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International Social Work

09.06.2020    Ronald Lutz, Alexander Stauss

  1. 1. Ambivalences, Contradictions, Paths
  2. 2. Postcolonial Theory, Intertwined Modernity
  3. 3. Body of Differences
    1. Independence Movements
    2. Pedagogy of Liberation
    3. Indigenization, Authentication, Reconceptualization
    4. Utopias: Good Life, Human Development
  4. 4. Conflict and Change
    1. Topics and Questions
    2. Practices and Methods
  5. 5. Border thinking
  6. Literature
  7. Authors

"International Social Work", as area of work and theory gradually moves from the periphery closer to the center of the profession. It mainly asks questions on an inter- and transnational level and also social work is increasingly demanded and reflected in the context of international relations and development cooperations as well as in the work of international NGOs. Additionally, study programs develop, that are described as “International Social Work” next to the established “Intercultural Social Work”. The “Internationality” is reflected in international organizations and conferences with controversial debates on international orientations increase. Networking and linking grow, common projects are carried out, the publication landscape increases and the dgsa [1] established a section of “International Social Work”.

Actually, Social Work can look back on a long international tradition, as it always dealt with topics like street children, migration or ethnic oppression, which demonstrate a clear international perspective. Also it was and is involved in international solidarity contexts, that continually stress a liberating perspective and a political interference. As an international operation working area, it increasingly takes up controversial topics (Liebel 2005; Rehklau/Lutz 2007a and 2007b; Wagner Lutz 2009; Homfeld/Reutlinger 2009; Liebel/Lutz 2010; Grotenrath 2011; Frey Lutz 2012; Straub 2012; Treptow 2013 Baehr et al 2014 Brizay/Lutz/Ross 2015; Lutz/Ross 2016) [2]. This text is about the ambivalences and contradictions of these various activities; through a critical reflection of the own position it wants to provide an approach on what the “International” could be.

1. Ambivalences, Contradictions, Paths

With the recognizable “Internationalization”, the subject leaves the “National Container” in this country (Beck 2010; Beck/Grande 2003; Beck/Grande 2010). After processes of “Europeanization” (Kolhoff 2003), it finally arrives at international “waters” and “landscapes” of the former periphery of Europe and North America. In this “Internationalization”, contents and objectives remain peculiarly uncertain; the “International” is rather a declared intention than a recognizable program. The project moves between an internationalization of European perspectives of the “Global North” and the relativization of the internationalization with the aim of a more intensive consideration of perspectives of the “Global South” [3].Thus, a tingling tension is articulated, that leads to fundamental questions: What is "International" in social work? Is it a rather Eurocentric (Euro-American) view on the "rest of the world" [4], on the Global South, or is it an independent focusing out of this "rest”? So is it about an extension of specific perspectives of the Global North on global issues or is it about an activation of an own body, that results obligatorily from the problems of the Global South?

In the current debate on internationalization, at least two paths (poles) can be identified (Rehklau/Lutz 2009):

On the one hand, the perspective of the Global North has tendencies to conceptualize a basic framework, that discusses theories and methods, that are valid everywhere, independent of space and time and that are linked to a self-conception of similarities that are reflected in a comparing research. Internationally, a program for the extension of the national view is established. It is an attempt to locate itself in the “mainstream” of current social sciences, which leave the “National Container” to globalize, internationalize and transnationalize. The former narrowed perspective should be widened and dissolved from the colonial self-conception after an intercultural relativization.

On the other hand, from the perspective of the Global South, it can be seen that the respective initial positions of cultures, traditions and historical experiences are extremely different. Thus, the problems to be worked on are hardly similar and require each a specific and independent social work. Various efforts can be noticed to gain independence by reflecting colonial roots and restrictions, without abandoning them completely. Thus, it can be integrated in global debates which do not ignore the local perspective. [5]

Without a doubt, social work with all its asynchronies of international relations is not only a complex, but also an extremely mined field. It moves on the suspicion that contributions take a hegemonic position, which wants to gain influence on others and between the accusation of a relativization of traditional certainties that result quickly in a judgment of arbitrariness or “anything goes”. In the controversial paths, formulated subtexts become recognizable:

The first path is associated with the reservation of being a product of colonialism, particularly in postcolonial analysis with regard to knowledge systems as aspects of hegemonic domination; while models, that were developed in the north were almost missionary spread throughout the world, regardless of special features and extremely different starting positions. On the other hand, the second path gains sympathy in the south and the north, just because of its critical position on colonial foreign infiltration. But it remains with the reservation of arbitrariness and cultural relativism.

In both paths a certain vagueness of what International Social Work is, becomes visible. This can also be seen in recognizable activities that have little to do with each other. Obviously, “International” means much in the empirical reality of relations [6]:

  • they (north and south) work together on a specific topic, e.g. street children, gender relations or social development;
  • meetings, conferences and exchange programs are established to discuss different theories and methods and to develop common or different positions;
  • an international publication and research landscape has established and develops rapidly;
  • an internationally valid body of subject is defined, for this purpose definitions and comparative research is activated;
  • standards of the Global North are questioned and conformed in exchange with the Global South
  • all standards, that feel obliged to their local contexts, progress continuously.

However, from these activities in the international context, no identity of “International Social Work” can be justified: the initial questions of the introduction cannot even nearly be answered. It is indisputable, that social work, also in the international context needs obligatory standards, theories and methods and that joint research, conferences and publications are essential elements of such an internationally active social work. This becomes obvious in the attempts to find a common definition, that causes hard struggles and that is continuously questioned. Nevertheless, and this is a different reading of the second path, the practices of social work in countries of the Global South always face new and different questions, problems and solutions than the Global North. This requires a critical view on social work as knowledge system and also as practical work.

Undeniably, the subject social work was firstly an Eurocentric (Euro-American) export product in the Global South, that internationalized through colonialism and the hegemonic position of Europe and North America in the globalizing world. Colonial, imperial and still existing global linkages and dependencies caused problems in the countries of the Global South that seemed to resemble those of the North (Escobar 1995; Davis 2004; Eckert 2006). For their processing, the instruments of social policy and the methods of social work were implemented with a colonial and imperial implicitness (Rehklau/Lutz 2009). Therefore, it is vehemently discussed that social work originally is a product of Euro-American modernity and their welfare regimes and thus, was transferred through colonial and hegemonic domination and influence in the Global South [7]. In the related links and dependencies, it became a seemingly global similar operating practice. But that does not establish an identity of an “International Social Work”; “Internationalization” would only be the internationalization of a specific theory and practice.

Social work theory and practice in its international linking has to expose itself to criticism to be international in a reflexive, differentiating and still comparing sense. At first, it has to clear its incorporated “colonialism of modernity” (Eckert 2006, Kerner 2012) and its imperial “transformation of the world” (Osterhammel 2010) and to disclose those dependencies of the paths, in which it grew and still moves. Only in a critical consideration of itself in the context of colonial and global linkages, it can explain, discuss and overcome colonial contexts. A reflexive theory and practice is possible, if “International Social Work” with all divergences and different local paths and contexts is identified and positioned newly and different. In order to actually escape the “European container”, “International Social Work” must “decentralize”, “provincialize” its European roots and concepts and focus on what they are: attempts to answer European and maybe North-American questions.

An identity in the international context, that goes beyond the colonial heritage of both, the north and the south and finds an own self-perception, has to use such approaches, that trace the ambivalences of colonialism and the subsequent hegemony of the Global North in a post-colonial perspective. In the conveyed critical perspective, an alternative and third path of the imperial import to a specific new concept of social work becomes visible [8], which includes and revokes the elements of both paths.

By breaking the Eurocentric canon of social work, it does not disappear but becomes only one aspect of a polycentric and heterogeneous theory and practice that invites to negotiations and interactions. At the same time, the multiple approaches of the south experience a new autonomy. In “International Social Work” a “Body of Differences” becomes visible, that activates knowledge and experience from the south and is able to fill the “new and reflexive canon” critically and enriching. Furthermore, it is based on binding standards, which have to be put in question critically again and again in order to face the challenges of change and to reflect the specific features of other local, cultural and historical questions and visible independencies.

In this critical position “International Social Work” is at the same time genuine political and official: it is always in the focus of international relations and has to position itself to development policy or to development paradigm, in which not only a critical debate is promoted but also an own area of social development is identified and covered.

