A time for outrage

A guest post by Dr Patricia Fronek, Senior Lecturer in the School of Human Services and Social Work, Gold Coast Campus, Griffith University. Tricia is the creator and producer of Podsocs

It is indeed a time for outrage. The far right is exerting considerable political influence in most Western countries to the point where rhetoric and ideological approaches to welfare and society appear indistinguishable. Critical thinking seems to be absent in many school curricula: see for example creationism still taught in faith schools.

The average person has decreasing access to independent information in popular, monopolised media. “Balance” has been reinterpreted to ensure the right has a say no matter how bizarre allowing for homophobia, xenophobia and, let’s face it, just plain hate. Some of these doozies are that abortion causes breast cancer and educating children about difference and bullying will turn them gay: as reported, a few weeks ago, in an article from the Conversation Fear and loathing reigns in Safe Schools and same-sex marriage debates. By preying on fear, ignorance and prejudices, discourses are being shaped by distorted and extreme perspectives. How else has Donald Trump and others like him come so far?

Economic and social inequalities are rising alongside social problems and diminishing services. Neoliberalism marches towards privatisation and a globalised free market in everything but the movement of refugees, where nationalism prevails.  Economic prosperity is expected to cure everything.  Meanwhile we see the return of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ in the form of “strivers’ and ‘shrivers’ and ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’ while the most undeserving of all are refugees and asylum seekers and anyone who actually needs a safety net including those with disabilities and older people. Political conversations seem overly populated by false binaries: for example, the options offered to asylum seekers are either drown at sea or be imprisoned in concentration camp type conditions. These sources of outrage were the motivation for a recent article by Polly Chester and me called Moral Outrage: Social work in the Third Space (Fronek & Chester, 2016) published last week in Ethics and Social Welfare.

Outrage and despair are felt by social workers around the world as the numbers of those who are disadvantaged and oppressed grow, while at the same time the services they need are shaved, disappear altogether or like transformers morph into something else altogether.  In our article we examine a new form of social work protest: that of social workers in the Third Space – online and in social media – where social workers are refusing to be subsumed by neoliberal policies. They are finding new identities, practising resistance and attempting to exercise influence in three ways – across, outward and upward. Working across is about forming relationships and collaborative partnerships, upward is intended to influence politicians and policy makers and outward working presents an opportunity to engage the media and the general public. Refusing the unacceptable and seeking to be engaged in the Third Space requires social workers to be knowledgeable, skilled and acutely aware of the ethical dilemmas they might face and in that process bring the three Rs – risk, responsibility and reflection – to the fore.

It is a time for outrage. It is not a time for complacency and silence. As 93 year old Stéphane Hessel wrote “the worst attitude is indifference” (Hessel, 2010, p.11).

Read the full article here. 

References

Fronek, P., & Chester, P. (2016). Moral outrage: Social workers in the Third Space. Ethics and Social Welfare.  DOI: 10.1080/17496535.2016.1151908

Hessel. S. (2010). A time for outrage: Indignez-vous. New York: Twelve Hatchette Book Group.

FIRST PUBLISHED RSW Collective by RE-IMAGINING SOCIAL WORK IN AOTEAROA NEW ZEALAND @RSWcollective 

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Closet activists and covert workplace activities

Social workers feel under pressure when conflict exists between their professional commitment to social justice and organizational imperatives. We know when values conflict like this or when others are hostile towards our values, social workers tend to quit or burn out. For many social workers negotiating neoliberal influences on welfare organisations and on how services are delivered experience managerialism as negative. They feel harassed by a preoccupation on quantifying success often in financial terms, have limited resources to do their work, and deal with demands for increased documentation and excessive caseloads. Social workers accept these things as the reality in many workplaces. Leave or join them. That’s a pretty depressing thought, but new research has found social workers have a third way – to fight back.

Some social workers are digging in and taking a stand – and not in the traditional sense of radical social work. It seems they go underground, work in covert ways to make sure they live up to their professional values. They find imaginative ways to work around the roadblocks in their way. Closet activists might turn a blind eye when clients do things they shouldn’t, extend services beyond the official cut-off date, fill out forms ‘creatively’, ignore directives from management and at times break the law to assist a client. These social workers don’t act this way thoughtlessly. They struggle with ethical questions and shift between questions like – Is this action ethical? Or is it unethical not to find a way to help clients who need it? Actions are not taken lightly. These dilemmas raise issues for the social workers involved, their profession and for educators. How do we make sense of it all? How does this affect our clients and social workers?

Covert workplace activism is underground resistance in action. For the social workers who participated in the study, it is a response to unjust systems and the failure of open challenges to actually change anything for the people they work with every day. Working in this way helped social workers make good on their commitment to social justice in difficult workplaces and protected against feeling demoralised. These social workers are the ‘new radicals’, fighting from within the closet, chipping away case by case at a welfare system that is lost and broken.

Imagine twenty years from now, changes have come and gone. A brand new social worker sits next to you, highly motivated and eager to deliver on the values of the profession. She, or he, turns to you and asks – what did you do to challenge neo-liberalism? What will you say?

By Lyndal Greenslade, guest blogger on socialworksocialwork

Listen to Lyndal talking about her research on Podsocs