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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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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