Thus, we argue, that the adoption of a valid social work science for all spaces might be provided, which is namely critical of colonialism and hegemonic contexts but also wants to overcome them and implicitly cares for its Eurocentrism, as this is now understood as international knowledge. Especially in knowledge systems that seemingly dissolve of their Euro-American roots and understand themselves as “Global Science” or were adopted by national elites, the hegemony still lies inside and works regulating (Gramsci 1991; Cox 1998) [9].

From the perspective of the Global South, very early voices became loud, that pointed exactly to this “Global Science”. Internationalization of social work is done by the following assumption: „Social work is an international or universal profession and that is a new social technology for dealing with social problems in all societies“ (Walton und Abo El Nasr 1988, 150). It was criticized, that social work methods were seen as a plain technological resource, which can be used independently of the respective culture that one relates to. This skepticism has to be reflected in the context of the criticism of hegemonic knowledge, as it condenses in postcolonial theory after years and questions the “knowledge”. These include modern social science and social work, which understand “values, social standards and structures of the Western defined society as universal parameters” (Costa 2007, 225; Gutierrez Rodrigues/Boatca/Costa 2010). In order to overcome this hegemonic attitude, heterogenization and decentration are required.

We understand “International Social Work” as a, in itself necessarily ambivalent program. As such it includes and integrates questions and positions of many regions in the world that might explain similarities, but also shows roots and practices and presents them differently. If social work should be dissolved of its respective national and also hegemonic position, to be established as “international” and to be directed against a technological internationalization of Eurocentric perspectives, it must be embedded in the postcolonial discourse as hegemonic knowledge system and undergo radical criticism.

Although postcolonial theory is an “academic product”, in theory it is also practice, as it activates interventions in hegemonic discourse constellations. It also produces itself as critical, resistant and subversive mode of a decolonizing knowledge production and develops decidedly in distinction to colonial control (Varela/Dhawan 2005, 24; Reuter/Villa 2010; Kerner 2012, 144). This results in recognizable strengths: it is the reflection of the own position as a privileged one, that also qualifies postcolonial thinking for the concept of “International Social Work”. As social work is directly integrated in a political context, has a great proximity to political movements and, out of these contexts, can be seen as specification of non-Eurocentric forms of social work in the Global South. [10]

Furthermore, postcolonial theories have four advantages, which should be used:

  • they distanced fundamentally from methodological nationalism and its internationalized figures and focused on both, global and local constellations (Beck 2010);
  • they are highly characterized by experiences of the periphery and activate a special feel for the effects of transnational powers, as the periphery understand them better (Sousa Santos 2010);
  • they act in a wide reference to the object and are especially suitable for organizing interrelations and interdisciplinary connections (Chakrabarty 2010);
  • as normative and political acting sciences, they can bridge between academic and non-academic knowledge and practice productions (Kerner 2013, 164 f.).

The deconstruction of Eurocentric models and the analytic vigilance regarding their effects can contribute to draw a theory and practice, which start at the social movement of the south, local traditions, historical experiences and current problems. As a result, an identity of “International Social Work” “from below” [11] becomes possible, that condenses in the global context and at the same time reflects and emphasizes local actions (Kerner 2015, 35).This is not explicitly directed against the Global North and its knowledge systems but against problems and generalization, that developed out of hegemonic interrelations (Appiah1991, 353 f.).

Our approach has to be understood as a critical theory of “International Social Work”, that does not only introduce its own position in the analysis but also draws attention to social grievances, including the reasons, effects and also the discursive power of scientific knowledge in order to change them. Thus, it understands itself as “involvement” in the sense of a “Public Sociology” (Burawoy 2015), that uses the own possibilities of thinking and analyzing to create change or to offer its options for practice. Thereby, it distances itself from the “Purity of Professional Science”, that only operates for itself and is also always a “Political Practice”. As such it is global and regional at the same time.

2. Postcolonial Theory, Intertwined Modernity

In its origins, post-colonialism is an intellectual discussion on colonialism, imperialism, hegemonic power as well as on globalizing contexts and their effects. “Experience and practice” condensed positions, which were directed against the “legacies” of colonial and hegemonic foreign infiltration and the therein included production of non-European peripheries [12]. Even social work has to be understood as “legacy” in that sense, because, as an executive import good of the Global North in terms of execution and protection of colonial powers, it condensed into an aspect of discursive knowledge and thereby provided practices for the enforcement and protection of Euro-American ideas and an education of therein included lifestyles.

Colonialism as a framework of these actions covered four dimensions: economically by land seizure and exploitation, politically by the establishment of control systems and administration, socially by the production of gender and epistemically by the hegemony of the implemented knowledge and the education of subjectivity according to the conquerors (Mignolo 2000 and 2005). Fanon spoke about knowledge, that was conveyed “to the Brains of the Natives” and thus domination of the establishing knowledge system was exercised (Fanon 1980 and 1981, 19f.). Hegemony on education became real while Euro-American types of culture (of modernity) were introduced as superior to other cultures (of the Global South, the periphery) (Kerner 2012, p. 70f.)

The category of superiority or the related idea of being developed, accompanied the European economy, culture and embedded knowledge systems and developed dependencies beyond the time of colonialism, connected with pictures of the others and the request for change or for the adoption of Euro-American contexts (Bhabha2000; Said 2009; Chakrabarty 2010). The implied dichotomization of modernity and tradition [13] is more than just a marking of social structures, which are modern or not modern (Wagner 2013). Especially, it is an ideal-typical construction, in which both represent a specific differentiation: modernity is new and developed, tradition is backward and underdeveloped (Castro Varela/Dhawan 2005, 27).

Postcolonial thinking as criticism and resistance, that questioned this superiority, started firstly as a debate of literary studies (Said 2009). But early, social scientific perspectives (history, anthropology, political sciences, sociology) conversed on a construction of the Global South (“Third World”) by the Global North, which constituted itself in this way (e.g. Mignolo 2000, Escobar 1995, Davis 2004, Ziai 2006 and 2010a and 2010b). A significant element of this criticism was the analyzed process of the devaluation of others and the concurrent revaluation of the own. After Said (Said 2009), the occident as world and idea “developed” only by the distinction and devaluation of the orient.

Therefore, Spivak “invented” the term “Othering”. He outlined a process in which colonial and imperial discourses firstly created the others or “the, in the power discourse excluded other” (Spivak 1988). The Global North designed its social image and created a picture of itself by valuing the people of the south not only as different, but also derogatory. They were categorized as “strangers” due to race, geographical location, ethics, environment or their ideology. Othering is understood as process that codifies knowledge and actions, in which discourse elites, in comparison to others create themselves but distance at the same time. [14] The act of the differentiation established the inferiority of the others, who, in comparison counted as underdeveloped, what lead to diverse civilizing missions - religious, cultural, ethical, social and economical (Barth/Osterhammel 2005).

With this term, Barth and Osterhammel critically reflected the ideas, intentions and processes of an Imperial World Improvement by colonialism and later on by development policy. As addressees of the “missions”, the others who are defined as being different and underdeveloped should learn and adopt those patterns, that were seen as revaluation of the own position and the own culture as being better, more modern, developed, civilized or advanced. This was necessarily connected with development. From a general perspective, it was understood as social change, changes of the norm and value system as well as introduction of new social, economical and political structures. In the effort of an imperial world improvement and the implied civilizing missions, this became real in a climate of dependency, in a setting of “us and the others”. Development became a political, economic and social mission of the north (Ziai 2010b).

The history of colonialism and the following development cooperations show, that development is understood as change in the meaning of the colonial powers and their later partners and is almost completely initiated by them and thus from the outside (Eckert 2006). Their implementation could also use the military, economic, administrative and scientific power of the Global North. After the end of the colonial domination, this shifted towards a modified continuation in the framework of development cooperations; imperial domination turned into economic hegemony.

Development also included, that countries outside the “Euro-American Periphery” should adopt the economic, social, ethic, cultural and scientific patterns of the self-defined “developed countries” because, in comparison, they counted as backward. Progress was seen as “catch-up process”, which has to be controlled from the outside. Therefore, concepts, objectives and practices of change were supported and implemented, which originated from own contexts and were simply generalized and should be valid for everyone. Intended transformation processes defined the “Level of Development” of the Global North as goal and practice. In a hierarchy, this counted as extremely knowledge-based, reason-guided and progressive. As the Euro-American or Global North had the necessary economical and political instruments of power, this model could have become the guideline, which institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund or also the UN adopted and also enforced in their structural enforcement programs [15] (Chossudovsky 2002) [16].

