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  • Author or Editor: Gianinna Muñoz-Arce x
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The first case of coronavirus in Chile was confirmed by the Department of Health on the 3 March 2020, when the country was still facing political uprising and massive riots that had started on the 18 October 2019 (18-O). The national plebiscite scheduled to be conducted in April 2020 – an agreement obtained as a consequence of protests aiming to define the end of the Political Constitution created during the Pinochet dictatorship – had to be postponed because of the sanitary crisis. The government established partial lockdowns and quarantines during the first months in some sectors of some cities. These selective measures that aimed to protect the functioning of markets and the health of the economy1 have resulted in Chile remaining in Phase 4 of the outbreak – that is, uncontrolled and widespread community transmission.2

Despite policies aiming to protect market functioning, unemployment reached 11.2 per cent between March and May,3 a record-high level in the past ten years. Debt, precariousness and poverty have increased (Fundación Sol 2020), to the point where a new wave of riots was unleashed in late May due to food unavailability and lack of support in the poorest areas, which was fiercely repressed by the police. “The Chilean system is even crueller than coronavirus” stated the protesters’ banners,4 referring to the consequences of the neoliberal experiment that historically had made Chile recognised around the world (Harvey 2005).

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Since the return to democracy in the 1990s, community programmes in Chile have been pervaded by the neoliberal and neo-colonial approaches of social policies promoted by the state and supranational organisations, such as the World Bank. In this article, we examine the possibilities of front-line community social workers dismantling such a hegemonic rationale. Drawing upon the contributions of Latin American decolonial thought, we argue that social workers are able to exert resistance on the individual, competitive and instrumental approaches underlying their community interventions by decolonising their understandings and professional practices, and by being involved in collective political action. An exploration of Mapuche philosophy is offered as a means to illustrate some key dimensions in order to scrutinise community interventions and challenge the traditional mainstream Western and Eurocentric notions of community, knowledge and professional bonds and encounters. These proposals apply when working not only with culturally different populations, but also with all those subaltern groups oppressed by the neoliberal and neo-colonial rationale, in the interest of contributing to cognitive justice – another dimension of social justice.

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In the current unscrupulous neoliberal climate, social workers are increasingly confronted with ethical and political tensions that clash with the profession’s commitments to human rights and social justice. However, despite neoliberalism’s global reach, the scholarship on social work professional resistance has been largely limited to the Global North. Taking into consideration this absence in the literature, this article seeks to explore the possibilities for professional resistance in the Global South, specifically, in Chile, a country in which neoliberalism was forcefully imposed and that has experienced an exponential growth in social movements over the past two decades. The following article explores the structural and material conditions that have historically shaped social work resistances, arguing that the current social and political climate, specifically, the constitutional process under way, presents a space from which new resistances are possible and necessary in order to challenge neoliberal hegemony.

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