Decolonising community social work: contributions of front-line professional resistances from a Mapuche perspective

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  • 1 University of Chile, Chile
  • | 2 Alberto Hurtado University, Chile
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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.

Abstract

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.

Introduction

The notion of community is a key element in Mapuche philosophy. ‘Community’ involves not only the everyday social relations between various people in a territory, but also the relationships with the territory – the land (mapu) – ancestral forces and nature (Quintriqueo and Torres, 2013; Quilaqueo et al, 2016; Curivil, 2020). The idea of community is a complex notion that equitably articulates diverse forces and existences that go beyond the human, and in that sense, it is the opposite of the individualistic principles of neoliberalism: from the Mapuche culture, what governs life is coexistence, not the appropriation or subordination of nature under human domination (Curivil, 2020), or its exploitation for extractivist purposes (Aguas and Nahuelpán, 2019).

After decades of collective struggle by indigenous peoples in Latin America, in particular, the Mapuche people in Chile, the country has signed international treaties, such as Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation. This has made it possible, for example, to establish state norms that safeguard collective rights, citizen participation and consultation in decisional processes on matters that involve the lives of indigenous communities (Figueroa, 2021). However, the signing of these treaties has not necessarily resulted in substantive recognition of indigenous peoples. Many injustices, inequalities, discrimination by police and legal persecution continue to oppress Mapuche communities and other ancestral populations (Boccara, 2004; Zapata, 2018; Aguas and Nahuelpán, 2019; Nahuelpan and Antimil, 2019).

In October 2019, the people of Chile rose up to demand an end to the political constitution that allowed the installation of a neoliberal model during the Pinochet dictatorship. The protests had the flags of the Mapuche people as an icon, held even by non-Mapuche people. After the plebiscite in 2020, where 79 per cent of the votes approved the idea of creating a new political constitution for Chile, a guarantee of gender parity and reserved seats for indigenous peoples in the creation of the new political constitution – an explicit demand of the October 2019 movement – was approved by the Congress. Months later, Elisa Loncon, a Mapuche woman, was elected President of the Constitutional Convention, the entity that will lead its creation. Gender parity and reserved seats for indigenous peoples allowed someone like Elisa to reach such a powerful position in so relevant a political process (Bidegain and Tricot, 2021). However, and despite the illusions of many who claimed that her election was proof that ‘Chile had changed’ in terms of both the redistribution of power and respect for indigenous peoples in Chile (CIIR, 2020), contempt and stigmatisation soon followed (Bidegain and Tricot, 2021). Elisa Loncon’s speech in Mapudungun given to celebrate the first day of functioning of the Constitutional Convention, for example, rapidly sparked criticism and hate discourses from the extreme Right, which starkly reminded us that the question ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ posed by Gayatry Spivak (1988) so many years ago is still relevant for our society.

Can subaltern peoples speak – and not only speak, but be heard? In this article, we take up these questions by thinking about the place that we, as social workers, occupy not only in the implementation of community interventions, but also in the construction and reproduction of common sense through community interventions. Both of us have been working in community social work for more than 15 years. In addition, Gianinna Muñoz-Arce has researched and taught about critical epistemologies in social work, and Alicia Rain, a Mapuche social worker, has studied the life stories of Mapuche women and their practices of gender and racial resistance. From our own experience as community social workers, with a sense of Mapuche belonging and motivated by the political changes that our country has experienced since the October 2019 movement, we would like to propose in this article some critical analyses of the idea of community social work that still dominates mainstream interventions conducted by the Chilean state.

In Chile, most state social programmes have a community intervention component, but they reproduce a neoliberal idea of community: atomised, entrepreneurial and competitive, based on neo-colonial rationality (Malizia, 2021). Assuming that social workers always have a margin of manoeuvre that allows them to reinterpret the orientations of the policies we implement, and that this may offer the possibility of exercising professional resistance (Muñoz-Arce, 2019), we argue that there are principles of Mapuche philosophy that can contribute to challenging and subverting the neoliberal and neo-colonial ideas that underlie community intervention. From the contributions of Latin American decolonial thought, we will recover key elements of Mapuche culture that will allow us to critically question our practices and our ideas about knowledge and territory, professional bonds, and dialogical encounters with service users in professional interventions.