Efforts of the Euro-American modernity and its institutions to change everything after their model, with economic power, political influence, with money and sometimes also with military forces can be seen as colonization and annexation of the others. Such development patterns are not reflexive but “directive”. They create situations of hopelessness and submission, they interrupt the local dialectics of change and establish a general practice, which remains unfamiliar to the addresses and causes counter-reactions. This caused resistances and reformulations of the local and of the traditions, which firstly concentrated in liberation movements and nowadays appear as counter-modernization (Sennet 1998; Lutz 2005).

Various criticisms came from the south, which, amongst others, was expressed in postcolonial theories. Colonializing modernization intentions of the Global North were classified as fundamentally Eurocentric and their almost apodictic adoptions are vehemently criticized:

  • the fundamental break with traditional orders, that counted as backward and underdeveloped;
  • the defined difference of Europe and the USA to the rest of the world, which was particularly visible in economic structures of the world economy and secured big advantages for the Euro-American groups;
  • the established hegemonic superiority and dominance of the north was visible in both, military strength and presence and knowledge systems.

Dipesh Chakrabarthy spoke of the necessity of “Provincializing Europe” and of a “Decentration” of Western thinking to expose the problems of the homogenizing and hegemonic experiences of the Euro-American modernization (Chakrabarthy 2010, 10f.). Nevertheless, he and other postcolonial thinkers did not categorically refuse specific contexts of the Euro-American modernization, as their conceptual world is seen as indispensable for the description and analysis of the non-Western thinking, but is also insufficient at the same time.

It is insufficient, that this model describes itself as specific economy, dominant social structure, with deeply rooted values and norms and a claim for supremacy. The therein outlined democratic model of political rule is indispensable, the draft of an autonomous subject and the idea of Human rights, justice and freedom. Spivak introduced the term of “befähigende Verletzung” to the discussion, especially Human rights were seen as an “Empowering Element” (Spivak 2008, 15; Kerner 2012, 110). However, these drafts must dissolve of the constantly formulated claim of the European philosophy of Enlightenment. From within itself, worldwide solutions could be generated, as they seem to objectify with the means of an instrumental reason and to distance from their point of origin.

Postcolonial theory does not intent to build only an alternative and indigenous historiography and a local accumulation of knowledge but to establish an own and also other path. It is about “implementing the accompanying ambivalences, the contradictions, the use of violence and the tragedy and irony in the history of modernity” (Chakrabarthy 2010, 63). Also Edward Said pointed out, that this is not about an emphasis on cultural relativism or about “new nationalism” that derives from a new emphasis on local traditions. [17]

“International Social Work” should be shaped as body of differences out of postcolonial criticism. It is crucial to understand the “Global Modernity” as a field of discussion in which Euro-American and others, thus also indigenous positions should have fruitful discussion processes, which finally lead to diverse forms of modernity (Kerner 2012, 77). This discussion becomes a negotiation, if ambivalences, contradictions and forms of use of violence of the Euro-American model are completely disclosed and reflected with the purpose of a clear analysis and political consequences. In there, the knowledge condenses that societies of the Global South no longer represent the past of the Euro-American modernity and present a development horizon of “traditional” societies (Randeria 1999).

In postcolonial thinking and independent of the Euro-American dominance, contemporary modernization processes are diagnosed as economic, social and cultural change with visible changes of existent structures and an adaption of diverse challenges, that developed independently of any colonial presence and that still exist. Behind this, there is an anthropological thesis: culture is never self-contained, borders are always flowing, they are characterized by hybridity and heterogeneity, they are divers and differentiate themselves always new, at the same time they are involved to each other, none is ever isolated, pure or even monolithic (Bhabha 2000, Kerner 2012, 7; Lutz/Sachau 2016). As a result, an expansion of the own tradition is found by integrating elements of other cultures. Obviously, cultural traditions have authentic connecting factors and patterns, that react to cultural contacts (accidental, enforced, voluntary) and social and economic changes with transformations.

Through its “Provincialization”, the Euro-American model of cultural transformation is by now one of many. Other manifold modernities can be found as well as a modernization without colonialism. For this purpose, the sociologist Eisenstadt introduced the term “Multiple Modernities” to the debate (Eisenstadt 2000 and 2006); Dussel spoke of a “Transmodernity” (Dussel 2002); others preferred the term “Indigenous Modernization” (Bender 2011). In all models, one similarity is emphasized, which Randeria discussed as “Intertwined Modernity”, that is not only polycentric (Schmidt 2012), but newly creates itself over again, beyond the Euro-American hegemony out of a variety of traditions and local formulations and as constant change (Randeria 1999). The practice and the term reflect a variety, which is permanently in motion and produces discussions, ambivalences and resistances. Although, modernization as process develops power, that activates a high attraction, but its specification remains always open. This can only be traced with the help of a critical and reflexive theory, which is public practice and normative at the same time. It has to base on the respective people as actors and has to include them.

What does that mean for a project of “International Social Work”? To become international in the meaning, that is propagated and morally supported here, a fruitful discussion process is needed, that has already begun and has to be reflexively and critically continued. As a colonial product and as a scientific discourse, that helped to secure the power and dominance of the Global North, after the decentration of Eurocentric contents, “International Social Work” must take a new position. This could develop out of the analytical inspirations of postcolonial theory and indigenous traditions, local knowledge and the organized resistance of social movements. Consequently, this leads to a public science, which assumes its responsibility.

3. Body of Differences

The contrast to the “Inward Journey”, that reflects the effects of colonialism as well as heterogeneity (Said 2009) are Euro-American descriptions. It is not about a replacement of these concepts, but about an assessment if they are sustainable regarding form and content. This also counts for the concepts of the Global South. In the dialectics of a fruitful discussion process, within the field of discussion a third one develops. In an “Intertwined Modernity”, “International Social Work” can only develop and become present within differences. The “Body of Differences” shows that with this “Intertwined Modernity”, with its contradictory and ambivalent relations and its continuous change processes, standardization is not possible in theory and practice. Difference relates to different traditions and experiences with contexts and impacts on the Euro-American modernization of specific resistances and ways out of the colonial and hegemonic path, as well as heterogenic accesses for a draft and a practice of a respective modernity, which is always linked to others.

In the difference, also a definable and common body condenses, that, however, is continuously questioned and has to be reflected critically and publicly and always redraws itself. This body is criticism and relation at the same time. Postcolonial and critical thinking always emphasizes, that specific theories and positions do not exist next to each other but stand in relation to each other; but at the same time this refers to their place of origin and their condition of development. Each phenomenon, each subject and each assumption always result in and out of relations and structures, which have to be expatiated to decode their content.

Thus, “International Social Work” formed itself out of the hegemony of the Global North and the postcolonial criticism and as well of the resistances of the Global South as third aspect. As such, it cannot dissolve in the cultural relativism of the local. Necessary local concepts, out of different contexts, are separated from each other and are sometimes incompatible, but they do not necessarily cause a reformulation of local traditions that become expressions of the national container. Rather, a field of discussion is built, in which similarities, ambivalences and myths of origin can be contested over again to become one body. Although, its central feature is difference, at the same time a core becomes visible around which the differences group, sight critically and adapt it newly. An “Intertwined Modernity” requires an “Intertwined International Social Work”.

Accesses must fulfill two “conditions” [18]: on the one hand, they must critically reflect the influence and the imports of the Global North and question their suitability. On the other hand, they must have created themselves out of different roots and within the respective resistances and anti- or postcolonial movements. Insofar, no consistent theory of “International Social Work” develops but only theories that are in a fruitful tension. In the necessary discussion a continuing, perpetuating discourse [19] develops as third aspect, which can be condensed in its core. This is currently seen as a utopia of “Human Development”, which has to be politically and practically secured or to be newly created again and again. In the following, some selected drafts should be explained to condense the suggested core.

