WORKER'S IDENTITY BETWEEN CRITICAL AND RATIONAL UNDERSTANDING
Third Year Social Work Student, Germany
2. Who is Winfried Ferchhoff?
3. Arguments of the current debate on professionalism
4. Three concepts of identity
5. Social - hermeneutic diagnosis as a suggestion of U. Uhlendorff
6. The never ending story?
discussion about professionalism in the field of social work
boils down to one main question: What is the identity of social
workers? What do social workers know and what abilities do
they have? These two factors contribute to defining identity
and are the basic questions asked of many professions and.
Of course, society also wants to know if they are worthy of
a representative of Ecological Social Theory asks: How shall
we create an identity of social work, if within the professional
self-image each field of work explains itself as a special
field of social work? The counseling, the clinical social
service, the community social work.....all claim a specific
identity. What do they have in common now? What kind of archetype
can be given for an image of the social worker? How does a
social worker see his or her own identity?
Dr. Heiko Kleve,
a member of the DBSH suggests that the present identity is
the identity of social work. The openness, fragility, and
ambivalence is the character of social work. We should say
good-bye to the image of a uniformly committed idealist. The
sum under the bottom line is that we can't have a uniform
identity - but if this is not possible, and the discussion
won't stop, it will remain difficult to create a foundation
of professionalism for a social worker.
Today, I want
to present you one German representative of the discussion
about the social worker's identity What he has to say
is between critical and rational understandin.
Prof. Dr. Wilfried
Ferchhoff is a researcher, who leads a discourse about the
identity of social workers.
2. Who is "Wilfried Ferchhoff"?
• Born in
• Study of 1973 Social work in Bielefeld
• Study of Sociology, History, Philosophy and Pedagogy
• Beginning of the 80’s - Professorship, Faculty
of Pedagogy, Bielefeld
• Since the 70’s publications with B. Dewe
• Most popular publication: Professionalism of Social
Work, (4th edition 2002) with B. Dewe
• Further subjects: patchwork youth, culture of youth
• Problem of Identity: Discourse at the level of disciplines
but not in praxis
• His goal is a more offensive social work, whereby
empirical results should become a part of practice
of the current debate of professionalism
What is one reason for the problem of Identity?
The dialog between theory and practice is insufficient. There
exist empirical facts, but they are rarely applied to practice.
b) Since the 1970’s, the debate about professionalism,
as it concerns identity, has been written in a one-sided and
defective manner. The main aim was the improvement of the
education at universities, of its competence and status. In
regard to that, social work defined itself and was defined
by others in comparison with other disciplines (Education,
Adult Education) as a profession which was subordinated, without
now, it was not clear, if social work was, generally, a profession.
Etzioni states that social work has been until now a semi-profession,
just a declaration of facts and their development. In comparison
with other professions, social work is fragmentary, heterogeneous,
homeless, interdisciplinary – lacking an identity. Ferchhoff
states that the comparison with other disciplines blocks the
development that would lead to a successful concept of identity
within the profession.
Throughout the discussion about professionalism, it has been
forgoten to consider how much social competence is necessary
for the practice of social work.
e) The critique of social work’s professionalism was actually
a critique of experts and expertise. And, of course, it is
clear that a long time ago the knowledge of an expert and
the ability of his expertise to solve practical problems were
f) The discussion about the conditions for professional competencies
of abilities use in practice boiled down to insecurity, crisis.
The aim was to bring more science into the daily life and
rehabilitation of amateurish persons. (Bringing more science
into the everyday practice of social work had little success.)The
answer? The transformation of the model of automatic control,
of automatic control of professions, taken from the United
States couldn't work in Germany in regard to the latter’s
What does automatic
control mean? It is a kind of professional autonomy in the
areas of work with the clients, and also within organizations
which care about the adherence to professional rules and protect
the profession from the critique of amateurs.
discussion changed the subject with the aim to change the "Cinderella Image". The question was now how to
reconstruct components of concrete professionalism in the
basic activities of social work.
Concepts of Professionalism
by the history of the social worker's identity process Wilfried
Ferchhoff developed three types of Identity.
type: The social worker as altruistic person.