From these discussions, we hope to contribute to problematising the idea of the decolonisation of knowledge – as a way of achieving cognitive justice (Barreto, 2014) and, ultimately, social justice – in social work (Martínez and Agüero, 2018). We believe that we are at a key moment for this, not only in Chile due to the constitutional change, but also throughout the world (Kleibl et al, 2019). The mechanisms that reproduce both inequality of all kinds (gender inequality, the unjust distribution of wealth and unequal access to a clean and harmonious environment, among others) and hate discourses against traditionally oppressed groups have been exacerbated in the critical times we live in. Managerialist rationality permeates the interventions of social workers around the world. Can we live differently? Can we resist and re-exist, challenging neoliberal and neo-colonial rationalities, while trying to live otherwise? We believe that community social work can offer us great opportunities to do so. Let us begin by examining the ways in which the neo-colonial rationale that runs through community interventions today operates in order to try to dismantle this approach and look for keys to contest such a hegemonic order.

Neoliberal and neo-colonial underpinnings of community interventions

Community intervention methodologies have a long history in Latin American social work. The emphasis on advocacy, that is, organising for critical collective action as a strategy to address social injustices, reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s during the reconceptualisation movement (Servio, 2014), declining after the military dictatorships in the 1970s and the democratic regimes that followed (López, 2010). In Latin America, community intervention continues to be part of the social work curriculum taught in higher education institutions, generally following the logic of dividing social intervention methods into case, group and community inherited from Anglo-American schools of social work (Malizia, 2021). However, despite its presence in social work teaching and its current inclusion as a key component in state social programmes, the ideas of ‘community’ and ‘the community dimension’ of programmes are often severely reduced in professional interventions, especially in the interventions that take place in the framework of social programmes financed by the state and implemented by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

These NGOs are the employers of large numbers of social workers in Latin America (Reininger et al, 2021), and as in other countries of the Global South, they are often funded, in turn, by supranational agencies (for example, the World Bank) (Muñoz-Arce, 2019). Thus, the guidelines for community interventions reproduce the key principles of neoliberal rationality supported by supranational organisations, among others: individual responsibility; free competition among members of the same community; and rewards and punishments based on the entrepreneurial capacity of its members. As Somerville (2011) has argued, these so-called ‘community-based’ interventions are downright ‘neo-colonial’: based on faith in globalisation and the market, they seek to domesticate or civilise culturally diverse or politically dissident peoples who are critical of capitalism as the only possible way of life. In addition to the values of individualism and free competition, Eurocentric thinking and its values, its concept of beauty, success and development, and even its idea of well-being and happiness are imposed through the implementation of these programmes (Castro-Gómez and Grosfoguel, 2007). In these orientations, then, the multiple overlaps between neoliberalism, colonialism and patriarchy as axes of domination are expressed (Hernández-Morales, 2020).

In previous qualitative studies (Muñoz-Arce, 2015; Rain, 2017; Rain and Muñoz-Arce, 2019), we have identified that in a large part of the community interventions implemented by social workers, ‘the community’ is often understood as the mere sum of individual people in the same space, as if ‘the community’ (many people) were the opposite of ‘the individual’ (one person). These social programmes understand community intervention as the implementation of activities that although collective – in the sense that they bring together several individuals forming a circumstantial and transitory collective – are based on an individualist rationale. That is to say, although the activities may consist of bringing people together, they do not necessarily appeal to the construction of a collective project. On the contrary, they aim to inform, train or provide tools, in a unidirectional way (where the ‘expert’ professional is the one who transfers the knowledge to the community members), so that people acquire tools for the elaboration of individual projects (to which they have to apply and for which they have to compete among the same neighbours to win funding). This rationale, being based on the value of individual freedom and free competition, in this case, competition among the same members of a community – for a housing subsidy, for the awarding of a project or for a productive development voucher – evidently brings with it the fragmentation of internal links, mistrust and the weakening of the notion of the collective body on which the very idea of community is based (Esposito, 2009). Moreover, when these supposedly community-based interventions target indigenous peoples, the culture shock that ensues is of considerable proportions (Gómez-Hernández, 2020). The neo-colonial character of these interventions is part of the neoliberal rationality itself, as it aims to acculturate populations that have not functionally adjusted to the principles of stark individual competition, leading to self-exploitation in the pursuit of merit and to the exploitation of other people and of nature to fit into the dynamics of the market (Quijano, 2000).

