Katholische Universität Eichstätt – Ingolstadt
Fakultät für Soziale Arbeit, Eichstätt
SOCIAL WORK UNDER CONDITIONS OF SCARCITY
To work under
"conditions of scarcity" is a daily experience for
many social workers: scarcity of instruments and resources
on the part of the clients to manage or to improve their conditions
of life, scarcity of instruments and resources on the part
of the social workers to help the clients, and scarcity of
instruments and resources of the society to maintain and to
build up structures which are suitable to overcome or to prevent
at least the most scandalous phenomens of social exclusion.
It is evident that in the global society 1.3 billion people
live in unacceptable conditions of social exclusion and further,
that 100 million of theses are not living in the so-called
Third World but in the developed countries of the First and
Even (or especially) in those countries where the systems
of social security and the associations and institutions of
social work are highly developed, where the education of social
workers is "academic", where scientific disciplines
dealing with social work seem to be established, and where
the social standing of the social workers is not low, the
complaints of social workers working under "conditions
of scarcity" seem to be a part of their professional
identity and often of their personal identity. Social workers
often think that they are somewhat like Atlas of the ancient
Greek myth who shouldered the world. Alternatively, they think
that they are — like Sisyphe — determined to do
something which can never be achieved. It is almost common
opinion and that they face a kind of scarcity which other
professions do n ot have.
Yet, what kind of scarcity do social workers really face in
contast to others? Whilst there are many treatises concerning
the consequences of the feeling of powerlessness and helplessnes
for the social workers as individuals — e.g. burn-out
syndrome — there is very little research concerning
the scarcity which could be behind the particular phenomena
of scarcity they experience every day. Is there a special
kind of fundamental scarcity which is independent from the
subjective feeling of the individual social worker and which
is different from the scarcity which other professions have
to face? If there is, the question is of of how to deal with
I base my arguments on two starting points on two different
levels. The first starting point is the thesis that the professional
core of social work is — inspite of its religious and
subjective roots which are still important — an integral
part of the democratic welfare state and therefore a public
affair which is controlled by the norms and the social processes
of the democratic society. In sociological terminology: social
work is a (specific) "functional system", an institution
or an instrument of the democratic society to release and
discharge in specific sectors and in a specific way from its
"collective self-binding" to provide conditions
for the political and social inclusion of all citizens respectively
to abolish established structures which produce social exclusion.
Social work is therefore a public business; it refers to the
ratio of democracy and is embedded not only in the frame of
a nation, but more and more in the global society.
To define it’s function in more detail, social work
is — after the social security system, which on the
basis of general legal rights or entitlements should prevent
or release from social exclusion — the second (public)
system of a democratic society in this field. It deals with
those problems of social exclusion which are specific and
individual and cannot be generalized, such as for instance,
individual dt behaviour, family problems, indeptedness etc.
The second starting
point is the thesis that there are two essentially different
kinds of scarcity. Analogous to the difference between a bivalent
and a polyvalent logic, I distinguish between a bivalent scarity
and a polyvalent scarcity: bi-valent scarcity is a scarcity
which can be defined by " to be or not to be" or
"to have or not to have"; polyvalent scarcity is
a scarcity which is part of a process producing — besides
positive effects — constantly negative side effects
caused by "blind spots" on the part of decision
makers and those who are concerned, and by lack of knowledge.
The negative side effects can only be minimized or overcome
by non-trivial strategies and interventions in the social
context and by mutual agreements. Bi-valent and polyvalent
scarcity are coupled in all social situations, but it is necessary
to distinguish between them if one wants to avoid falling
into the trap of trivial evaluations and analyses.
I deal with the issue of my theme in three steps: in the first
step I outline the emergence of scarcity in dealing with the
problem of social exclusion in the second half of the 20th
century and its transformation from a problem of bivalent
scarcity to a problem of polyvalent scarcity. In the second
step I claim — using the example of social work —
that we could describe this polyvalent scarcity as a consequence
of the "blind spots "of the functional systems of
society, including the "blind spots" of social work.