Independence Movements

“International Social Work” derived of the history of resistance like postcolonial theory. This implies slave revolts (as in Haiti from 1791), Latin-American independence movements of the 19th century and finally the majority of the Asian, African and Caribbean decolonization (Eckert 2006), as well as constant and newly formed social movements [20]. In movements and liberation struggles, authors and leader personalities were heard, that condensed experiences of colonialism and propagated resistances and own paths (Kerner 2012, 32f.). Some are to be mentioned:

  • Mahatma Gandhi, who stands for an independence movement (India) through peaceful resistance, civil disobedience and hunger strike;
  • Mao Zedong, who lead an armed and revolutionary fight, but is criticized at the same time for the suffering he caused through the “Great Leap Forward”;
  • Aimé Césaire, who helped African literature to acquire attention, but also created a picture of the colonizer, who himself becomes an “animal” through this actions;
  • Léopold Sédar Senghor, who, as the President of the independent Senegal , lead his country to the post-colonial time and counts as great and upright democrat;
  • Frantz Fanon, who created in his books devastating and disturbing pictures of colonialism and its consequences.

In their analyses and approaches, they were entirely different and reflect on the ambivalent picture of postcolonial thinking that grew from resistance. It ranges from Gandhi´s peaceful resistance to Zedong´s revolutionary and armed fight. Despite the differences, the appraisal of colonial alienation and exploitation and as well the intention to create other paths out of own traditions and experiences was realized with the aim of liberation and independence.

Especially Fanon is seen as one of the founding fathers of postcolonial theory. With his manifold works, that cannot not even be appreciated enough, he can give basic impulses for “International Social Work”, which are criticism, policy and practice at the same time [21]. His radical relation to people in interdependences, which has to be overcome, can be seen as first and most important root. From his point of view, the wealth of Europe was built “on the Back of the Slaves”, it derives “from the Ground and of the Earth” of the colonies (Fanon 1981, 79). This cannot be simply eliminated in the post-colonial world, as the spirit of colonialism is still present today, especially in knowledge systems and in the habits of the new elites. With his ideas of an “Absolute Upheaval” of the colonial or post-colonial society to end this situation, as well as the implied intended “Creation of New Men” [22], he built an utopia, that still has effects but remains unrealized.

Regarding “International Social Work”, in his analysis, it is significant how the construction of power structures in the context of knowledge- and education systems influences the “Brains of the Natives”, so that oppression and racism remain and seem almost invincible, also in the post-colonial time. Social orders stabilize within them. Fanon describes the consequences of colonialism as wide-ranging, deeply rooted and fatal. He namely produces anger and resistance, but they are not directed towards the real causers, but show off in tribal feuds, in xenophobic contempt of strangers or as blind and destructive violence. The end of colonialism did not almost end the fight for liberation, colonialism leaves a sustainable heritage.

Decades ago, Fanon required a global redistribution and essential changes of working conditions that should be oriented towards the needs of people, not towards capital. But he also criticized the political legacies. His analytic perspective on national elites, that came to power after the end of colonialism and adopted the positions of the former colonial rulers and continued them, showed a national bourgeoisie, that prevailed with the adoption of colonial orders and knowledge systems. They are not interested in an absolute upheaval of the colonial or post-colonial relations, as it provides advantages for them. Until today, it can be observed how former liberation movements established authoritarian state systems to protect the own leadership [23].

With his works, Fanon did not only provide a critical perspective on the colonial situation and its heritage, he also discussed the necessity of a radical upheaval. Here, he also showed the problems, which compulsorily derived from this heritage. Orders and knowledge systems that imply social work are still on their way and must newly develop. With that, important roots of an “International Social Work” are established, which are located in the liberation movements and are against colonial omnipotence. They refer to a necessary reconstruction of knowledge systems that have to face criticism in a double way:

  • in the critical perspective of colonial roots and consequences, that restrict theory and practice, perceptions of still existing exploitation, oppression, prevention of racism and hegemony of the own and new elites and to maintain these stabilities;
  • in the sense of a scientific practice, that creates itself in public and develops out of the liberation movements and understands itself as its companion at the same time, as liberation from the yoke of colonialism is still not implemented, neither in the south nor in the north.

Against theoretical colonialism, a theory must be developed, that is post-colonial created, while it takes a radical perspective on the increase of Human degrees of freedom and the restrain of hegemony. This refers to a different root, that has to be received, to philosophy and to pedagogy of liberation of Latin-American character that became practice at the same time.

Pedagogy of Liberation

The concept of “Theology of Liberation”, designed in Latin America by Gustavo Gutierrez, emerged logically as a countermovement to the hegemonic colonialism (Figueroa 1989; Gutierrez 1992). The commitment of priests, philosophers, and pedagogues was directed against the practiced exploitation and its embedded discrimination until their annihilation of Indigenous people, and humans abducted from Africa, who were firstly held as slaves and who later on were allocated in the internal peripheries of classes of society and races. They conceived themselves as the “voice of the poor” and wanted to contribute to their liberation, exploitation, deprivation of rights and suppression (Knauth/Schröder 1998). The word of the Bible was interpreted as an impetus for an overall critique of society. The declared aim was a different social system, with a basic-democratic, and predominantly socialistic order, which was understood as a real alternative, bringing justice and salvation.

The basic concepts of Pedagogy of Liberation grew in the self-organized catholic grass-roots communities in Brazil (Boff 1983, Boff/Boff 1986; Boff 1990; Boff 2011). The activists didn’t understand themselves as “inventors” of a new religion. They rather saw themselves as “mouthpiece of the oppressed” (Freire 1973). They found true inspiration for salvation and support in the Bible, about encouragement and the liberation of any form of slavery. The real addresses were the poor and the suppressed. Within the Theology of Liberation, the salvation turned to one main content of the resigned massage of the bible. However, the focus was not anymore on its spiritual content, but rather on the massage of solicitation for a social politically, economically and revolutionary transformation of the presence.

The human salvation was consistently located in the social reality of this world. As a consequence, the aim has been a complete repositioning of the churches, which should from now on be orientated towards the poor ad their salvation. This served to derive political claims and practices, which persist down to the present day. [24].

This requests condensed in approaches to liberation pedagogy, which hold their genesis in the Marxism, Christianity and independence movement of Latin America and wanted to be understood as antiauthoritarian theories of education and development. Pedagogues for liberation aimed to promote a reasoning and awareness, which detected marginalization, suppression, discrimination and alienation as instruments of maintaining authoritarian rule. As such they are modifiable and can get overcome and transformed through the acting of people. However, the people primarily need to realize their own situation. The main aim was the empowerment of especially young people, to participate, through activities of understanding and overcoming the political rule, in societal change.

With his books “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and “Pedagogy of Hope” Paulo Freire, one of the protagonists of Pedagogy of Liberation, created methods and practices, which enabled that oppressed, disenfranchised, and exploited to develop self-awareness and to find the courage to raise up against their oppression (Freire 1973, 1974a; 1974b, 1981, 1987; 1992; and: Knauth/Schröder 1998; Lutz 2001; 2002; Funke 2010; Lutz 2011).

He introduced the term Conscientization, which means the processof developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action” [25]. The term “cultural action” possessed a fundamental meaning for him “because it is the process of changing the reality”.

Learning was seen as a process of uncovering conflicts, and thus to create needs and solutions. The original intention was to dialogue with people within a process of development, to extend new opportunities together with them and to enable them for designing their own existence. An existing practice is always a “liberating practice”, which must be adapted to the human and their societal circumstances, socially, culturally, politically, economically and legally.

With his “Understanding Pedagogy” Freire created a Social Work methodology and practice, which was received world-wide. The former priest Alejandro Cussianovic, implemented this approach consistently. He addressed the children on the street, who lived at the lowest fringe of society and who daily struggled with discrimination, persecution, imprisonment, starvation and their survival (Liebel/Overwien/ Recknagel 1999). He was standing by their side, as supervisor, constructor and advocate. He recognized them as independent actors and as protagonists of their own lives, who were fighting a just battle for their participation and education. Together with the children he rigorously organized processes of education on the street, which should increase their opportunities for a better life. [26].

Until nowadays social movements, on which the World Social Forum is based, refer to the thoughts and demands by the Theology and Pedagogy of Liberation (Whitaker 2007). Since 2001 international gatherings are held, where criticism against the neo-liberal orientation and the hegemonic claims gets expressed. Furthermore other concepts of economy and coexistence of the humans are getting discussed, according to the motto “a better world is possible”. The aim is to find a way out the trap of the imperatives of growth [27].

Indigenization, Authentication, Reconceptualization

For decades, the Global South offered thoughts and concepts that require a “different” social work, which provides precise constructions and has a completely different focus on local problems. Mostly they developed in academic circles, but also a lot came from the liberation- and independence movements, like the “White Paper of Social Welfare” in South Africa [28]. After the end of the Apartheid regime, it developed out of conceptions that already increased during the resistance. Those thoughts strengthened the body of differences and enabled practices that break with colonialism of the knowledge systems and condensed criticism and redrafts as a third and act officially at the same time.