In other words, what we want to argue is that ‘community interventions’ and ‘emancipation’ are not synonymous, and in this sense, there are intervention processes that are self-defined as ‘community’ professional practices but continue to perpetuate subordination, paternalism and individual competition in the participant communities. In this context, the questions that motivate this reflection arise: is it possible to undertake a ‘decolonial turn’ in community interventions funded by supranational organisations and implemented by the Chilean state? How possible is it that social workers can resist the ‘neo-colonial’ rationality underlying community programmes?

Understanding professional resistances from a decolonial perspective

Community social workers, as other front-line practitioners, play a central role in the implementation of state intervention. They have been recognised as mediators between the state and citizens, and as agents who translate, adapt and modify social policies at the front line through the use of their professional discretion or room for manoeuvre (Lipski, 1980). In this process, diverse values, approaches, interests and rationalities are reconciled, contested and negotiated.

This is particularly relevant when social workers disagree with the rationality of the policy they are responsible for implementing, or consider it inappropriate, unfair or unethical (Strier and Bershtling, 2016). The use of such professional discretion from a contesting, disobedient and challenging policy perspective is conceptualised in the sociology of work as professional resistance (Mumby et al, 2017). Professional resistance has been a central theme in the discussion of critical and radical social work in recent years (see, among others, Fook, 1993; Ferguson and Lavalette, 2006; Kamali and Jönson, 2019; Weinberg and Banks, 2019; Reininger et al, 2021), as it is the result of social workers’ attempts to fight for social justice by changing the course of the establishment in their interventions, whether subtly or radically, individually or collectively, spontaneously or planned, or hidden or publicly. In any case, these practices of professional resistance defy the top-down designs of social programmes and therefore offer the possibility that social workers do have a say in their implementation.

How can we understand professional resistance from a decolonial perspective? While professional resistance can be linked to critical social work, it is always worth asking what we mean by ‘critical’ in social work (Ioakimidis, 2021). We should not forget the criticisms of ‘orthodox’ critical social work and its messianic and heroic aspirations, in which the subaltern is little listened to – following Spivak’s claims – as the subaltern needs to be ‘conscientised’ in order to understand ‘the true’ path to liberation. This orthodox vision of critical social work, far from contributing to the liberation of the communities, presents the significant risk of supplanting, assimilating or outright annihilating the world views, interests and struggles of the original peoples (Healy, 2001; Barrantes, 2006; Matus, 2018).

This is a sensitive point that allows us to understand professional resistance from another place, which requires cognitive openness to assume that our understanding is always incomplete and that we therefore need the others’ perspectives and critical reflections. In other words, it is not enough to do what we think is right in our professional interventions; rather, we need to open our minds, to listen, to unlearn, ‘to open ourselves to the philosophy that springs from the unprecedented’, in the words of the Cuban philosopher Raúl Fornet-Betancourt (2001: 122). This cognitive openness is also a critical gesture, and it is the foundation of what in Latin American critical philosophy has been called ‘the decolonial turn’.

However, cognitive openness to recognising the value of otherness is only the first step for a decolonial turn. As Maldonado-Torres (2008) has argued, it also consists of the search for a radical transformation of hegemonic forms of power, being and knowing. He distinguishes the ‘decolonial attitude’ (which is based on an ethical-political stance) from ‘decolonial reason’ (which challenges the Eurocentric logic of knowing). The decolonial attitude is possible insofar as a subject is capable of being appalled – and not just astonished – by the horror of coloniality and its victims. The adjective ‘post-colonial’, that is, what happens to peoples after the end of empires, should not be confused with the expression ‘decolonial’, which refers to deconstructing or dismantling the rationality of coloniality. The expression ‘coloniality’ refers to ways of being (Quijano, 2000): vertical, binary and hierarchical ways of understanding power, knowledge, sexuality and existence in the world, where the white, European, masculine, cis-heteronormative narrative dominates. These manifestations of coloniality are still present even in post-colonial periods. They have been nurtured by Judaeo-Christian traditions imposed during colonial rule in Latin America but reinforced by modern capitalism and its current neoliberal expression, in which anthropocentric, extractivist and androcentric perspectives pervade all domains of social life (Hernández-Morales, 2020). From this perspective, neoliberal capitalism is intertwined with neo-colonialism: neoliberal reason, based upon blind faith in the entrepreneurial individual, is also informed by a neo-colonial rationality, which is expressed in other hierarchies of domination that include but go beyond economic domination (for example, patriarchal, racial, pedagogical, sexual, gendered, spatial, ecological, medical, speciesist, aesthetic and epistemic domination, among others) (Lugones, 2020). Decolonising, then, requires both recognition of ‘the colonial wound’ and generosity to acknowledging, deconstructing, dismantling and overcoming those naturalised or taken-for-granted hierarchical divisions (Maldonado-Torres, 2008).