Lastly I present an example of a strategy to diminish the
negative consequences of the polyvalent scarcity for dealing
with the problem of social exclusion, which more recently
has become a problem in the system of democratic societies
— to which, of course, there is no alternative.
emergence of polyvalent scarcity in the fight against social
If we understand
social work as a professional system of the democratic society
to release it from its "collecive self-binding"
— that all citizens should be included in society in
so far as they could participate in an appropriate manner
in the performances of the functional systems of society — it is not the subjective experience or meaning of scarcity
of social workers or individuals which could be a reliable
starting point to approach the conditions of scarcity under
which social workers have to work. The problem is one of who
of the millions of social workers that are working all over
the world should we ask. Further, if we succeed in taking
an opinion poll, what would be the definitions we should empasize
in order to get a starting point accepted by all?
If we define social work as a public professional instrument
of the democratic society (as an integral part of the welfare
state) to avoid or to overcome social exclusion in specific
sectors and by specific strategies and methods, it is a part
of the society and not a place of practice or knowledge outside
or above it. Therefore, the point of view of social workers
may be important and interesting, but this is not a point
of view outside the society or above. So it is reasonable
to tackle the issue of "social work under conditions
of scarcity" in the context of the problem of social
exclusion in democratic societies".
In all periods of history, the problem of "social exclusion"
was a complicated and crucial problem for every society —
except for those societies which "included" everybody
in their totalitarian system and/or who fought a war of extermination
against those who were discriminated as not belonging to the
group which was considered to be included. There were different
definitions and assumptions concerning, what exclusion is,
and different models and strategies to cope with the problem
of social exclusion. In the pre-modern periods and societies,
for instance, the criteria used to define social exclusion
were different from those used in the highly industrialized
societies and secularizing democracies of the modern and post-modern
periods. Concerning the issue of "social work under conditions
of scarcity", there are some decicions in the history
of the dealing with the problem of social exclusion which
have become decisive for the situation today.
First of all, there was a cluster of decisions, events and
conflicts which resulted in, that the modern democracies did
not accept the concept of a state which confines itself to
the task of finishing the "bellum omnium contra omnes"
(famous dictum by Thomas Hobbes, "The war against all")
and guaranteeing the physical survival of its citizens. Furthermore,
they did not limit their self-understanding only to build-up
procedures and instruments to find out what the political
will of the people was in the wake of the slogan " of
the people, by the people and for the people", but they
assumed responsibility to open the way to the "pursuit
of happiness" of all members of the state. In other words,
the modern democracies understand themselves as a kind of
"welfare state", whatever its concretisation might
be in detail. Thus, the problem of "social exclusion" and of scarcity in dealing with it, is a problem of each democratic
nation, and as democracy is understood as an universal model
for society without reasonable alternatives, the problem of
social exclusion and the problem of scarcity are problems
of the global society as well.
The second milestone was a cluster of decisions, events and
conflicts which led to the problem of social exclusion beeing
sufficiently managed by systems of social security, by non-violent
social conflicts, by the cooperation between the main actors
of society, etc. This led to the ideology of the "Welfare
State"which was established during heavy conflicts with
the protagonists of the authoritarian state on the one side
and with the protagonists of a socialist revolution on the
other side, which was expected to resolve the problem of social
exclusion by a completely new social system containing all
elements of society.
The breakthrough of the idea of the "Welfare State"
took place in the first decades after World War II — inspite of or because of the rise of a bipolar world and the
risk of the transformation of the cold war into a nuclear
war. The rise of the welfare state was tremendous and unexpected,
and this was valid for social work too.
In comparison to the desolate situation in the other parts
of the world ? dictatorship of the communist "nomenclatura",
economy of shortages in the socialist countries, and mass
poverty in the so-called Third World — the model of
the welfare state seemed to be the best of all conceivable
and the best of all real existing models of society to establish
a reasonable balance between the old antagonist forces of
capital and labour, rulers and ruled, etc.
What kept the welfare state of this period together, was a
wide consensus concerning the fundamentals of society: no
reasonable alternative to democracy and the ideology of the
welfare state ("Zivilreligion"), efficient
functional systems of the society, which understood themselves
as promoters of the "bonum commune" ("economy
and progress have to serve humanity"), social behavior
of individuals which does not differ too much from the general
values of solidarity, social commitment, self-discipline,
and last, but not least, a political class and public institutions
which are able to "controll" centrifugal trends
due to the "egoism" ("Eigensinnigkeit")
of the functional systems of society.