The term Indigenization is connected to a variety of initiatives, academic debates and theoretical concepts in Latin American, Asia and Africa to adopt postcolonial social work to the own problems and needs. Essential narratives are mainly found in the literature of social work in Africa (cf. Walton/Abo El Nasr 1988; Osei-Hwedie 1996, Mupedziswa 1993 u. 2001; Osei-Hwedie/Jacques 2007; Lutz/Rehklau 2009). On this continent, social work has a rather young and particularly colonial history, which was, with some exceptions like South Africa, imported from the West in the 1950s and 1960s, (Mupedziswa 1992) [29].

In the beginning, persons who wanted to be educated as social workers had to study abroad, especially in the Global North. Despite the establishment of study courses for social work in African countries, many social workers were furthermore educated by Euro-American countries, university teachers completed their education mainly in Europe and North America (Mupedziswa 1992, 21). Theories and practices of an Euro-American origin, which reflected their academic analyses and methods mainly on the culture of individualism and only propagated case work, firstly were completely adopted (Mupedziswa 1992, 21). Differentiations and reflections with regard to postcolonial influences, specific cultural and local experiences and living environments of people, with whom was locally worked, were barely visible. In many practices, the Euro-American lifestyle became characterizing as basis and vision.

But soon, it was massively criticized. An expert group of the social worker education in Africa, required already in 1996 an “Indigenization of Social Work” and at the same time an indigenization of the teaching materials (Lutz/Rehklau 2009). As a consequence, efforts strengthened, that wanted to adjust social work specifically to the needs of the African continent and its variety of cultures. Especially the method of casework was criticized due to a lack of empathy and a missing sensibility for local conditions and circumstances, as for example those of “extended families” or the meaning of “communities” (Mupedziswa 1993, 159) [30]. Osei-Hwedie (1996, 217) wanted to focus social work on “communities” (village, neighborhood, relatives, extended families etc.) and away from the subject: “In most African societies the individual is being within a societal or group context and finds character and expressions of the self within the group. (...) therefore, the focus of social work must be the community.“

The colonial and on its way to education imported theoretical and methodical social work with its Euro-American orientation was from now a considered as inappropriate, generally for the Global South and particularly for Africa. In the academic discussion, a modification of the theories and methods was heavily required as it obligatorily results of the specific African traditions and experiences (Midgley 1982, 170). In the thinking of critical African theorists, Indigenization meant adjustment, reformulation or a process, which modified imported ideas and practices in order to bring them in accordance with the local cultural context and the respective specific and also colonial experiences.

Reflections on Indigenization took a new and different look on the already existing local knowledge (Straub 2012). In the current definition of the ifsw, also as a reaction on the debate of the Global South, the term “indigenous knowledge” was introduced [31] in 2014. Social work on the international level became aware of how important the local, the traditional and the indigenous knowledge and the specific cultural memory are for drafts of theory and especially for practical methods. In a simple and obvious manner, indigenous knowledge can give deep insights in interrelations of all lives and convey different backgrounds. Without them, it would be impossible to work and understand other cultured people.

For instance, the last outbreak of Ebola in West Africa showed cultural barriers, which one could have known about if one had ascertained indigenous knowledge (Lutz 2015c): People hid, developed mistrust of doctors, the state and the helpers of the North. The deceased were carried away to clean and bury them [32]. An Australian colleague pointed out, that social work with Aborigines must always be a work with “indigenous communities”, which base on a completely different view on the world (Briskman 2014).

It can therefore be concluded: Indigenous resources, traditions, experiences, rituals, relations, support networks, cultural memory and the ideas behind, reasons, philosophies or values must be understood, articulated and included in social work in order to integrate ways for solutions stronger in the local and indigenous practice. Thus, indigenization was also discussed as authentication: “the identification of genuine and authentic roots in the local system, which would be used for guiding its future development in a mature, relevant and original fashion“ (Ragab zit. n. Walton/Abo El Nasr 1988, 149). Authentication thereby bases more explicitly than indigenization on local resources and needs.

Besides, critical circles spoke about Reconceptualisation: „Reconceptualisation is seen as focusing on reformulation of concepts so that they are in line with efforts to empower marginalised groups in society“ (Osei-Hwedi 1996, 216). The underlying ideas root in Freire’s approach of Conscientization and the pedagogy of liberation of Latin America (see above). Reconceptualization especially emphasizes the political involvement of the social work practice in development contexts, that focus on exclusion processes and their changes. Thereby, social work is explicitly put in the context of politics and stronger in the development-related changes of the society (Osei-Hwedie 1996, 216).

The aim of all debates was and is a “Development-Related Social Work”, which results of specific conditions and is active within them. However, the ways to this point are manifold and differentiated, obviously there exists no consensus about this, possibly it could not exist with respect to the Body of Differences. But in all concepts and debates exists a core: local conditions and indigenous resources should be stronger regarded and considered.

While indigenization was rather an adaption of Western imports of local incidents, Authentication aims for the building of a completely native model of social work. This can also be understood as an attempt to develop a model of social work with regard to social, cultural, political and economical features of a certain country and a specific culture. Finally, reconceptualization sets social work in the public focus of politics. The common goal is the development of appropriate and suitable knowledge, which can be implemented in methods and processes that are compatible with the conditions and needs. In order to advance those developments, social workers must have a profound knowledge about the local conditions, that allow them to explore the cultural life to work with the local communities.

Based on these thoughts, the request for other books with a stronger focus on indigenization grew. The academic social work in Africa still works with books and journals, as they are used in the Global North. In order to sensitize students to local needs and problems, it is important to develop local working materials (Mupedziswa 2001, 292) [33]. The preparation of these working materials is strongly connected to the local research, which has to face own topics like: activities of the informal sector, social security for the poor rural population, survival strategies of marginalized people, especially in regions that affected by drought, the position of non-governmental organizations in the fight against poverty, home care for AIDS patients, social influences of structural adjustment programs and questions, concerning refugees.

Since the 1980s, academic and reflexive circles speak about an indigenization of social work. But almost 30 years after the first debate this aim seems not yet to be achieved. In the margins of a conference in Botswana in the summer of 2015, an African colleague stated, that „the need for indigenization of African social work still appears to be a dream“.

Utopias: Good Life, Human Development

Criticism of the colonial and postcolonial practice and the thereby shaped thinking, theories of liberation that developed of resistance and thoughts of another and indigenous social work, require utopias, especially utopias of a “good life” like Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen reminded of for the “Intertwined Modernity”. Only out of utopian thoughts, practice can focus on the future, can reflect itself and understand the own restrictions. Without this, acting gets lost in the actuality of the practice and the inherent necessities that are condemned to hamsters in wheels.

Nussbaum´s conception of a “Good Life” creates itself as an ethically reasoned and visionary anthropology of hope: it includes Human aims in all areas of life, but only draws an outline and thus allows many specifications and differences, in particular she can be adopted to specific experiences, traditions and needs (Nussbaum 1999). This theory is set “broad” and “deep” at the same time, it counts for all and does not only emphasize goods as money, property, land or chances. In her center, she wants to create basic conditions for the abilities and activities of people in order to promote a good life in freedom and autonomy. Therein she puts an emphasize on constitutive conditions of human life, on public goods, on ethic contexts and on political basic conditions, as without them, too many deficits would arise and the people would live “good” after their ideas and aims. “Totally”, Martha Nussbaum says, “it can be said, that people recognize themselves as being, who want to have the opportunity to be for themselves, to have a small room in which they can move and also want to have a few things, that they can use, own and love! (Nussbaum 1999, 56).

Without any claim to completeness, that are goods and conditions like:

  • to have a full Human life until the end, a good health, an appropriate nutrition, a suitable accommodation, an option for sexuality, an option for mobility;
  • the avoidance of unnecessary pain; bonds to things and persons, the connection to other people, familiar and social relations;
  • a connection to nature and other fellow creatures;
  • laughing, playing and having fun; cognitive skills like percipience, imagination and thinking;
  • the ability for the practical reason and ideas of the good.

