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  • Author or Editor: Vasilios Ioakimidis x
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The Social Work World Congress in Melbourne in 2014 will discuss a new internationally agreed definition of social work. The present definition, passed by the International Federation of Social Work in 2000 and the International Association of Schools of Social Work in 2001, is being reviewed because of its strong commitment to social justice. In this article I argue that this commitment is vital and that, furthermore, it has enabled practitioners to act in ways that are ethical and supportive of marginalised and oppressed groups in the face of assault from political parties, media and the state.

The debate over a new international definition of social work reveals the conflictual and contested nature of social work – as a practice that is necessarily ‘political’ within oppressive and class-divided societies. A failure to acknowledge this has, in the past, led some social work organisations and practitioners to act in ways that are oppressive and supportive of existing power relations at the expense of poor and marginalised people. The debate about the international definition of social work, therefore, is vital for our understanding of the nature and role of social work in the present world.

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Trimikliniotis’ (2018) analysis has captured the contradictions of a political system that has largely failed to grasp the fast pace of change in the structure, economics and ideology within Cypriot society. The response to this analysis focuses on three main issues: a) the urgent need for a pro-peace radical movement in Cyprus that meaningfully engages with a Marxist political economy; b) the dilemma facing AKEL between a bourgeoisie defined “credible and prudent” fiscal policy and the urgent need for the party to support the alienated working classes through the articulation and implementation of radical macroeconomic reforms; and c) A strategy for reconnecting politics and action in an organic way where the former feeds the latter and vice versa. The validity of a confident social movement approach is confirmed not through the macroeconomic orthodoxies of neoliberalism but the creation and implementation of a radical agenda that speaks to the needs, expectations and experiences of the working classes. The author suggests that a radical agenda only becomes meaningful when it allows the creation of organic alliances and moves beyond narrow ideas of ideological purity.

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The term ‘biopolitics’ is not a recent addition to the lexicon of social and political sciences. It has been used since the late 19th century in variable and often contradictory ways. However, it was not until Michel Foucault’s famous series of lectures at the Collège de France in 1978 that the term was redefined in a way that it captured the critical intersection between state power and the control of people’s bodies. Since Foucault’s reconceptualisation, ‘biopolitics’ has come to describe the diverse ways our health, illness, bodies and human development have become contested political territories. A particular aspect of biopolitics is linked to state interventions, social control and the limits of individual liberty when it comes to decisions about one’s body.

Michel Foucault’s analysis demonstrated how the development of ‘public health’ policies in advanced capitalism do not necessarily prioritise the management and shaping of individual and collective attitudes towards a healthy society. On the contrary, if states are left unchecked, they have the tendency to enforce policies that aim at fully controlling the life and biological functions of human beings in ways that are disciplinary and moralistic. Two characteristic and recent examples of social control in the sphere of biopolitics relate to debates about women’s ability to access safe and legal abortion or the use of invasive medical procedures to determine the age of young asylum-seekers. In both cases, human bodies have become the terrain of disciplinary state intervention while at the same time significant mobilisation from social movements has confronted oppressive interventions on the human body.

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This book’s completion coincided with the worsening of the financial crisis in Greece and the response it generated from both the governing and working classes. What is particularly interesting about Greece is the reaffirmation of the fact that grassroots and ruling class responses can emerge in parallel, but rarely in consensus. There are a number of themes and issues that arise from the case studies discussed in this book and which offer a ‘glimpse’ of alternative social work practices. First, it is evident that creative and grassroots networks appeared instantly and replaced the role of the authorities. These networks developed organically within the communities and enjoyed the trust of local people. The networks were the catalysts inspiring local populations to explore alternative ways of organising and, more importantly, alternative visions for social change. When communities respond, they start to challenge and redefine existing hierarchies. Another common characteristic in the case studies is the holistic nature of these alternative social welfare practices.

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Critical social policy and social work studies regularly offer critiques on mainstream welfare systems, institutions and attitudes. However, these approaches often leave little space for discussion about what alternative social work and welfare might look like. In the history of social work internationally, there have been examples of collective and grassroots alternatives — forms of popular social work. In most cases, however, these have been written out of history and excluded from dominant definitions of social work. This chapter examines social welfare and social work within the political and historical context of the Greek resistance and civil war. It focuses on a specific period of modern Greek history when an organic and democratic welfare network developed as part of a broader movement for liberation and social change. It explores the legacy, influence, and vision of this welfare movement, which flourished in Greece during the politically and socially turbulent 1940s. It argues that this experience can inform modern social work practices and demonstrate that alternative social welfare models are not only desirable but possible.

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Lessons for social work internationally

What is the relationship between social work and the state? Who controls which services needs are addressed and how? This important book looks at social work responses in different countries to extreme social, economic and political situations in order to answer these questions. Examples include: war situations, military regimes, earthquakes and Tsunamis. The results show the innovative nature of grass-roots provision and social work intervention and will be of interest to all social work academics, students and professionals.

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Radical social work aimed to provide a series of arguments for, and about, radical social work in Britain. It did not look at social-work engagement beyond Britain’s shores. International social work attempts to look at a range of social problems that social work can address, at local ‘indigenous’ practices and the way(s) in which they can be incorporated into professional and regulated modes of social-work delivery. This chapter argues that international social work has an ambiguous history. First, it examines one aspect of social work’s less-savoury history: the intersection of post-World War II international social work, the Marshall Plan, and the United States’ imperial interests in post-war Greece. The chapter then discusses the distinction between ‘official social work’ and ‘popular social work’, the formative years of international social work, the impact of imperialism on social work, and social-work internationalisation versus internationalism.

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International Insights

As the world grapples with the complex impacts of COVID-19, this book provides an urgent critical exploration of how Social Work can and should respond to this global crisis.

The book considers the ecological, epidemiological, ideological and political conditions which gave rise to the pandemic, before examining the ways that social work has responded in different nations across the Global North and Global South. This series of nation studies examine good practices and suggest new ways to renew and regenerate social work moving on from COVID-19.

Contributors also reflect on the key themes that have emerged, including a rise in domestic violence and the ways that the pandemic has disproportionately affected those in working class and minority communities, exacerbating existing inequalities.

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Radical perspectives

How is social work shaped by global issues and international problems and how should it address them? This book employs a radical perspective to examine international social work.

Globalisation had opened up many issues for social work, including how to address global inequalities, the impact of global economic problems and trends towards neoliberalism. By examining the origins of modern social work, problematising its definition and addressing the care/control dichotomy the book reveals what we can learn from different approaches and projects across the globe.

Case studies from the UK, the US, Canada, Spain, Latin America, Australia, Hungary and Greece bring the text to life and allow both students and practitioners to apply theory to practice.

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