Whilst the main problem concerning the development of the
emerging global society — in spite of the cold war —
seemed to be the non-violent collapse of the socialist block
and the improvement in the conditions of life of the people
in the Third World, the "Club of Rome" published
"The Limits to Growth" in 1972 and made transparent
other problems of the development of the emerging global society:
"The Limits to Growth" questionned the general assumptions
that the increasing global exploitation of non-renewable resources
and the increasing pollution of the environment could, in
one way or another, be balanced by the same model of industrialization
which caused these damages. If one accepted the conclusions
of the "Club of Rome", this meant that not only
are the "limits too growth" a fundamental but even
a system inherent problem of industrialization. In a second
step of the argumentation, it meant that all megatheories
and megapatterns of social development, which were based on
a linear progress of the "industrial complexe" —
capitalist as well as Marxist patterns — had become
principally obsolete. It bevame more and more obvious that
the problem og social exclusion was fundamenatlly a problem
of polyvalent scarcity. Some prominent examples may be sufficient
to demonstrate this.
With the increase of the differenciation of the industrial
society, particularly by the functional systems of society
(econonomy, science, etc.), and the simultaneous increase
of the erosion of traditional institutions of social relationship — of the traditional form of the family, for instance
— a "new truth" became increasingly more evident:
the idea of the welfare state was embedded in a society which
was based on paradoxes or centrifugal trends which overtaxed
the capacity of the welfare state to fulfill its collective
self-binding to guarantee the inclusion of all members on
a high level. On the one hand, "modernisation" did
not so much imply a linear progress of a better life for all
or the improvement of the concrete "conditions of life" for all (the "Lebenswelten" of Habermas),
but rather the improvement of the conditions of life of those
who were able to profit from the advantages of specific functional
systems — high technology for instance — which,
at least for a short time, could score "big points"
in the increasing global competition. On the other hand it
became more and more obvious that "modernisation"
at the level of individual self-understanding was not so much
solidarity, but emancipation and individualisation. Thus,
the problem of social exclusion slowly developed in another
semantic context. In order to be included in functional systems
of society, one has to accept being excluded from others,
and social exclusion — which means an unacceptable exclusion
in the light of the norms of the society — is often
a rational product of tragic and irrational choices or vice
versa. A brief glance at the issue of unemployment in almost
all countries would confirm this.
The sudden — peaceful — death of the German Democratic
Republic — marked by the breakdown of the Berlin wall
and seen on television by billions of people — which
at the same time marked the end of the agony of the Soviet
Block, interrupted the discussion about the crisis of the
welfare state in western democracies for a few years. The
legitimate joy about the end of the locking in of millions
of people led to a wide-spread euphoria concerning the consequences
of the "victory of the democracy" and the perspectives
for the fight against social exclusion in the wake of the
new wave of globalization.
Under these conditions it was difficult to realize that the
1.3 billion heavily excluded people who registered in the
reports of the UN in the early 1990’s and of which some
100 million were living in the industrialized countries of
the North, subsequently became now the undoubtedly socially
excluded of the universal and global democratic system, on
the empirical level as well as on the moral level. After the
collapse of the only existing political global alternative
to democracy, there was no longer a reasonable possibility
of externalizing the problem of social exclusion. So the crucial
question became whether the democracy would really be able
to fulfill the expectations it produced for at least two centuries
under the slogan: "liberté, égalité,
In other words, until the collapse of the soviet block, the
enormous social asymmetries of the globalizing world had been
widely accepted as a common task for a new period of history
(e.g. after the"end of history") and moreover as
a welcomed opportunity for (the western model of) democracy
to prove its advantages. However when the first years of euphoria
were over — the "blossoming landscapes" in
the countries of transformation" of the former block
of the "real existing socialism" did not appear
as promised and as expected — these asymmetries turned
out to be not simply problems of public budgets, available
capital or investments. On the one hand for instance, the
prophecies of the benefits of the market became louder and
louder, while on the other hand, the negative side effects,
in the wake of the growing incompetence of the governments
respectively of the political classes to controll the processes
of globalization in a reasonable way, became more and more
frightening, because the analyses of the situation produced
more uncertainty than before. Furthermore what was new, was
that even the scientific analyses became part of this uncertainty
respectively contributed to establish a general feeling to
live in an "society of risk" ("Risikogesellschaft")
In the context of our theme we could say: at least with the
new waves of globalization at the end of the 20th century
it became obvious that the problem of social exclusion had
to be analyzed and handled not only under conditions of bivalent
scarcity, but also under conditions of polyvalent scarcity,
namely under conditions of the lack of knowledge on all levels.