The “good” state or the “good” society as guarantors of Human life have to ensure, that people can live and act according to their abilities. This is only possible through a preventive strategy, which does not wait until the people are in a bad health. Instead, the “good” state, the “good” society support goods, which allow all citizens a lifelong good lifestyle. These preventive strategies, which are discussed as development-related social work and give the concepts their utopian character, without which a restructuring of practice is impossible.

One can also speak about “Social Development”, that formulates the following goals: humanistic upbringing, education, health, work, security for life and possessions, clean air, clean water, enough nutrition and accommodation, protection from violent attacks, protection of art and science, guarantee of the freedom of choice, leisure opportunities and the protection of inviolable spheres (Nussbaum 1999, 56). The “Good Life” in its implementation and practice, Nussbaum already pointed that out through the temporary nature of her list and the draft she only wanted to give, is an “open process”, which has to be understood as “Human development”, that only opens those rooms, in which the abilities of people can develop.

Liberation, Indigenization, Good Life and Social Development as idea and practice stand in original structural connection to enabling and authorization. They are essential aspects of social change, which is carried by people for their own welfare and their ideas of a Good Life. This inheres a development of freedom and degrees of freedom, which enable what is condensed in the “Core of the Body”, that was identified as “Human Development”. In a clearer version of this term, a free and enabling acting becomes an aspect of acting: freedom is a structural characteristic and a potential for acting of human adoption- and creative processes, with which a “Good Life” is enabled. This bases on another term of development, that developed beyond colonial alienation and target positions.

Amartya Sen understands development as clear distinction of that hegemonic paradigm, as a process of eliminating different kinds of unfreedom, “that leaves the people only little scope for decision-making and little opportunities to act in accordance to well considered reasons”; thus, the elimination of important unfreedoms is a fundamental requirement for development (Sen 2000, 10). The United Nations are correspondingly publishing “Human Development Reports” [34]since the beginning of the 90s. This is understood as process, which expands the choices of subjects (DVGB 2000). This is only reachable through an expansion of the life- and development chances, that are determined by e.g. an improvement of educational opportunities for all, a stronger gender equality, an access to the health care system for all and less poverty.

Human Development is defined as an universal value, as “Global Ethics”, to the “Core of the Body of Differences”, that bases on the conception of Human rights and democratic governmental systems and qualifies a process of growing and creating. Thus, we are in the Core of the Core, that is emphasized by postcolonial theory again and again: following the classical philosophers, the philosophy of the European Enlightenment developed ideas of freedom, autonomy, openness, Human rights, justice and democratic governance, that should not be relativized (Kerner 2012, 75f.).

As process, Human Development promotes an increase of decisions, that are indispensable for Human life and Human development. According to Sen, this includes political, economical, social and cultural chances, which open doors for creativity and productivity (Sen 2000). Human Development as action model formulates four conditions, which are needed that people can develop without reducing their development chances at the same time (DGVN 2000):

  • Productivity: people must have the opportunity to increase their productivity, achieve an income and have a paid employment.
  • Equality: people must have the same access to chances: thus, occurring barriers must be removed for political and economic chances.
  • Sustainability: the access to chances can and must not count only for the present generation, but also for future generations; this also includes a sustainable dealing with resources.
  • Authorization: development can not only be realized for people, but solely by them; they must completely create the process by themselves and must make necessary decision on their own.

These conditions allow a free development of human cultural cognition; ways and goals are always open. At the same time, this includes the development of human competences like self-esteem, the ability to act but also the feeling of belonging to a community, that conveys identity and appreciation from others [35]. The many options, that emerge and that can be valued as realization opportunities must be possible for all and not only for the elite.

The concept of Human Development requires the elimination of the main causes of unfreedom in many parts of the world: “Poverty and despotism, missing economic chances and also systematic social emergency, the neglect of public institutions and the intolerance or the suffocating control by authorial states! (Sen 1999, 13). Development is a process, in which an increase of realization opportunities of all should be achieved (Sen 1999, 50). The basically openness consequently follows Amartya Sen´s conception of “capability spaces”, whose creation is a governmental-societal task. They frame without standardizing, they should enable people to live an everyday life what seems to be a good life and means freedom to them, in accordance to their capabilities. “International Social Work”, which essentially supports human development and should claim everywhere, where it is prohibited, radically puts the freedom of people and their relations to the center. An utopian aim is to have a desirable life and to widen or implement real decisions and existing capabilities. The ethical content of a society can also be measured in how great the substantial freedoms of the members are. Insofar Human Development is the extension and increase of “realization opportunities” through the necessary creation and expansion of “capability spaces”, that give room to individual potentials and possibilities to live the life, that one appreciates - and for good reasons.

4. Conflict and Change

In “Social Work of the South”, that dissolves in “International Social Work”, a variety of topics and questions arose longer ago [36]. In the discussion, two contexts play a role: on the one hand, it is this academic visualization of colonial consequences and the contradictions, the conflicts, the exploitation, the exclusion in the postcolonial societies, that trace back to their origins at the same time; but it is also the genuine political claim that actors change the world whether it is movements, organizations, governments or people in their social relations. Theories must become visibly concrete by taking an admonishing and judging position beyond the freedom of value judgment and always ask questions for a recreation with regard to the good life and also necessarily involve in actions. This always counts for social work and also in a particular degree also for “International Social Work”, which also developed of liberation movements.

Topics and Questions

A short look on the topics and questions shows:

  • some are similar to the Global North, while others differ completely;
  • some are found in many regions, others only in a few;
  • some result out of contexts, which are still understood as aftermaths of the colonial independence, others firstly developed in postcolonial times;
  • some could be identified as consequences of development cooperations, as others arose of the ambivalences of independence and/or of regional ruling systems:
  • some are limited in time, while others prove themselves as lasting and almost unchangeable;
  • some cannot be categorized anywhere or developed out of societies without colonialism.

The Body of Differences genuinely shows the problems which cannot be presented and questioned to some extent here. Just a short and incomplete overview should show their heterogeneity and also provide an insight, how real problems become visible that have less in common with the questions of an Euro-American social work, but require a significantly stronger, development related access. To reiterate: “International Social Work” must face the conflicts genuinely, which were and still are a result of the serious internationalization of the world, out of colonialism, development policy, globalization and independence movements and the respective regional appearances.

At first, it is referred to the “classics” of both, “International Social Work” and reflexive development cooperation.

The prevention or the alleviation of poverty is one of the most burning issues almost everywhere in the world, whereby one has to distinguish between a relative poverty, that by definition is a result of the respective social welfare level of a nation, which are mainly in the Global North and an absolute poverty in many regions and nations of the Global South (Beck/Poferl 2010). Relative poverty intensively fights for participation, access to education, the minimum amount of the basic income and, under great effort, the social work and socio-political processing of the consequences for children. Debates on absolute poverty, which basically question the survival, have a completely different focus. It ranges from the eradication of hunger, access to clean water and a basic hygiene to questions of a sufficient medical care. Furthermore, problems with regard to access to basic education, access to earned income and markets and the implementation of legal systems and human rights exist.

For years, there are various debates about childhoods in the Global South, which focus especially on street children, child work, child soldiers and child prostitution (Liebel/Lutz 2010). Besides all comprehensible outrage, which is mostly articulated in the Global North, these “things” must be regarded in their development and their local roots and meaning. In the “International Social Work” they particularly shed in a different light as they are not only ambivalences of the specific developments, but they also proof that children exactly know what they want and thus, can be the actors of their own life. But in their extreme forms, they also show how children, especially as child soldiers or prostitutes, are massively abused for economic, but also ethic and religious interests. It becomes clear, that children are much more directly exposed to economy or the access through adults, as it is shown on the European picture of a “protected and innocent childhood”, which is, historically seen, a special form of childhood.

Besides these “classics”, “original Southern topics” can be found, that are also “found” somewhere in the North, where they do not have such an explosive nature [37]:

A visualization of hidden and open inequalities in the gender relations is a constant topic. Additionally, there are massive socio-structural distortions and oppression contexts that can be identified in economic, cultural, social, ethical or religious backgrounds.

In the field of tension of modernization, urbanization and the change of rural landscapes, the Global South asks completely other questions, which are not only visible in the radical form of segregation, condensed in slums, but also in a change of the meaning of familiar structures and their support contexts, without recognizing social state compensations and overtaking of tasks.

