JOURNAL ISSUE 6
2002/2003

 

Horst Sing, Dr.


THE CHALLENGE OF DEREGULATION AND PRIVATIZATION OF SOCIAL WORK IN THE PROCESS OF GLOBALISATION: RISK OR OPPORTUNITY?

 

1. The new wave of globalisation and its consequences for social work

For many social workers and for many people involved in social security systems or who are committed in one way or another to improving the conditions of life of the weaker sections of society, the actual wave of globalisation has become a process which more and more, has to be watched with suspicion and scepticism.

However, this was not always so. If we take as its starting point the break-down of the Berlin wall or the end of the "cold war", this new period of globalisation was welcomed with enthusiasm almost all over the world and by almost all non-Marxist people. It seemed to promise the rise of a global society with almost unlimited communication for all and therefore, in the long run, necessarily better life-conditions for all - not on the same level, of course, as that of the upper middle classes in the highly developed countries of the North or the already extensively emerging middle classes in some countries of the South, but at least on a minimum level above the poverty lines.

Within less than one decade it has become necessary for the political classes in almost all countries to defend and to underline the advantages of the process of globalization rather than to reduce unjustified hopes in future benefits of globalisation as this was the case in the early 1990s. The reasons for this change are diverse and cannot be explained extensively within the framework of my presentation. However, to avoid some of the usual misunderstandings in the debate about globalisation, it makes sense to distinguish between a more formal definition of globalisation on the one hand, and some characteristics of the process of globalisation concerning the consequences for social work in our time and in the near future, on the other hand.

In a very formal definition, the process of globalisation is synonymous with a process of intensifying and multiplying the communication and social relations in the globalising society by connecting virtually any place of the globe with any other place within a minimum period of time . It is coupled with processes of "modernisation", which is synonymous with the conceptualisation and implementation of measures in order to survive at its best in the worldwide competition of "global players", functional systems, organisations, institutions, etc. Finally it is connected with processes of "transformation", which means the transition of socialist societies into democratic and capitalistic societies in an emerging unilateral global society. Polanyi pointed this out as eraly as in the 1940s and so did Wallerstein in a more concrete sense in the 1970s.

A brief glance at the process of globalisation shows that there are different periods and phases of globalization with very different consequences for social work. Until World War II, social policy, social security systems and the organization of professional social work developed principally in economic, political, legal and cultural contexts, which were to a high degree determined by the normative, structural and empirical preconditions of the nation. At the same time it was assumed that the members of a nation could, by their votes, influence at least in some sense the fundamental conditions of their physical, economic and social security. The borders of their nation would be a reliable fence against the dangers emerging from international competition. The individual nations which were successful became increasingly proud of the development of their specific national model for building their nation - political and cultural values, economic and military power, level of social security systems, organized social work, etc. The less successful ones tried to imitate the successful ones or were forced to imitate them when they became colonized by them.

 

The world economic crisis of 1929, however, showed the vulnerabilitiy of the national economy in the context of a globalising functional system of economy and the rise of totalitarian ideologies. Regimes suchas fascism/Nazism and Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism showed the tremendous dangers for democratic societies coming from "globalising" totalitarian political systems which tried to establish inacceptable alternatives to democratic systems in other countries or even all over the world.

The period after World War II became a period of successful processes of globalization - in spite of the rise of a bipolar and antagonistic world or because of this rise: the "cold war" compelled the Europeans to overcome "vested" differences and conflicts on almost all levels . The the Cuba-crisis in 1962 forced the two world powers faced with a nuclear catastrophe to create the theory and strategy of the "peaceful coexistence": Both parts of the world, including the third one, were obliged not to make use of their nuclear arms. That meant they were obliged to accept the direction of globalization. This period of globalization is characterised by the antagonism of two essentially different political and ideological systems, but in spite of this fundamental difference there was a common feature: both systems were based on the belief in a linear progress of industrialization and scientific knowledge.