It is not an exaggeration to state that the above analysis
of the conditions of social work is a prominent example which
shows the emergence and the perception of polyvalent scarcity
in the fight against social exlusion. A short overview of
the history of social work in Germany may elucidate this.
perception of polyvalent scarcity in social work
A brief glance
at genesis of the modern social work shows that on the one
hand its origins and roots — "faith based"
individual help or help by small groups for people in need
— continued to be an integral part of its self-understanding.
On the other hand, however, it became more and more a public
instrument to release the democratic society from its "collective
self-binding" to avoid/overcome social exclusion for
all citizens. Thus, the transformation of the "care of
(for) the poor" into a profession controlled by scientific
theories and rational standards did not take place without
contradictions and conflicts.
The results now still very ambiguous. One example may be sufficient
to explain the beginning of this ambiguity. When, in the first
two decades of the 20th century it became necessary to organize
the education of social workers in Germany, the leading promoters
of social work, such as for example Alice Salomon, refused
to establish it at university. The reasons for this decision
were, that the education of social workers should be orientated
toward man "as an integral being" and that education
at university would devide man into scientific objects of
sociology, psycholgy, etc. The famous sociologue Max Weber
did not consider himself too good for teaching social workers,
but the protagonists of social works were too anxious to entrust
the education of future social workers to the universities.
So, at least in Germany during the first decades of the professionalization
of social work, the theorectical control of social work remained
in the frame of the ideology of the associations of social
welfare, and hence in the belief of a growing solidarity of
the democratic society. It was not exposed to scientific discussions
questioning the fundamentals of the ideology of the welfare
state, the already emerging "conseqences of modernity"
(e.g. emancipation of the "autonomous" individual)
and the change of conditions of life in the wake of industrialization.
Even in countries where the education of social workers took
place at the university from the beginning, the difference
between social work and the scientific community grew increasingly
greater. This happened in spite of the unquestionable progress
of the professionalization of the practical social work, especially
on the field of single case management ("Einzelfallhilfe").
A short-term advantage — though in the long run a contraproductive
phenomenon — might have been that in many countries
— for instance, in Germany — the reputation of
professional altruism prevented social work for a long time
from being controlled and heavily critizised by public opinion
and the social sciences. Embedded in the boom of the economy
("Wirtschaftswunder") during the1950s and
1960s of the 20th century, there was a wide-spread belief
in the development of the welfare state. However, social workers
became more and more conscious that the succes in dealing
with the problem of social exclusion was mostly on account
of social policy, whilst the "unsolved rest" of
the problems of social exclusion were attributed to social
work. In some countries social workers operated something
like a secularized "Salvation Army", while in other
countries they were the "footmen" of mighty social
associations, and in yet others they were at the bottom of
the hierarchy of the "administration" of social
exclusion — or sometimes all of these together.
So, during the tremendous boom of the welfare state and of
the professional social work carried out after World War II
in many western democracies, this ambiguity became more and
more of a problem, one which was discussed intensively in
practical social work as well as in the scientific community.
Especially, the establishment of a new type of colleges in
Europe — universities of applied social sciences ("Fachhochschulen")
— led, in many countries, to heated debates concerning
the identity of practical social work and the identity of
a "specific" scientific discipline of social work.
The intention was to release social work from the suspicion
that it would be a kind of residuum of former times that is
not absolutely necessary for the ongoing modernisation of
society, at least not on the level of a "specific"scientific
control or done by social workers who have to complete an
In particular, two issues of this discussion are relevant
to the theme of this article. The first one is the question
of whether social work is a "functional system of society",
for instance, in the sense that it does something to replace
society in doing something that is indispensable for society
but what the society is not able to do as a whole. Medicine,
science, justice, economy, etc. are such "functional
systems". If social work could be defined as a specific
functional system of society, which sees something and does
something, in representation of the society, something that
the society as a whole is not able to see and to do, then
it would be released from the traditional and often annoying
dependence on the good will of society and from the suspicion
of being a professional system of the second league.
