Saturday, 30 November 2013

Social Work As A Profession

Social Work As A Profession

Introduction

For most of our history, social workers have struggled,
both within and among nations, to establish ourselves
as a profession. Perhaps a partial explanation can be
found in role theory, which proposes that a sense of
identity combines our views of ourselves with our sense
of how others see us. For social workers, whose
professional responsibilities range from individual case
workers and community workers to social activists,
policy analysts, and program administrators, the variety
of roles to be included are extensive. Those around us,
on the other hand, may view us as helpers in time of
need, irritants raising problems where there otherwise
would be none, and threats to a habitual social order
where those who are comfortable do not want to alter
their own lifestyle in order to make things easier for
the downtrodden. Integrating these diverse views into
a clear, mutually agreeable professional definition is
understandably challenging.

Voluntary Vs. Professional Action
Charity and voluntary action, while part of the historical
roots of social work and social welfare across societies,
is different from professional social work. Many of the
organized religions of the world have advocated charity
as a great virtue. Examples include:
 the Hindu religion sanctifies charity
 love for one’s neighbors is an important duty in
Judaism
 the Old Testament stresses caring for the needy
 Christians tell of Jesus Christ who was cared for
by strangers and encouraged brotherly love
 in Islam, charity has been depicted as equivalent
to prayer
 Sikh history is replete with examples of voluntary
service to all of humanity
 Buddhism and Jainism advocate for compassion
for the poor and needy
 followers of Zarathrushtra, known as Parsis, have
a saying, “Ushta Ahmai Yehmai Ushta Kehmaichit”
(Fatha Ushtavaiti), meaning happiness unto him
who renders happiness unto others.
Perhaps it is a part of basic nature to come forward and
provide help to persons in distress, and to do so
altruistically, but human beings also tend to be selfserving,
and this adversely affects voluntary action.
Voluntary action is that action which is done by people
voluntarily or of their own accord, out of feelings of
compassion or concern for the well-being of others,
and for which they are not compensated with wages.
Voluntary action is mainly characterised by:
1) the urge to help others and promote their wellbeing
in all possible ways—not necessarily
monetarily
2) the absence of any kind of expectation for any
material gains in lieu of the help given .
3) a sense of social concern and orientation toward
helping others in need
4) belief in the virtue of service
5) belief in the primacy of one’s duty over one’s rights.
In India, there is a tendency to label Shramdan as
social work. The term is derived from Shram (manual
labour) and Dan (donation), or voluntary manual labor
to promote the collective good. While aimed at promoting
well-being and reflective of common public interest,
Shramdan is different from social work not only in
terms of objectives but also in terms of methods and
techniques, as well as philosophy. Shramdan has the
goal of getting concrete work done and the underlying
philosophy is that it is the duty of every person to
contribute their labor for the well-being of others and
community. Specialized knowledge and technical skills
are not required, and meeting individuals’ needs,
particularly intangible needs such as for love, affection,
autonomy, respect, recognition, and self-actualization,
is not the focus. The means of supporting people or
providing help also differs because with Shramdan, the
means is manual labor.
Abraham Flexner was born in 1866 in the U.S. He is
known as a reformer of medical education because he
wrote an influential document, the Flexner Report, that
was highly critical of American medical education at
the turn of the 20th century. Dr. Flexner was invited
to speak at the National Conference on Social Welfare
in 1915, and titled his speech, “Is Social Work a
Profession?” In that speech, he listed six attributes of
professions. Professions: 1) have intellectual operations
with large individual responsibility (free, resourceful
and unhampered intelligence applied to complicated
problems; discretion as to what to do); 2) base practices
on science and learning; 3) use knowledge for a practical
and definite end; 4) possess an educationally
communicable technique; 5) tendency to self-organize
(have a culture); and 6) [helping professions] are
altruistic in motivation.
Although it has been common over the years to refer to
social work as a “profession,” scholars have been
debating for almost a century as to whether social
work meets all of Flexner’s criteria. In 1957, sociologist
Ernest Greenwood, published, “Attributes of a
Profession,” that further suggested that professions
need societal sanction. Greenwood’s list of attributes
of a profession included: a systematic body of
knowledge, community sanction, authority or credibility,
regulation and control of members, a professional code
of ethics, and a culture of values, norms, and symbols.
Greenwood asserted that social work in North America
appeared to marginally meet these criteria, although
critics have continued to ask if social work is an art or
a science, and if there is enough unity among social
workers to say they have a shared culture. Others
have suggested that since it is the purpose of social
workers to advocate for social and economic justice
through social reform, that societal sanction may not
be easily gained.