This implies changing models and structures of thought, that is, making diverse perspectives emerge in order to advance the construction not of ‘other’ knowledge, but knowledge ‘otherwise’. To embark on this path, it is essential to recognise, first and foremost, the cultural domain of the other. This decolonial turn, as María Lugones (2020: 45) has claimed, is a kind of ‘pilgrimage’, that is, a mode of resistance to naturalised hierarchies of power that emerges when people, as a collective, ‘break free from the grip of institutional and structural descriptions by creating liminal spaces’. The creation of liminal spaces means assuming that our position is on a threshold between something that has gone and something that is yet to come. This state of openness and ambiguity is what precisely allows ‘the passage’ between one social condition and another. Lugones’s contributions are relevant insights for rethinking professional resistance in social work from a decolonial perspective, understanding resistance as (not only, but including) the decolonial attitude and decolonial reason.

In the following sections, we will address two fundamental keys for contributing to a decolonial turn in our community interventions as front-line social workers. The first refers to the starting point of recognising the colonial wound – the decolonial attitude, in Maldonado-Torres’s words. In the second, we approach some notions of Mapuche philosophy that can provide insights to rethink social workers’ community interventions – a decolonial reason to base our professional action on.

Acknowledging the colonial wound as a point of departure

In Latin America, indigenous, Afro-descendant and tribal peoples have experienced losses of their territories and autonomy in the exercise of their rights, as well as the weakening of their cultural and political practices, which have been stereotyped and discriminated against (Becerra et al, 2009; Alvarado, 2016). This has resulted in large inequality gaps, poverty and exclusion (Quilaqueo et al, 2016; Nahuelpan and Antimil, 2019; Curivil, 2020).

Caniuqueo (2009) suggests that the colonialist actions carried out by the Chilean state and Chilean society in general towards the Mapuche people have been underpinned by a kind of institutionalised violence that is rooted in everyday life. This, in turn, has generated a social trauma that is expressed in the self-esteem of the Mapuche, in their mental health and in their ways of relating to each other on a daily basis. The institutional violence generated as a result of the Chilean state’s actions in Mapuche communities, particularly over the last two decades through the implementation of the Anti-Terrorism Law – legislation aiming to punish crimes committed by members of indigenous peoples with more severe penalties than those applied to non-indigenous people (United Nations, 2013) – has reinforced their discrediting and stigmatisation since Spanish colonisation (Aguas and Nahuelpán, 2019).

In addition, the material impoverishment experienced by Mapuche communities for centuries – due to land reduction processes – has led to the expulsion of young people and entire Mapuche families to urban areas in search of salaried jobs that would allow for the survival and material support of the families remaining in the communities. Later, dispossession due to the invasion of transnational companies has deepened the displacement of Mapuche families to the cities and interfered in the configuration of the territories. The subordination of the Mapuche people in Chile is common to that experienced by other social groups; however, their social, economic and political subordination is crossed by racism (Aguas and Nahuelpán, 2019; Alvarado, 2016; Nahuelpan and Antimil, 2019).

One expression of racism can be seen in the negative prejudice, both overt and subtle, towards the Mapuche people. Overt prejudice is the vehement and direct rejection of the Mapuche, without the need to hide it and in which the feeling of contempt predominates (Becerra et al, 2009). Although in the current context, it could be argued that overt prejudice towards the Mapuche has diminished – especially considering the demands expressed by the 18-O movement and the constitutional change we are experiencing today – empirical evidence shows the opposite: studies that measure overt and direct prejudice towards native peoples indicate that it is still present (Ramírez Barría et al, 2016). Historically, the existence of subtle or implicit prejudice towards the Mapuche has also been observed, that is, expressions in public or social circumstances in which the underlying argumentation appears to be non-prejudicial, though it is; these subtle prejudices are expressed in the cold, distant and indirect rejection of them (Henríquez-Villarroel and Mondaca-Rojas, 2020).