However, the discussion made it obvious that functional systems,
in the sense of the "Systemthorie“ of Luhmann,
for instance, are "autopoietic". They may "represent"
the society in terms of specific responsibilities, but they
are not able to do this in the comprehensive sense of a "universal
reason" which is still claimed by the political system,
for instance, in the wake of the ideology of the welfare state.
Rather, they are guided by specific "codes" —
for instance, to gain money or to loose money in the economic
system or to gain power or to loose power in the functional
system of politics. So they may not necessarily fulfill their
function in the way that is intended and believed by the people.
They may see what they see and do what they do and may therefore
have a function as something indispensable, i.e. what the
society needs but is not able to do, yet it is very well possible
that they do not see and do not do what the society might
expect: the "system of justice", for instance, may
guarantee in a certain way "peace under the law".
However it does not administer law in the name of justice,
but "in the name of the people "and it is often
only able to finish a "causa" by certain
oportunistic strategies ("Kronzeugenregel").
Further this is valid for all other "functional systems
For some of them it is not very difficult to apologize for
these "blind spots", but for others such as social
work it is more difficult. For the theme of this article it
is important to know that the acceptance of this theory of
"functional systems" means that all are embedded
in a society of a "polyvalent scarcity" and that
they are reproducing polyvalent scarcity too. So the gain
of reputation for social work by the defining it as a "functional
system" may be great, but the gain of "ontologic
security" is not. A "functional system" has
to provide valuable results and valuable results have to be
atttributed to it in the public opinion, though by which means
is another question.
The discussion about a "specific" discipline of
social work in the same direction leads under similar premises.
Scientific disciplines are generally supposed to be the ultimate
form of the organisation of science. If scientific efforts
are supposed to be a honorable part of a discipline they have
become undoubtedly part of the scientific nobility. Scientific
disciplines are not created by something like an accreditation
by the scientific community. It is a long process of searching
for acknowledgment by the other disciplines before, for instance,
the "subject matters", "methods", results,
and particularly the "level of theoretical integration"
(Heckhausen) of scientific constructions lead to the establishment
of a discipline. Finally it is a question of confidence, which
the scientific community may or may not give.
Since scientific disciplines are supposed to be segmentary — that means "equal" in quality — the
problem of reputation is only resolved when this confidence
is somewhat established. There may be disciplines which may
be more relevant for the society than others, but ultimately
science is science. Thus, there is no doubt that the acknowledgement
of a "specific scientific discipline of social work"
would be a tremendous success for professional social work,
but this does not mean that by this it would gain something
like an easy partner for advocacy in the scientific community,
for instance by providing more "ontologic" security.
The transformation of practical social work in a "functional
system of society" and the transformation of its theoretical
control in a specific scientific discipline may give parity
of treatment and reputationto social work in common with other
professional sectors of society such as, for instance, health
care or education, but this implies the admission that it
works under conditions of polyvalent scarcity — as do
other actors of society.
If one begins to reflect on earlier or more recent social
work one is confronted with the fact that it is embedded in
a democratic global society, to which there is no alternative,
but which has the immanent problem to produce at the same
time social inclusion and social exclusion and of which the
real existing social asymmetries are so big and so complex
that bivalent strategies alone do not function to overcome
them: every strategy is at the same time part of the problem
too and therefore there is principally no way out of the problem
of polyvalent scarcity. Thus, the problem is how to deal with
work under conditions of scarcity: conclusions
If one accepts
this analysis, there are mainly two possibilities to react
to. The first is to take it as a confirmation of the still
wide-spread opinion that social work is essentially (individual)
case management or community building in a very narrow frame.
