Social workers, if we know anything, understand how systems – causes and consequences – are connected. At times of increased economic and social pressure it is those with the least who suffer the most in our system. Anecdotally I hear of rising demand for refuge from intimate partner violence and of increasingly strained resources. The shortage and unaffordability of decent housing continues to be a major problem in Auckland. The demand for emergency housing has been further stressed by the needs of families displaced by the floods and land-slips experienced over the bizarre Summer. Practitioners tell me about problems that they have little capacity to address. This is the rub, is it not?
We live in critical times. The unequal distribution of wealth and privilege (and the resulting unequal distribution of social suffering) continues to impact upon the stability of the world order. Arguably there is, at least, an increasing awareness of the social, economic, and environmental challenges which we are faced with collectively: as a planetary species. However, understandings of causes and solutions are, as always, contested. It is useful, I think, to attempt to unpack some of this complexity. Bear with me – I will return to what this unpacking may mean for progressive social work.
By Deb Stanfield
This year I read Dr Hinemoa Elder’s new book Wawata: Moon Dreaming. I buy the book at my local bookstore, and learn what I can from her about mātauranga Māori and the beauty of te reo Māori. I learn that Whiro is the Māori name for the new moon – the lunar phase under which I start to reflect on what happened in 2022. I’m inspired by what she whispers to herself: “To persevere, no matter my ability to see in the dark.” She tells herself that Whiro is a “protective time for insights, a time to call on that deep core of resistance and fight for what is right” (p. 36). This voice speaks to me as a social worker.
Hilary Mantel, who is famous in Europe for her historical novels, died unexpectedly this year. I read some of her work too – what I enjoy most is the wisdom she shares about what it’s like to write about the past. She talks about the many gaps in history, the complexity of how we remember, our inconsistencies, falsities, and how as a society our memory is political – based on glory or grievance – rarely on hard, cold facts.
Dr Elder also writes about the past and the influence of tūpuna, those who have gone before us. “Our ancestors reach forward into our lives as a source of strength in our strange modern world, a source of ancient wisdom and technology” (Elder, 2022, p. 11). Mantel talks about how we make sense of the world based on who our ancestors are. “We carry the genes and the culture of our ancestors, and what we think about them shapes what we think of ourselves, and how we make sense of our time and place” (Mantel, 2017).
A twitter thread by @EmilyK100
Some critical imaginings on a wet afternoon in late November, Tamaki Makaurau, Aotearoa New Zealand. Can social work escape the care – control (help – surveillance) bind? Social work services are provided to a particular section of the population – those at the bottom of the social and economic heap. Social work ‘assists’ those at the margins to cope/survive. However, the ‘position’ of those who are constructed as ‘clients’ is structurally generated – a function of capitalist social and economic relations. Capitalism is unjust by definition in terms of process and outcomes. It requires an exploitative relationship between owners and workers. It is a system that produces and reproduces inequality. What the experience of social work practice does do – for those with eyes to see – is expose the human consequences of structural injustice. However …