Stigma and exclusion of the Mapuche people have been systematic in various historical periods (Boccara, 2004; Figueroa, 2021). Hence, the various acts and gestures of recognition – such as the election of Elisa Loncon as President of the current Constitutional Convention – have not been strong enough to structurally dismantle these hierarchies of power and racism that prevent dialogue between cultures under asymmetrical conditions of power. A disservice has been done in this regard by the adoption of a multiculturalist approach in social, education and health policies, which, compliant with neoliberalism, makes use of Mapuche symbols and signs as exotic matters to be appropriated as caricatures or as marketable and saleable consumer goods (Boccara, 2004; Zapata, 2018).

Despite all these elements that configure the ‘colonial wound’ that enables us to understand the misrecognition, disdain and scorn affecting Mapuche people, we cannot forget the struggle that they held for more than 500 years, the territorial vindications they have fought for and the richness of their culture and traditions. These attributes make Mapuche people a strong, united and politically active community, which has many valuable contributions to inform a critical professional practice.

Learning from Mapuche philosophy to resist the hegemonic rationale of community interventions

Making caricatures or adopting indigenous peoples’ rituals without recognising the colonial wound and their historical past of oppression and struggle are empty attempts to decolonise social workers’ community interventions. Adopting practices without understanding their meanings, renaming things without making a profound shift in the way we understand interventions and inviting community members without opening up the possibility of substantive participation and respecting the right to make decisions about the interventions are practices that, far from decolonising, reproduce an instrumental use of culture. To advance in decolonising community interventions as a mode of professional resistance, we need a cognitive opening towards another understanding of the world that questions the neoliberal and neo-colonial foundations at their roots – an epistemic turn, in other words.

Mapuche philosophy, like all philosophies, changes its expressions over time and acquires various nuances in each territory. However, there is a central core that refers to a complex understanding of the meaning of human life where land (mapu), language (mapudungun), knowledge (kimün), territory/community (löf) and spiritual life take on a central value (Torres and Quilaqueo, 2011; Quintriqueo and Torres, 2013). In this framework, the human being (che) and the cosmos (wenumapu) are not dissociated. It is, therefore, a philosophy that integrates the material and spiritual world, nested in clear ethical-political principles of vindication and resistance. According to Salas (2009), four explanatory principles distinguish Mapuche philosophy: (1) a conception of the human being (che) in permanent construction, made up of physical body, mind and spirit (the latter transcends after death to continue its interactions with ancestors and divinities); (2) the notion of cosmos (mapu), which not only refers to the earth in geographical terms, but is also linked to wenumapu – the land of the spirits – as well as the notion of the human being; (3) the notion of community, which is a central element of Mapuche epistemology, being indivisible from the ideas of family or individual, and anchored in the ancestral memory of the territory/community (löf); and (4) the ethical-political principles of strength (newenche), wisdom (kimche), well-being (kümeche) and righteousness (norche), with a clear emphasis on coexistence and the affirmation of community life and respect for nature. Related to respect for nature, the concept of time is also different from the accelerated time of neoliberalism. From a Mapuche perspective, it is the rhythms of nature’s own cycle that are transferred to social practices (Torres and Quilaqueo, 2011).

Mapuche philosophy contains principles that are the opposite of those underlying the neoliberal rationale: individualism; extractivist economy; a productivist conception of time; the immediacy of consumption; the satisfaction of human life in only material terms; and the depredation of nature (Quilaqueo et al, 2016). From here, we have identified some key notions of Mapuche culture that can help us to decolonise our community interventions and challenge power relationships between social workers and the community underpinning mainstream community social work. These notions relate to the very notion of community and the conceptions of knowledge, professional bonds and the value of dialogue.

The notion of community as a whole

From the Mapuche perspective, there is no separation between the private and public spheres; therefore, the individual, family and community form a whole. The concept of löf is very helpful in understanding this idea (Torres and Quilaqueo, 2011). The löf comprises a territorial and symbolic space inhabited by Mapuche families who have blood and/or political ties, and who share their own socio-historical and cultural aspects (Caro and Terecán, 2006). The löf, in turn, is made up of rukache (families), which would involve the members that compose it, the geographical context in which they live and the productive activities they carry out. The common ancestral bond is what unites all the people and families in a löf. Hence, the division of Anglo-American social work intervention methods (individual/family, group and community social work) does not make sense in the Mapuche context. This feature of Mapuche culture, which is based precisely on its notion of complementarity and indivisibility, as well as on its spiritual-transcendent dimension of understanding the human constitution, opens up opportunities for social workers to strengthen strategies that focus on collective dynamics. Focusing on the collective to the detriment of the individual clearly constitutes a counter-hegemonic practice in the neoliberal scenario.