In the field of social security and social work this period of globalization was - at least in almost all countries of the so-called First World - a period of expansion and upturn which established a quality and quantity of social security combined with individual autonomy which until then had been supposed to be impossible.

In 1972, the disillusioning book "The limits of Growth" of the Club of Rome was published, stating that the limits of natural resources would make it necessary to revise the traditional theories, paradigms and strategies of industrialization. But as we learnt, little by little, there was not only the problem of limits - and therefore the problem of scarcity in the field of resources - there increasingly arose the problem of complexity and the gap between complexity, knowledge and the capacity of an appropriate "governance" of the globalizing society and thus the problem of scarcity, reavealed as a "polyvalent ("vielwertig") scarcity.

 

This problem became overwhelming and in this context the issue of "deregulation and privatization of social work" has to be analyzed today if one wants to understand its relevance for the further development of social work .

 

Of course, it is not possible to point out in detail the process which led to this situation. Some remarks may be sufficient.

Contrary to the ideologic fundaments of the eastern block, which maintained until the breakdown of the "real existing socialism" the thesis that a socialist regime (at least in the frame of a People's Republic) could resolve the problem of social inclusion/exclusion by a completely holistic ideologic, political and economic system, those of the western societies were based on epistemologic premises (criticism, autonomy of science, etc.), which since the 1970s forced these "open societies" of the so-called First World to increasingly revise their scientific and especially their social theories in the light of the "deconstruction" of former "ontologic" theories and in view of the construction of new theories , e.g. in the line of "unity by difference" (Luhmann) .

Prior to the the self-understanding of the western democracies could be described as a kind of pluralism, which referred particularly to the political level, e.g. to a pluralistic forming of the political decisions by various political ideologies, parties and groups . Of course, these had - as today - only to respect the fundamental norms (human rights, constitutions, etc.) and the rules of democracy, but there was enormous consent concerning the rational fundamentals of this kind of pluralism, for instance, on behalf of the interpretation of human rights, of the understanding of a "common reason", of theories of social action, etc.

Roughly speaking we could say that this understanding of pluralism was more and more "deconstructed" with the seventies of the last century by the "self-deconstruction" of classical paradigms of scientific knowledge which underminded the traditional consent concerning the fundamentals which "hold society together".

So, when in 1989 it became obvious that the "real existing socialism" had come to an end, his obsolete ideological and political theories were not superseded by a holistic ideological, scientific or political theory, but by a mixture of theories which were characterized even on the fundamental levels of scientific knowledge by the acceptance of a broad spectrum of pluralism. It is evident that the processes of deregulation and deconstruction on almost all levels and sectors of society which we are accustomed to attribute to the new wave of globalization, are not the immediate or direct consequences of the breakdown of the wall in Berlin: The end of the bipolar world and the beginning of a new wave of globalization accelerated and increased only these trends of development which had already begun years before - but in the last decade of the century, however, in a way which made many people feel more and more unsure of the maintenance or the improvement of their social security.

One of the most disturbing consequences of the new wave of globalization for social workers is that often painfully achieved structures of social equality or social justice are now constantly questionned, even in rich societies and on the level of the fundamentals of the global society ("Risikogesellschaft") as a whole: it becomes more and more obvious that not only the realisation of the values of the welfare state but also the values themselves are embedded in paradoxes which it is impossible to dissolve or to tolerate by a common agreement . One of the most significant phenomena of the current process of globalization is that the paradoxes of the classical welfare state - the right of pursuit of happiness and at the same time, the "collective self-binding" of the state for social justice - has not only been globalized, but has been multiplied in the wake of the deconstruction of the traditional "unity of science"and has been transferred, for instance, even to the level of the preception and scientific analysis of its fundamentals.