(Product of the
time of Alice Salomon, 1872 - until 1930)
The motivation of the social worker is oriented towards ethical
principles. The personality of the social worker, the values
and the view of his/her life are the foundations for these
principles. To help is obligatory and a moral necessity. In
this regard, the profession becomes a kind of calling. It
is subjective and one which is not merely observant, but involved.
Its slogan could be: "I want just your best."
The social worker prefers emotionality, spontaneity, tales
of life, trust, and relationship, as well as other, technological
methods. He needs a competence in communication. However,
it isn’t necessary to learn such skills because the
social worker contains these qualities already within himself.
Help doesn't need any explanation; it is a kind of Monopoly
of Ethics. The history of the human being, of charity, tells
us to help. The Monopoly of Ethics is a kind of unwritten
law; it is the permission for social workers to help, to give
comfort, to counsel, to educate. The strategies or approaches
are based on experience.
How is the relationship between client and Social worker described?
It is a very close
relationship full of acceptance, authenticity, warmth, personal
devotion, passion and love. The social worker and client are
not on the same level, however. The client is in a position
of not knowing and depending upon the social worker.
The professional work is a kind of talent: you either have
it or not!
The critique is:
• There are no methods, based on a concept of science.
• No discourse about what causes the problems for humans.
• In only relying on the existence of a knowledge based
on experiences, the danger of social stereotypes exists. The
knowledge isn't very different and exact; for example, in
sociology, psychology, etc.
type: social engineer
This type is based
on methods, techniques, analysis, rationality and science.
Help is a kind of service with the aim of an outcome or product,
in public institutions. The social worker is an expert for
Help isn't based on moral and ethical principles; it is more
a right of every client and is much more expected, because
institutions care about it. (Welfare for everybody.)
Various characteristics/indicators/factors which cause the
client to get help are then standardized and reconstructed.
• Social management
• Case management
The social worker as an hermeneutic person
and client work together as a team. They observe and interpret
the biography, situations of conflicts and the environment
of the client.
• Scientific observation
• A common interpretation
• Dialogue and Discourse
• Protection of Autonomy
• Process and Experiment
• Self Reflection
• Support of development
• A representative interpretation of past, presence
One principle of the hermeneutic tells us that life has an
immanent sense of life. This sense isn't given by a God, but
just because life exists. This explains the reason why help
is necessary. In protecting the client, the social worker
protects the sense of life.
The social worker
needs a bit of everything - but how much is good, what would
the client prefer?
5. A suggestion of Uhlendorff
prefers the third type of Identity - the social worker as
Uhlendorff suggests utilizing for this type of identity, the
social hermeneutic diagnosis in the process of help.
Why this kind
On the one side
Uhlendorff states that a diagnosis prevents cooperation between
the client and a professional person. But there exist cases
which are very difficult and in which cooperation and participation
are hardly possible. The clients are, for example, youngsters
with experiences in psychiatry and in crisis. Cases like this
require a social hermeneutic diagnosis.
The social hermeneutic
The SHD asks:
How has to be the environment in which the client can be supported
in his development in his everyday life by the social worker?
The help shall take place in every day life and become a part
of it. Also the social worker shall interact in the everyday
life of the client.
An interview about life and future
• Based on voluntariness
• Create trust
• To bring the client to talk with fewer questions
• Interpretation of the case (case study) with (or without)
To check the hypothesis with the client and discuss it.
• To figure out a common view
• Repeat the process in six month
6. The never ending story?
regard of the title I tried to give an answer if the identity
of social workers is a never-ending story, and if so, why.
As you know, in
the roman of Michael Ende, the critique was the loss of fantasy
and stories after the age of Enlightenment. The result it
that the story will not stop, and will continue to repeat
the past. The never-ending story is a mirror of the past,
but what does it mean for social workers in the future?
will return in social work?
Do we want an
end to discussion? Or is it, that we didn't notice there is
an end, but that we don't like the result? And on this point,
I close with the words of Heiko Kleve, who said: “The
openness, fragility, ambivalence is the identity of social
Copyright for the I.U.C. Journal of Social Work Theory and
Practice is owned by the Social Work Program, Department of
Social Relations and Services, Bemidji State University, Bemidji,
Minnesota, USA. One copy may be made (printed) for personal
use; teachers may make multiple copies for student use if
the copies are made available to students without charge.
Permission must be secured from the editors for sale of any
copies of articles or for any commercial use of the material
published in the Journal.