Further, in the wake of this a "specific" scientific
discipline of social work, for instance, would have to to
deal mainly with social excluded individuals, yet from their
conditions of life no conclusions would be possible on behalf
of the structural "phenomena" and "events"
of society which are the cause of this social exclusion. In
the wake of this argumentation, social work would be "lost"
in the complexity of society and if it has to work under conditions
of polyvalent scarcity, this has to be accepted as a kind
of fate which cannot be overcome. As polyvalent scarcity is
a problem which is inherent to democracy and as social exclusion
is due to a great extent to the "blind spots" of
all functional systems of society, particularly of those of
the "political system", it would not be reasonable
to overload social work with the problem of polyvalent scarcity:
the tremendous social asymmetries in the global society might
be ethically unacceptable, but where is an adequate approach
to social work and of a "specific" science of social
work to the huge yo-yo game of the global society run by "functional
systems" which cannot be controlled and "run" by billions of individuals which are even not known?
In the wake of this argumentation, however, social work would
not only remain in a secondary position in the sense of a
secularizised Salvation Army or of "faith-based"
groups for social help. Instead, it would fall in a new trap
of marginalization or into a backward situation: a social
work which reduces its "double mandate" —
being a part of the welfare state and at the same time defending
the legitime interests of its clients, on a professional,
but essentially personal relationship, analogous to the intervention
of psycholgy, between social worker and client on the basis
of bi-valent scarcity of the rest of the world is indeed "lost"
in the complexity of society. It would not be able to contribute
to diminish one of the main problems of the fight against
social exlusion, namely that the welfare state is obviously
not sufficiently able "to observe the effects of the
functional systems of society and to evaluate the own interventions
in a somewhat reliable manner". As social work on behalf
of the fight against individual social exclusion, marks something
like an offcial limit between the "marked space"
of the democratic society and the "unmarked space" , it is not only a professional system of social work (whatever
this might be in details) but also a crucial place of self-control
of a democratic society on behalf of its performances and
failures in the development of its social, political and cultural
development. It is the fight against individual social exclusion
is much more than a problem of solidarity, it is a problem
So, even if one could suppose with some valuable reasons that
social work actually achieves important performances in the
field of avoiding/overcoming social exclusion by its highly
developed professional standards mainly on behalf of "not
generalized individual cases", this would not be sufficient
if one accepts the undeniable fact that it is embedded in
"polyvalent scarcity" of a global society. In the
long run it would lead to a kind of autism, because it would
remain focused on its traditional problems of bivalent scarcity
If one wants to break out from this "blind alley"
it is necessary "to turn the tables" and to try
to use the polyvalent scarcity respectively the incompleteness
of knowledge, etc. which is common to all functional systems
of society and to all scientific disciplines and which is
the cause of a " general dissent of orientation"
as an opportunity and to overcome the still wide-spread belief
that it is a scourge one has to endure. Of course, the empirical
approach of social work to the problems of social exclusion
are the conditions of life of its clients respectively of
socially excluded individuals and it would be an illusionary
security to promise a strategy of a comprehensive "trickle
up" which could avoid/overcome social exclusion a more
effectively than until now.
However, if we
accept the thesis of the possibility of a positive utilization
of the general dissent of orientation as a fundamental challenge
to revise obsolete standpoints, it becomes possible that (even
or just) in a (global) society which consists of hundreds
of "self referential" systems with specific "codes" and which consists of billions of individuals each of whom
has a specific perception of the social reality, one could
see and do things in the fight against social exclusion that
one was not able to see and to do until now.
In the wake of the Schimank , for instance, we could accept
as the approach the assumption that there are"substantial
(essential) interests" or "specific interests of
functional systems" and personal interests of individuals
which could be partly changed in "reflexive interests".
"Substantial interests respectively "specific interests
of a system" are those which are accepted during the
process of the emergence of a system respectively in the biography
of an individual. "Reflexive interests" are those
which emerge or are perceived when substantial interests are
analysed in the light of the interests of other systems or
of general conditions of society.
As "social systems" and "psychic systems"
are connected or coupled in society it is, of course, possible
or even necessary that inspite of their specific ("autopoietic")
perception and inspite of their specific interests "intersystemic
consenses" may be established between different actors.