It becomes more and more obvious that the classical welfare state is losing - or has already lost - one of its fundamental premises, namely to be able to analyse the consequences of the functional systems of society - especially the economic and the political ones - and to evaluate the consequences of his own interventions and activities . Whilst the rhetoric of a holistic understanding of social work is still in work, the consequences of the entropy of the traditional unity of welfare state penetrate in all fields including the core values of the welfare state, solidarity, social justice, social help, etc.

If we accept this rough analysis of the consequences of the actual wave of globalization for social work, deregulation and privatization of social work become more than a temporary phenomena which will be stopped after the next elections or by the next government. Further, deregulation and privatization of social work are not only embedded in the process of transformation of the classical welfare state and his traditional fundamentals, but they are embedded in a globalising society, which turns out to be more and more a society of scarcity, where even rich countries and the mighty functional systems are involved in a permanent process of competition. As this competition has no limits, except for those defined by the law which is protected by the "monopoly of violence" of the state, no system is safe in face of the scourge of scarcity. This scarcity is not only a scarcity of material or financial resources, but also a scarcity of "true knowledge", "good practice", "sustainable self-reliance", etc. As it is not very possible that the social security systems and social work will escape the increasing problem of "polyvalent" scarcity, the issue of "deregulation and privatization of social work" will become more and more an essential challenge for the further development of social work and the systems of social security. There is no other way than to accept this challenge, but it is more than doubtful whether they are enough prepared to do it well.


2. The Challenge of Deregulation and Privatization of Social work

 

Although the social security systems are financed in some way or another by the (later) beneficiaries and although the organized social work has the explicit aim to help the clients to help themselves, these functional systems of society still have to rely very much on additional subventions of the solidarity commitee of society. After World War II, the self-understanding of western societies as "welfare states" strengthened the dependence of these systems from the solidarity instead of strengthening the faculty and multiplying the possibilities to use the principle of "subsidiarity" for more independency and "self-reliance" of these systems and of their clients. The competition between the western model of democracy on the one hand - including as core values the ideology of the welfare state and combined with a tremendous economic boom - and the model of the "People' s Republic on the other hand led to a "Fordist" model of providing social security in almost all western countries. Roughly speaking we could say that in almost all western democracies this trend took place sometime during the 1960s or 1970s, with different ups and downs of varying intensity in the different countries and with different intensity. If the discussion concerning "deregulation and privatization of social work" is so intensive today this is also because of the general feeling, that the very high level of the performances of the welfare state of these years can not be maintained in the future.

On a more general level, deregulation and privatization are estimated, for instance, by political decision-makers, being instruments against scarcity of material and financial resources in the field of social security resp. social work in order to make them less expensive, more self-reliant and therefore more sustainable . From the point of view of those who are concerned - e.g.social workers and clients - they are, however, considered as instruments for a one-dimensional economisation and colonialisation of social work in the wake of an increasing deconstruction and dismantling of the welfare state as a whole.

Whereas on behalf of the system of social security, which is not only a part of social policy, but also closely linked to economy (for instance, in the field of the labour market, unemployment, etc.), the issue of "deregulation and privatization" is an old and well known one, on behalf of social work, at least in many European countries, it is a rather new one. Whilst, for instance, defining the problems of scarcity and making proposals in the direction of deregulation and privatization in the field of wages and salaries, of working conditions and working hours - all issues which touch upon the conditions of social work too - there are nationwide committees, rational-based datas, or professional habits and rules for negotiations, the discussion about these issues is in the field of social work still a very emotional one and the arguments are mostly cloudy. Roughly speaking, there are two fields of arguments in the discussion.

The first one is based on a mainly normative understanding of social work. Social inclusion and social exclusion are perceived on ontologic fundamentals rather than on the functional relevance of social phenomena. In this respect, therefore, the issue of "deregulation and privatization of social work" is a essentially moral one: as social work is the logic consequence of the "collective self-binding" of the modern democratic state to the principle of political and social inclusion of all its citizens, it is not possible to deregulate or to privatisize it without dismantling or even destroying fundamental values of democracy. Deregulation and privatization of social work are understood as the attempt of those elements of society which want to liberate the modern state from its normative fundaments and from the best achievements of its history.