In the specific contradictions and problems, occasionally a conflict line can appear, which presents an extreme challenge and can be seen as regionally hidden and inner colonialism: it is the respective position and marginalization at the same time and as well the oppression of “Indigenous People”, like the Adivasi in India, the Aborigines in Australia, the San in Botswana, the Maya in Guatemala or also the “First Nation People” in the USA and Canada. The resulting problems are of genuine political nature, are a result of colonialism, oppression, exploitation and discrimination and refer to an International Social Work with indigenous populations, that has to be developed and that does hardly exist, in the Global North not at all and only partly in the Global South (Briskman 2014).

Besides these problems and the special meaning of indigenous populations, regional specific questions arise, that are very differentiated and that are a challenge, which has to be reflected.

A sometimes deeply rooted religiosity has to be considered completely new and different in its everyday meaning regarding the thinking and acting of people (Imhof 2012). Pentecostalism in the Global South, evangelical movements, Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism in different forms and inner-Islamic contradictions ensure unpredictable conflict lines in their extent (Wienold 2014).

A special challenge is the recognizable reality of war in many regions, as they reflect postcolonial contradictions or break out newly from the fight for resources like water or oil. But also tribal feuds, revolts, warlords, ethical violence or expulsion cause suffer and conflicts. As a result, there is a stronger focus on flight, refugee camps and migration. Recently, the issue of slavery is “rediscovered” and is given a new kind of attention [38].

International Social Work also has to face the consequences of the climate change (Welzer 2010) and has to find answers together with other actors. Those could be found in indigenous knowledge, out of which methods could develop how to store water in regions, which become increasingly dryer and which plants can grow there for food security.

Other topics, that just should be mentioned, is the newly established racism connected to xenophobia. But also the twilight of elites will remain a continuously confusing reality, which presents itself frequently in a political insecurity. Finally, reconciliation and peace work remain perennial issues.

Practices and Methods

In the Body of Differences it should get discussed methodologically, that especially in religions of the Global South a variety of different cultures can get identified. The methodological work, must set the superior priority aims stronger than in the Global North towards the specific living environment. Herein lies the significance of a profound understanding for humans and their world view. Especially the economic, social, religious, cultural, traditional, psychological and political factors are of particular importance. (Osei-Hwedie 1996, 217).

The joint pedagogical work is characterized by the student-teacher-teacher-student relationship. In this relationship the inclusive dialogue, which involves everyone involved, is of great importance.

In the methodological implications of understanding, the humans themselves are the experts of their life, not anyone else. Consequently the goal of the dialogue might not be a social worker who is explaining his world view and tries to succeed in winning the concerned people for his vision. This approach which is oriented to the living environments, reflects the life situation of the humans rather in the interpretation of the concerned humans. Its essential methodical principles are multifariously applicable:

  • "Generative topics" will be explored in the "thematic universe" of people. That means experiences with which the people are confronted every day, happenings they are interested in, problems which are raising curiously questions, issues which they want to understand and realize. The meaning of those questions for the own life and the everyday life can be debated.
  • "Key situations" can be traced within the raised topics. That means terms and images, which present the signification of the situation. The integrated meanings and backgrounds get decoded, thereby they produce a common understanding and a common communication. Structures condense themselves therein, and can get reflected in their impacts. This opens up new topics and situations.
  • The colonial bankers-method with its warehousing of knowledge screams for a problem-posing method. That means a method which enables and authorizes people to become independent beings, by asking questions and as a result generating knowledge for the coping and planning of their lives.

A methodological change from "case work" towards "community work" is depicted. Practice is not intervening or even clinical but preventive, political and thus "radical"(Green/Robinson 2011).

Thoughts about empowerment, for the strengthening and capitalization of the subject in its relations, are always included. After 1994 the South African debate of social work withdrew from its previous social work of the apartheid system. Instead, a "new social work" has been claimed in the so-called "White Paper", which presented paradigmatic considerations on Social Development. Social Development was also largely discussed as a model of developmental social work, from other authors (Patel 2009).

Social development is understood as process of implementation of "Human Development" (Midgley 2009). Within this process the people are the carriers or the actors of development.

But for this purpose, conditions are required, which must be created by states or local contexts, enabling people to actively shape social development processes in the context of their social relations. For good reasons these processes require to reflect, adjust and improve the conditions regularly. This includes the access to education, to health care to income, market and social security, welfare and participation. Development always moves in a dialectic of available resources and its application in spaces that enable this process.

Once Social Work "frees itself from the understanding of the Global North and from the colonialist access, Social Work" consequently understands itself as "Social, Human or Community Development", which is dedicated to people in relationships.
Thereby social work wants to address domestic troubles, which due to a completely different history, culture and development often do not comply with the problems of the North, by using different approaches to find solutions.
Additionally to "community-oriented approaches" (community work),economic approaches that generate income and establish and secure access to the market become especially relevant (Micro Credit, Capacity Building and Income Generating Projects). [39].

In its self-perception “international social work" can be viewed as "Social Development"(Rehklau / Lutz 2009; Midgley, 2009; Patel 2009; Lutz / Sachau 2016). Social work gets involved, calls for a policy to provide the framework, orientates itself primarily on prevention and only secondarily on intervention and strives for empowerment of subjects in relationships. Beyond individual assistance, this kind of social work is focused on communities and wants to promote in particular "spaces for capacity" and opportunities for fulfillment at the local level.
In this focus social workplaces a special emphasis on developmental strategies.

"International Social Work" must be involved consistently in possibilities of freedom and commit to a steady expansion of degree of freedom in its practice. This includes the requirement for public and political measures, the instrumental freedoms, and options for action and decisions for people considering their personal and social circumstances. Notions of "Good Governance" will form an important condition for human development, in order to make a good life possible. Conceptions of “Good Governance” demanding both a responsible handling of political power and public resources as well as the interaction of actors from different sectors, with the aim to create framework conditions beneficial to development and to facilitate and increase an efficient and effective performance orientation of public goods and services (Coly / Breckner 2004).

According to Amartya Sen this includes political and economic freedoms, social opportunities, and opportunities for participation and transparency guarantees. This framework imposes the demanded circumstances for "realization opportunities" and provides conditions in which freedom can be developed and expressed. With freedom the substantial freedom is meant, "to realize alternative combinations of functions" namely to realize just different lifestyles (Sen 2000, 95). "International Social Work" shall not tire of always emphasizing the importance of freedom. More freedom strengthens the ability of people to help themselves and interact with the world.

By now worldwide demands become louder for a radicalization of social work and its role in society, but already in 1993 Ankrah expressed:„Radical developmental social work of an interdisciplinary nature, guided by informed, forward-thinking professionals and grounded in African realities, may be the only answer if the profession is to survive in the next century“(Ankrah 1987 zit. n. Mupedziswa 1993, 160).

This demand from the South is based on the analysis, which showed that the experienced colonial and purely technological social work is irrelevant, inadequate and ineffective. The social work must free itself from its liberal character and take a more radical and liberating approach so that it can dissociate from institutions and processes which create social problems that normally should be reduced by the social work.

The „radical social work“ is committed to a re-focus. In this way the social work perspective goes further than only on the interest for the individual person. It reflects the social place of a person and discovers in which way rejections, exploitations, oppression, land grabs and social structures minimize opportunities (inter alia Lavalette 2014). Radical social work in its practice attacks policy with the aim of challenging and promoting a change. “International social work” which finds its self-perception in postcolonial analysis and which is based on resistance, movement, liberation and utopia is expressed here most explicitly.

5. Border thinking

Within the process of decolonization of social work knowledge, "the path" led to a public practice that always was corrected and redefined through criticism, social movements, and the inclusion of utopian elements, different traditions and questions. This includes Euro-American contents as one aspect. On the other hand notions of indigenization also represent only one of many concepts. “International social work" is caused through current confrontations, as a third phenomenon. It deals with the consequences of internationalization of the world, addresses these changes and positions itself. This requires a "border thinking", and an appreciation of the repressed.

Foucault generated the term "Insurrection of Subjugated Knowledges", which he understood as the "recurrence" of a local knowledge of people, that once was dismissed as insufficient and that now can be reformulated through social movements (Foucault 1999, 151). Mignolo was referring to "colonial wounds" as possibility for overcoming and healing (Mignolo 2009; also Kerner 2012 94 and 154f.). Taking the "colonial wounds" as a chance, the creation of a "diverse world" based on older forms of knowledge would be imaginable. Especially social movements of populations that have been marginalized in colonialism, are seen as subject of hope. Mignolo designed the "idea" of a "border thinking" to oppose to the continuing colonial rule with another knowledge.