It is possible, for instance, that in the process of development
in accordance with the slogan "I want what you want"
a status quo can be changed and modified by active operations
and specific strategies. This may lead to "intersystemic
consenses" which are able to improve social integration
without falling back on trivial theories and strategies and
without running into the post-modern trap of "what ever
one likes" and "anything goes". This may lead
to the possibility to "see things which one cannot see
until now" and " to do things which one cannot do
If one does not ignore that social exclusion is a fundamental
system inherent problem of democracy, this is (absolutely)
necessary if there could be important progresses in the fight
against social exclusion in the global society which is particularly
a problem of polyvalent scarcity. There is no doubt that social
work is a profession (or a system) which is more closely connected
with the conditions of life than all other functional system
of society and with the personality of the excluded "psychic"
systems which are the victims of the "negative side effects" of development.
Some fundamental preconditions for more social integration
without giving up the fundamental intersystemic differences
are that the substantial and specific interests of the actors
are clear, that they know that they are all in the position
of polyvalent scarcity, that social exclusion is an immanent
problem for each democratic society, that all actors are included
in some way in the global society and that there exists a
possibility of a strategy for "intersystemic consenses" on behalf of the approach to problems of social exclusion
that are unknown until now.
What is an indispensable precondition too, is the decisive
will to want to learn to see things one could not see until
now and to do things one could not do until now. Polyvalent
scarcity means incompleteness and in face of the tremendous
problems of social exclusion in the global society it is necessary
not only to see the (positive) substantial interests and performances
which one has. They may be based on an illusionary security
and they may therefore block each other. The number of examples
in the field of social work and development work is huge and
they waste financial and human resources. The (mutual) acknowledgement
of incompleteness is a useful strategic starting point and
an indispensable theoretical approach to new "intersystemic
consenses", provided that it is not an alibi for resignation
and fatalism: " I want what you want, because I don't
want what you don' t want" is a appropriate entry in
the efforts to overcome the depressing status quo in many
fields of the fight against social exclusion.
One of the most crucial problems for practical social work
to get valuable partners for the the formation of "intersystemic
consenses" is the lack of plausible pragmatic explanations
for the meaning of its "double mandate". This is
valid mutatis mutandis for a "specific" scientific
discipline of social work on behalf of its acknowledgment
by other disciplines. The central problem of the "double
mandate" in the context of our argumentation is a double
one: it is not so much the question of "When should the
intervention of social work begin?" ("What is the
case?), but the question "When has the intervention to
be finished and why?".
These questions are central not only because of the defence
against the suspicion of the notorious "suspicion of
ideology" or "self fulfilling prophecy", but
especially because of the necessity for a democratic society
to know where the limits of the intervention of the welfare
state are. For some years there has been an intensive debate
about "output" or "outcome" of the intervention
of social work and about methods of evaluation and controlling,
but the horizon of this strategy is too narrow when it does
not take into account that the "substantial interests
of social work and clients are principally different and that
they have to be clarified if one wants to build up "intersystemic
consenses" in the field of avoidance and overcoming.
As these consenses are only possible via the formulation of
"reflexive interests", which go beyond the single
"cases of social work", in principle one has to
go to the "end of the flagpole". This is the system
inherent polyvalent scarcity of democratic societies and the
incompleteness of science social on behalf of dealing with
If practical social work has the courage to accept the challenge
of polyvalence and if a "specific" scientific discipline
develops a "level of theoretical integration" which
accepts the challenge of the incompleteness of scientific
knowledge, crucial "phenomena" and "events"
in the field of social exclusion appear in a new light especially
social work and a "specific" scientific discipline
i. See for instance,
the UNDP: Human Development Report 1993, New York/Oxford 1993.
ii . There
may be a third "system", which refers to those cases
of need which cannot be treated by the public and professional
social work because there are not yet professional strategies
and methods available, such as in some neuralgic sectors of
exclusion in the rich nations or in the field of the grass-roots
level in the so-called Third World, where for instance, the
public social work is often more on the side of a repressive
public administration or not present at all in rural areas
where the most excluded are living.
iii. See, for
instance, Niklas Luhmann: Inklusion und Exklusion, in: Niklas
Luhmann, Soziologische Aufklärung, Vol. 6. Die Soziologie
und der Mensch, Opladen 1995, Westdeutscher Verlag, pp. 247-264.
Martin Kronauer: Exklusion. Die Gefährdung des Sozialen
im hochentwickelten Kapitalismus Frankfurt a. M.2002, Campus.