The main problem of this approach is still, that in the face of the "paradigm lost" of universal social ethics the gaps between the normative claims of these arguments are mostly unbridgeable . Instead of the demand of the "end of modesty" on behalf of the evaluation of the performances of social work it would be better to claim more expectations from its own efforts.

On a more pragmatic and empirical level, e.g.in the wake of looking for "best practice", more and more efforts are beeing made to take into account strategies and methods of deregulation and privatization too. The starting point is, in general, the description of, "what social workers are doing". By the comparison of various institutions with the premises given by the social policy, with the programs developed within this frame, with the development of social work as a rationally-based profession,. the attempt is made to elaborate what "good practice" might be. Some years - especially with the development of the European Union - the methods of comparing the "good practice" of social work have been extended more and more to the transnational and international level, especially between the different countries in Europe and the different countries of Europe or the European Union as a whole with the USA .

As social security systems and social work are the result of political and social conflicts rather than the result of scientific conceptualization, they are very different from country to country. Thus, what is "good practice" is not the same everywhere and therefore what is meant by deregulation and privatization of social work depends to equally high degree on the structures and the political, cultural, economic context in which it is embedded. For instance, deregulation of social work in the "corporatist" system in Germany is different from that in the "Nordic model" because of the important role of the welfare associations of the churches and therefore the privatization of social work in Germany is different from that in the USA, since in Germany the "freien Träger" of social work are not "private" in the sense that they have to raise funds as the really "private" institutions of social work in the USA which have really to raise funds, whilst the "freien Träger" are still getting important subventions from the state in the wake of a different understanding of "subsidiarity". As another example, although from the point of view of most European countries the deregulation and privatization of social work in the USA might have attained an ultimate limit, the "faith-based social services", which are experiencing a tremendous boom in the current period of neoliberalism, seem to go even beyond these limits. This process may lead to a certain revision of the secularization of social work still unbelievable few years ago. In Germany, for instance, where the curative associations of the churches are so powerful, even cautious remarks in this direction are heavily critizised as beeing a step backwards in pre-modern times.

With the increase in globalization, the entropy of traditional conditions of life ("Lebenswelten") and the "polyvalent scarcity" of the instruments to maintain their hold in the global competition - especially of the functional systems - the efforts to become more self-reliant on all relevant levels, including the level of scientific knowledge, will be multiplied and intensified in the field of social work. There are many proposals, models and strategies which are discussed and hectic activities that are initiated.

One of the most significant is the level of the formation of social workers which needs more and more scientific knowledge, especially on the basis of the "new truth", as in many cases the traditional social theories have become obsolete due to the complexity in which social work is becoming more and more involved. The institutions of the formation of social workers - especially those of applied sciences - become more and more the meeting-points of the different "providers" of "new truth". The traditional borders of the perception and the reflection of social exclusion are crossed and new indications of orientation have to be identified.

If we accept this rough analysis, we could say that the challenge of deregulation and privatization of social work is not an isolated or a single issue, e.g. in the frame of economisation of social work, but a part of a challenge of existential and vital significance for it. The question is: How could social work be liberated from an illusory and deceptive confidance in the good will ("solidarity for ever") of society and how could it be provided with "new scientific knowledge" which liberates it from a naive belief in obsolete knowledge?

If we take into account these questions, the main challenge of social work is ensure it becomes a specific "functional system" and to secure the opportunity to rely on a specific approach to provide "new scientific knowledge" for it. In this frame we have to deal with the question of whether deregulation and privatization of social work means risk or opportunity for it.