His idea focuses on two facets. The re-appropriation and reinterpretation of concepts and content from repressed traditions and an interculturality as an exchange and negotiation that recognizes indigenous knowledge and transforms this into practice. Mignolo discusses his concept in the example of the Zapatista National Liberation Army in which indigenous everyday knowledge, perceptions of community, the practice of rituals and Marxist theory converged.

"Border thinking" and local knowledge refer to another aspect: Each knowledge has an origin and is unique. In this respect all scientific statements are political, "because each statement is committed to its place of origin" (Costa 2007; Castro Varela / Dhawan 2005 23). Texts are NEVER just texts, they always reflect also hopes, traditions, values and utopias. In this respect science is never innocent, value-free or apolitical. On the contrary, science consistently must be made "public" and its theory must be designed as a political practice.

From the third phenomenon finally arises a political utopia. Learning from the South to rethink the North. Although these are still two different experiences which are based on diverse knowledge, but even so it is possible to reformulate those situations for the North. This issue can only be briefly touched upon here.

The recognizable clinical turn in the social work which means a strong focus on counseling and therapeutically treatment, is psychologizing, technologizing and juridifying theory and practice. Social work narrows its view strongly on the subject, even if the subject is understood as being "in relations". This "instrumentalization" signified marginalization of all political and social aspects, they "disappear" and get replaced by the method. Conditions in which people live, are always less critically reflected. Unemployment, homelessness, poverty, exclusion, migration or acceleration, is being given less and less attention (Lutz 2015b). Especially the South shows the huge significance of the respective places of origin and contexts of problems and the question how they can and must be involved in a developmental social work.

Moreover, the Global South is also a "Deployment Area" of radical liberal contexts that show up in an unleashed economy that, impacts far more directly on the subjects without any social security. Conflicts such as war, displacement, violence, disease, rural exodus or climate change are recognizable. Conflicts for which there are hardly any answers in the North. Questions on those issues are not even raised.

Processes of confrontation within "International Social Work" let knowledge and practices be recognized. Those processes could possibly be transferred as long as they are perceived as open for the public and with a political understanding.


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Prof. Dr. phil. Ronald Lutz
University of Applied Sciences Erfurt
Faculty of Applied Social Sciences
International Social Work
Sociology and Social Politics
Altonaer Str. 25
D-99085 Erfurt
fon: 0049 (0) 361 6700-510/701

Alexander Stauss (BA, MA)
University of Applied Sciences Erfurt
Faculty of Applied Social Sciences
International Social Work
Altonaer Str. 25
D-99085 Erfurt
fon: 0049 (0) 361 6700-510/7234


[1] Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziale Arbeit, cf.

[2] In particular, Christine Rehklau and Ronald Lutz initiated the publication project „Sozialarbeit des Südens” in 2007, that meanwhile consists of six volumes (cf. sources); further volumes are planned.

[3] The normative meaning of the terms, which describe societies on the European periphery, is widely discussed. The inherent importance of hegemonic concepts and their discursive power are discussed further below. For this reason, a categorical distinction has to be made, although it polarizes, still symbolizes differences. We chose the terms “Global North” and “Global South”, in which this hegemony is considered: the Global South (the “Third World”) is a product of the imperialistic age, in which the empires of the Global North (in their self-perception the “First World”) started to take, colonialize and form the South (Menzel 1992; Davis 2004; Randeria/Eckert 2009;). In the English language the terms minority world and majority world established, which have the advantage to part from the Eurocentric development paradigm and to draw attention to the actual majority structures in the world (Fischer et al 2004).

[4] According to the title of Stuart Hall´s essay “The West and the Rest”, quoted in: Kerner 2012, 64.

[5] In reality, a “mixture” of both discourses is used, especially in the south and at international conferences. Sometimes even an official and outside carried version, which approaches or follows the first path, as well as an unofficial position as “the other”, that has to assure the aporia and the challenges of the second one again and again.

[6] The following list is an example and does not claim completeness of the topics.

[7] Please see, amongst others, the manifold articles in volumes I to IV of “Sozialarbeit des Südens”

[8] For this, further on the term „Indigenization“ is introduced.

[9]Here, hegemony is understood as the ability of the colonial or leading classes (also the national elites after the end of colonization) to universalize or enforce their interests and convictions, especially through knowledge- and education systems - this means concretely the involvement of science and its actors in the organization of governance powers and oppression.

[10] As a side note: social work of the Global North also based again and again and sometimes also explicitly on social movements (democracy, youth, women, ecology etc.).

[11] We do not speak of „the South“, because we think of a discussion on different traditions to which “the North” also belongs. It derives “from below” of movements and local traditions.

[12] A good overview is provided by: Kerner 2012.

[13] Max Weber spoke about an irreversible “liquefaction” of traditions through modernity (Weber 1921).

[14] It would be rewarding and surprising to analyze this process in the context of national social work, especially with regard to the work with people, that have a migration or disadvantage background, colonial positions of national social work could be revealed (Lutz 2015b).

[15] Between 1980 and 1994, IWF and the World Bank gave 343 adjustment credits to 74 countries. The financial resources of the IWF funded 96 SAP´s between 1996 and 1998 for the poorest countries (ESAF), most of them in Africa. Since the beginning of the 90s, adjustment credits are increasingly spent for Eastern Europe. See:, [last access 15.1.2016]

[16] The ambivalence of politics is also seen by the fact, that organizations like the World Bank or the UN, following Amartya Sen, protect the concept of “Human development”, that is to be presented further below.

[17] As it can be frequently observed, and not only in the Global South.

[18] Without doubt, there is no higher authority, which establishes or proves such conditions. Condition means, that they arise of critical-reflexive contexts.

[19] It is understood as knowledge that derives from the practice and regulates it at the same time, but also proves itself.

[20] Like the Zapatista movement in Mexico, see e.g.: [last access: 14.01.2016], but also the movement of the miners in South Africa, see e.g.: [last access: 14.01.2016]

[21] This can also be said about Gandhi and others, but the works of Fandi have received both, academic and activist responses, which are emphasized today.

[22] Subjects, that create themselves, analyze their situation and constantly change and additionally develop a sense of community.

[23] Currently in Zimbabwe, but also in South Sudan.

[24] Despite all attempts by the Catholic Church to suppress and terminate this movement, by particularly excommunicated critical priests and by promoting conservative directions of Catholicism, the dissemination of approaches of liberation pedagogy, also towards policy, could not be prevented, neither that the pedagogy of liberation is still continuing to act with the aim to build a more equitable world.

[25] See:, [Last accessed: 14.01.2015]

[26] The concept of "street schools" has spread as "export" of the world. Originating from these activities but as well promoted from other actors, children movements good established, which are worldwide fighting for their recognition as subjects and for their right to just and not exploitative work (Liebel/ Overwien/Recknagel 1999). It is particularly emphasized by the children, that the need to work, for supporting their family and for receiving access to formal education.

[27] Current considerations on degrowth societies show a certain proximity to the described contexts.

[28] See:

[29] Concerning this, see the many contributions of South African colleagues in the volumes I to VI of Sozialarbeit des Südens. Also: http://; [Last accessed: 14.01.2016]

[30] See also the basis paper of the „new“ South African social work, “the White Paper of Social Welfare” of 1997:, [Last accessed: 14.1.2016]

[31] The following definition was approved by the IFSW General Meeting and the IASSW General Assembly in July 2014: “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing.” [last accessed: 12.1.2016]

[32], [Last accessed: 04.03.2015]

[33] See also: [Last accessed: 14.01.2016].

[34] see:

[35] Therein one might assume pure subjectivism and see Human Development as result of Euro-American subject concept, but the Human Being is always thought of in the context of relationships. Human Development is also always: Human, Social and Community Development; this is about to be explained further on.

[36] See in particular the meanwhile 6 volumes of “Sozialarbeit des Südens” and the other publications of the International Social Work series of the Paulo-Freire-Verlag.

[37] However, as in the case of flight and migration, they have a great impact on the Global North and require an “International Social Work” there, too.

[38] see: APuZ 50-51/2015 on the issue „Slavery“

[39] See: Yunus 1998 and its criticism : Klas 2011

Cite this publication
Lutz, Ronald and Alexander Stauss, 2020. International Social Work. In: socialnet International [online]. 09.06.2020 ISSN 2627-6348. Available from Internet:

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