Verlag. In my paper, "social exclusion" is understood
as a kind of "marginalized participation" of individuals
in the performances of the functional systems of society,
which is incompatible with the fundamental norms of a democratic
society (e.g. human rights).
iv . The best example is perhaps the problem of unemployment.
See, for instance, Jeremy Rifkin: The End of Work. New York
v. So the famous
(or notorious) dictum of the German chancellor Helmut Kohl
shortly after the breakdown of the Berlin wall, on behalf
of the future of Eastern Germany.
vi. Ulrich Beck: Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine andere
Moderne. Frankfurt a.M. 1986, Suhrkamp.
vii . See the concise résumé of the complicated
debate in Michael Bommes & Albert Scherr: Soziologie der
Sozialen Arbeit. Eine Einführung in Formen und Funktionen
organisierter Hilfe. Weinheim/München 2000, Juventa.
viii . Niklas Luhmann: Soziale Systeme. Grundriß einer
allgemeinen Theorie. Frankfurt a.M.1987, Suhrkamp.
ix . Heinz Heckhausen: Discipline and Interdisciplinarity.
In OECD: Problems of Teaching and Research in Universities.
Paris 1972: OECD, Centre of Education. Research and Innovation,
x . Niklas Luhmann: Politische Theorie im Wohlfahrtsstaat.
München/Wien 1981, p. 189.
xi. Helmut Stichweh: Die Weltgesellschaft. Frankfurt a.M.2000,
Suhrkamp p. 93.
xii. The NGOs
in the so-called Third World are products of a fundamental
incapacity of the state and of the democracy in these countries
in the fight against social exclusion. The social associations
in the so-called First World are ? as, for instance, in Germany
- intended partners in the frame of a social doctrine on the
basis of subsidiarity and partizipation. The increase of self-help
groups and the emergence of semi-professional NGOs in the
field of avoidance/overcoming of individual social exclusion
shows, however, that the "unmarked space", even
in the rich countries, is no more a "quantité
xiii . Uwe Schimank: Spezifische Interessenkonsense trotz
generellem Orientierungsdissens. Ein Integrationsmechanismus
polyzentrischer Gesellschaften. In: Hans-Joachim Giegel (ed):
Kommunikation und Konsens in modernen Gesellschaften. Frankfurt
a.M., 1992, Suhrkamp, pp. 236-275.
Beck, Ulrich (1986): Risikogesellschaft. Auf dem Weg in eine
andre Moderne. Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp
Bommes, Michael & Scherr, Albert (2000): Soziologie der
Sozialen Arbeit. Eine Einfürung in Formen und Funktionen
organisierter Hilfe. Weinheim/München. Juventa
Heckhausen, Heinz (1972): Discipline and Interdisciplinarity.
In: OECD: problems of Teaching and Research in Universities.
Paris, OECD, Centre of Education. Research and Innovation,
Kronauer, Martin (2002): Exclusion. Die Gefährdung des
Sozialen im hochentwickelten
Kapitalismus. Franfurt a.M.,
Luhmann, Niklas (1981): politische Theorie im Wohlfartsstaat.
Luhmann, Niklas (1987): Soziale Systeme. Grundriss einer
allgemeinen Theorie. Franfurt a.M., Suhrkamp.
Luhmann, Niklas (1995): Inklusion und Exklusion. In: Muklas
Lumann, Soziologische Aufklärung, Vol. 6. Die Soziologie
und der Mensch. Opladen, Westdeutscher Verlag, pp 247-264.
Meadows, Donella H. (ed.) (1972): The Limits to Growth. A
report for the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament
of mankind. New York, Universe Books
Rifkin, Jeremy (1995): The end of work, New York, Putnam.
Schimank, Uwe (1992): Spezifische Interessenkonsense trotz
generellem orientierungsdissens. Ein Integrationsmechanismus
polyzentrischer Gesellschaften. In: Hans-Joachim Giegel (ed.),
Kommunikation und Konsens in modernen Gesellschaften. Franfurt
Stichweh, Helmut (2000): Die Weltgesellschaft. Frankfurt
UNDP (1993): Human Development Report 1993. New York, Oxford.
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