 

3. Risk or opportunity?

 

As the notion of "functional systems of society" is a fundamental one in social sciences, there are many different meanings of it. In a more general sense, functional systems are achieving performances for the society which are specific and indispensable for the whole society and which are therefore appreciated independently the good will of society. Of course, even the most successful functional systems, e.g. economics, need publicity departments and owe their reputations to them to a high degree, but without performances, which are indispensable for the whole society, no functional system is emerging or can survive. They must be accepted by something such as the famous "common sense".

But as functional systems are scientific constructions - nobody has ever see them face to face - they depend on epistemologic premises and further (logic) arguments, what we suppose to be their productivity in the field of "scientific new truth". For instance, in the wake of the specific "System theorie" of Niklas Luhmann there are questions such as: What makes the difference between social work and other "functional systems"? Is social work indispensable for society because of this difference or because of the good will of society? Is this difference controlled and confirmed by the functional system which is responsible for the "new truth" of society?

The common identification of functional systems is that in highly differentiated, polycontextural societies, they fulfill specific functions which cannot be achieved by other systems. However, there are, of course, different meanings of this notion according to the epistemologic context in which it is embedded. In the wake of Luhmann, they are conceived as "auopoietic systems", which are defined by their specific "codes". Thus, for example, the function of the political system is to make possible the "collective self-binding" of decisions and it is defined by the code "to lose power or to get power". The economic system "reduces scarcity by increasing scarcity" in order to be able to provide goods and to satisfy needs, science produces new "true" knowledge, law makes possible the regulation of conflicts, etc. Their "programs", e.g. laws for the functional system of law, budgets for the economic system and theories/ methods for the functional system of science - are the rules and the more concrete conditions for the specific functioning of the functional systems. They have to be compatible with the codes of the system in question.

Whatever the specific espistemologic context might be, in which the arguments concerning this issue are embedded, there are severe and sophisticated preconditions to be accepted as a member in this exclusive circle of functional systems of society. For social work this would mean: 1) the other functional systems must appreciate the specific performances of social work for themselves and for society, 2) there must be a scientific fundament of social work which underlines its specific character, and 3) the public opinion (mass media, etc.) must be able to appreciate on the empirical level the specific quality and the sufficient quantity ("Mehrwert") of the performances of social work.

If we return to our theme and revise the "challenge of deregulation and privatization for social work" under these aspects, we could say that it seems to be a "program" which until now has been difficult for social work to "digest": as social work is still in a very weak position in term of fulfilling the preconditions of being or becoming a functional system in the aforemented sophisticated sense , the challenge of deregulation and privatization is perceived as a threat which has to be ignored ratherthan an "irritation" which needs to be accepted as a starting point for further activities ("Anschlussfähigkeit").

On the one hand, it is a risk to accept deregulation and privatization as a "program", because this requires fulfilling preconditions which might not yet be fulfilled. For instance, it would be necessary to realize that social work is involved in a context of more "blind spots" as supposed until now - and that it has "blind spots" too ("self-fulfilling prophecy").

But on the other hand there is no alternative to seriously continue the process of reducing the self-deception of social work caused by an illusory confidance in the scarce good of solidarity and brotherhood in current wave of globalization. However, this process has to include a process of reconstruction of social work in the shape of a "autopoietic" and highly self-reliant functional system of society. As other "programs" will come from either outside or within the system of social work - e.g. programs of controlling and evaluation of practical social work, Europeanizing of the formation of social workers, globalization of applied sciences - the issue of "deregulation and privatization" is not an isolated phenomena, but only one amongst many phenomenons. If they are accepted as an opportunity to reconstruct social work in this sense, these "programs" will contribute - in combination with the further discussion of "fundamentals" of social work - an understanding and establishment of social work (although it may remain less powerful than other functional systems) as a a functional system of society with equal reputation.
This is worth consideration.

 

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The constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany (1949)

Trevillion, Steve (1997), The Globalization of European Social Work. In: Social Work in Europe, Dorset, Vol. 4, Nr. 1, pp. 1-8.




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