är lämnad åt sig själv. Inom närhåll finns inget fast att återgå till. Vart man än försöker ta sig upp, bryts isen sönder. Klokast är att återvända varifrån man kom. Men har man hunnit för långt ut på den hala, tunna isen, finns kanske ingen möjlighet att återvända till det hållbara. Ensam i det iskalla vattnet är katastrofen ett faktum. Man kan hälsa hem. Här erfordras livlina och en räddare i nöden. Då kan det trots allt bli en lycklig fortsättning på livet. Hemma i stugvärmen, med ett varmt bad, omsorg och kärlek återvänder livsandarna. Efter en sådan erfarenhet blir livet aldrig som förr. Det blir underbart och varje sekund värd att leva. Attityden ödmjukare.
Det har blivit mycket populärt att åka långfärdsskridsko. För varje säsong ger sig allt fler ut på isarna, särskilt unga människor. Skridskoåkningen ger uttrycksmöjligheter, självpresentation, gemenskap och image. Just vad unga i vår tid söker.