Challenging the role of the expert and recognising our ‘incomplete’ knowledge

Assuming that we are ‘incomplete’ beings means that we assume we are beings in permanent construction. Therefore, we require ‘other’ knowledge in order to complete ourselves. This process necessarily entails an epistemological friction (Zapata, 2018), which requires the cultivation of sensitivity that allows us to open up cognitively, affectively and communicatively so as to share responsibilities in order to embark on joint activities. In the case of interventions in the Mapuche context, the inclusion of an ‘intercultural mediator’ (a person from the community who joins the professional team) is crucial, as the certification of the expertise of professionals via university credentials is not valid within Mapuche culture. The inclusion of community members in the professional team not only challenges power relations as promoted by mainstream Western community work approaches, but also defies the way in which knowledge is produced and used in professional action (López, 2014; Rain, 2017; Gómez Hernández, 2020).

The concept of knowledge (kimün) is built on the idea of experience, and in this sense, it is the elders who are recognised as the bearers of knowledge (Quilaqueo et al, 2016; Curivil, 2020). Within each Mapuche community, there are processes of knowledge generation that need to be understood by the professional teams implementing the intervention. The interaction between members is mediated by the so-called kim (basis of knowledge and learning), which brings together actors differentiated by the conditions they experience and the purposes of learning (Catriquir, 2014). In this relational process, actors such as the kimche (wise person), the kimün che (person with knowledge) and the kimpelu (those who are learning from the aforementioned actors) come together (Quintriqueo and Torres, 2013). Within the communities, ceremonial and symbolic instances are developed that also constitute ways of generating knowledge within Mapuche culture, such as the interpretation of pewma (dream messages) and the narration of epew (stories or tales that aim to teach the younger generations) (Curivil, 2020). Feyentün (legends or stories) are used to enhance values that shape Mapuche identity and the socio-territorial belonging of the younger generations, and ngülam (advice) is used to reinforce the teaching of younger ones, intended to forge a person in Mapuche values. In addition to recognising these knowledge-generating strategies practised within Mapuche communities, it is necessary to assume that the source of knowledge is in ‘learning by doing’ (Catriquir, 2014). This is why children are considered active subjects in the daily activities of the community and it is therefore necessary to consider and include them in the processes of community interventions.

Approaching ‘the other’: professional bonds in community interventions

It is important to reflect on the importance of the greeting, which is the initial moment of any intervention. In Mapuche culture, considerable time is devoted to the greeting (Caro and Terecán, 2006; Catriquir, 2014; Curivil, 2020). According to Llanquinao et al (2006), the pentukün is a process of mutual introduction, where origin and küpalme (lineage) are explained. It appeals to historicity and can be put into practice through home visits to all the people in each löf, inviting them to participate in the intervention or in one of its activities. Although the home visit carried out from a Mapuche perspective may, at first sight, seem similar to the traditional technique, the pentukün is a process of building trust and generating bonds between the professional team and the participants of the intervention, which goes beyond the neutral and/or functional imprint that usually characterises the relationships within the framework of state community interventions.

It is a way of meeting again as members of the same family/community. The pentukün is a visit of fraternity because a Mapuche is family with another Mapuche, regardless of their socio-economic situation or their family background, because the transversal value is that of mutual recognition. The implementation of the pentukün requires a different time allocation to that usually planned in social interventions. It implies that the professional teams have total flexibility to extend their home visits as the conversation takes place (Quintriqueo and Torres, 2013). The central guideline here is historicity: the professional team must present itself as a historical subject, belonging to a particular territory and recognising its ancestors in the constitution of its present identity. This action of presenting oneself through this protocol is called chalitün (Curivil, 2020). After situating the lineage and identity of the professionals and the participants in the intervention, a fluid dialogue is generated, mate (herbal tea) is drunk and food is shared. At this point, the participants have explained to them the meaning of the activities that will take place later, in which they are invited to participate. This is also useful for clarifying expectations and establishing a verbal commitment to participate in the intervention process.

Meeting and valuing dialogue

Trawünes (community meetings) are practices of broad and open communicative exchange that are used to share views on the issues that affect the löf. The trawün are defined by Nahuelpan (2012) as spaces of self-regulation that favour governance that transcends territories, as they are based on deliberation, conflict resolution and the establishment of political and military alliances throughout the history of the Mapuche people, from documented times during the period of the Spanish conquest to the present day. The practice of trawün has been passed down from generation to generation, as mentioned earlier, through the experience of observation lived by the youngest members of the Mapuche community from their earliest childhood (Caro and Terecán, 2006). A trawün is different from the traditional community meetings, assemblies, talks or workshops that social workers traditionally implement. The logic of representation is different (in Mapuche philosophy, men, women and children attend community meetings and religious ceremonies, as learning is experienced through listening and observation). Time is also considered for the presentation of each person, and it is the older adults, regardless of their socio-economic status or years of schooling, who are recognised as the wisest (Quilaqueo et al, 2016). All participants can speak, a climate of horizontality is promoted and the notion of time is flexible, being sensitive to the pace and needs of the conversation, so that agreements can be reached slowly and without pressure.

Concluding remarks

In this article, we have examined, from the contributions of Latin American decolonial thought, some possibilities for social workers to resist the neoliberal and neo-colonial rationale underpinning community interventions. We have identified the importance of recognising the ‘colonial wound’ and the ‘coloniality’ of knowledge, power and being that runs through our everyday understandings and practices. We have proposed to move towards a decolonial turn in our interventions by identifying some contributions of Mapuche philosophy that challenge the neoliberal and colonial approaches at the core of the orientations of social programmes funded by such supranational agencies as the World Bank: another conception of community inseparable from families and individuals; and counterhegemonic notions of time, professional bonds, community encounters, representation and knowledge. Undoubtedly, these orientations are neither exhaustive nor definitive, but they constitute a first impulse to contribute to social work commitment to cognitive justice. From here, we propose a critical analysis of what we mean by critique, knowledge and emancipation – issues that are key elements for reinforcing critical perspectives in social work and the discussion of social workers’ possibilities to exert professional resistance against hegemonic ideas of community and community interventions in their everyday practices.

As we have argued in this article, the gestures and acts of acknowledgement towards the knowledge of native peoples in Chile have led to advances in terms of recognition and partial inclusion in matters of political decision making. However, we should not take a conformist view of these acts of recognition. As several authors show us (for example, Boccara, 2004; Rivera-Cusicanqui, 2015; Zapata, 2018), stereotypes and caricatures of indigenous knowledge can lie under the motto of ‘the decolonial turn’. Therefore, the decolonial option becomes a mirage when there is no deep and heartfelt quest to commit to dismantling the entrenched hierarchies of power that sustain inequalities and injustices towards indigenous peoples.

The philosophies of native peoples offer us powerful tools to confront hegemonic thinking, understanding human beings in their multidimensionality and promoting collective action and practices of reciprocity, horizontality and deliberation, and respectful relations between humans and nature. Although the proposals we discuss here are limited to the Mapuche people and the Chilean context, they can contribute to rethinking community-based social work interventions not only with indigenous peoples, but also with other traditionally oppressed groups. We can resist the onslaught of neoliberalism and its neo-colonial imbrications, reflecting together with our colleagues on how we might dismantle the key elements of coloniality underlying our practices.

Despite the potential of decolonial thought for critical social work and for rethinking what it means to resist hegemonic rationality from the front line of professional interventions, we must be careful not to minimise the structural character of struggles for decolonisation. It is not just a matter of having cognitive openness or subjectively developing, both individually and in micro-space, practices that challenge neo-colonial rationality. Certainly, that is important and has a direct impact on the lives of the communities and service users with whom social workers work. However, this subjective and micro-dimension, as Silvia Rivera-Cusicanqui (2015) has asserted, cannot be disassociated from the struggles of social movements and, specifically, the struggles of indigenous peoples’ movements. These are struggles that point not only towards the construction of other horizons of cognitive justice, but also towards equality before the law, truth and justice for the unjustly prosecuted, the redistribution of wealth, and the return of land expropriated by the state and the most powerful economic groups. This undoubtedly demands that, as social workers, we are involved in the political discussions and movements attempting to dismantle racism, patronising approaches and the instrumental use of culture. Thus, we can contribute to cognitive justice as another dimension of social justice – a principle to which we adhere as social workers in our commitment to social transformation.

Funding

This work was supported by the National Agency for Research and Development – Chilean Government, under grant FONDECYT REGULAR N°1201685 ANID/CONICYT.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.

References

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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Curivil, R. (2020) Cultura mapuche: un antiguo ideal de persona para una nueva historia, Utopía y Praxis Latinoamericana, 25(88): 4154, www.redalyc.org/journal/279/27962172004/html/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Healy, K. (2001) Trabajo Social: Perspectivas Contemporáneas, Madrid, Spain: Ediciones Morata.

  • Henríquez-Villarroel, D. and Mondaca-Rojas, C. (2020) Niveles de prejuicio sutil y manifiesto en estudiantes universitarios aymara y connacionales en la frontera norte de Chile, Utopía y Praxis Latinoamericana, 25(13): 7990, www.redalyc.org/journal/279/27965287007/html/.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hernández-Morales, I.I. (2020) Colonialismo, capitalismo y patriarcado en la historia y los feminismos de Abya Yala, Revista Estudios Psicosociales Latinoamericanos, 3(1): 2947, https://journalusco.edu.co/index.php/repl/article/view/2545.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ioakimidis, V. (2021) Social work in the global neoliberal context: solidarity and resistance from a radical perspective, Propuestas Críticas en Trabajo Social – Critical Proposals in Social Work, 1(1): 2842, doi: 10.5354/2735-6620.2021.61229.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kamali, M. and Jönsson, J. (2019) Revolutionary social work: promoting sustainable justice, Critical and Radical Social Work, 3(7): 293314. doi: 10.1332/204986019X15688881109268

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kleibl, T., Lutz, R., Noyoo, N., Bunk, B., Dittmann, A. and Seepamore, B. (eds) (2019) The Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Social Work, Oxford/New York: Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lipski, M. (1980) Street-Level Bureaucracy: The Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Service, London: Russell Sage Foundation.

  • Llanquinao, H., Briceño, C. and Rebolledo, O. (2006) El Pentukün como metodología de enseñanza. Aprendizaje en la cultura Mapuche, Lenguas y Literatura Indoamericanas, 12(13): 18594.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lugones, M. (2020) Peregrinajes: Teorizar una Coalición Frente a Múltiples Opresione, Madrid: Ediciones del Signo.

  • López, T. (2010) El Camino Recorrido. Intervención Comunitaria: Cómo es y Como ha Sido la Experiencia de los Trabajadores Sociales Chilenos, Santiago de Chile: Librosdementira.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Maldonado-Torres, N. (2008) La descolonización y el giro des-colonial, Tabula Rasa, 9: 6172. doi: 10.25058/20112742.339

  • Malizia, V. (2021) Trabajo Social Comunitario en un Chile Neoliberal en Crisis: Apuestas de Intervención Desde la Resistencia y Para la Transformación Social, unpublished thesis, Chile: Universidad Alberto Hurtado.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Martínez, S. and Agüero, J. (2018) La producción de conocimientos en Trabajo Social: hacia una decolonialidad del saber, Cuadernos de Trabajo Social, 31(2): 297308.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Matus, T. (2018) Punto de Fuga, Vol. 1, Buenos Aires: Espacio Editorial.

  • Mumby, D., Thomas, R., Martí, I. and Seidl, D. (2017) Resistance redux, Organization Studies, 38(9): 115783. doi: 10.1177/0170840617717554

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Muñoz-Arce, G. (2015) Intervención comunitaria en contexto mapuche y descolonización del conocimiento, Tabula Rasa, 23: 26787.

  • Muñoz-Arce, G. (2019) The neoliberal turn in Chilean social work: frontline struggles against individualism and fragmentation, European Journal of Social Work, 22(2): 289300, doi: 10.1080/13691457.2018.1529657.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nahuelpan, H. (2012) Formación colonial del Estado y desposesión en Ngulumapu, in H. Nahuelpan, H. Huinca, P. Marimán, L. Cárcamo-Huechante, M. Mora, J. Quidel, E. Antileo, F. Curivil, S. Huenul, J. Millalén, M. Calfio, J. Pichinao, E. Paillan and A. Cuyul. Ta iñ Fijke Xipa Rakizuameluwün: Historia de Colonialismo y Resistencia Desde el País Mapuche, Temuco: Ediciones Comunidad de Historia Mapuche, pp 12360.

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  • 1 University of Chile, Chile
  • | 2 Alberto Hurtado University, Chile

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