The impact of multiculturalism on
social work practice and the welfare state reforms
Svetlana Trbojevik, Assistant Professor
elaborates the concept of multiculturalism and its impact on the social work
practice and the reforms of the welfare state. Multiculturalism as a model is
offered as a “key solution” for the problems that are related to the cultural
diversity of the society. The concept of multiculturalism is closely connected
with the practice of western democracies and with reinforcement of liberalism
in today society.
integrative processes point out the need for reorganization of the State
according to its multiethnic structure. The changes of the wider society are
under direct influence of liberalism and globalization. They redefine the
State’s response to risks experienced by its citizens and lead to significant
reforms aimed toward the reconstruction of the old architecture of the welfare
state. Consequently, the welfare state has been transformed into a protector
from risks, which imposes the need to eliminate social exclusion.
state has been created within the western European value system. Therefore, all
interventions in this sphere are threats to its existence. Fundamental social
changes impose the need to create a model of a welfare state that will be
successful in responding to the new challenges without the risk of jeopardizing
the concept of solidarity.
The changes of the western society are not only focused to
the reconstruction of social structure of the state and the welfare state, but
they penetrate and reflect in social work as a manifested form of the welfare
state. Social work as a social activity is closely connected with the
ideological changes of the wider society. Ideologically, the redefinition of
social work is a result of the postmodernism, relativism, and the concept of
affects social work in a way that imposes the concept of cultural competencies
not only to social workers but also to the institutions of social protection.
Multiculturalism leads to structural changes in the interactive relationship
between beneficiaries and social workers. The multicultural approach in social
work leads to empowerment, the education and preparation of beneficiaries, and
indirectly leads to reforms in the system of the welfare state.
words: Multiculturalism, liberalism, globalization, welfare state,
postmodernism, relativism, human diversity, cultural diversity, cultural
competencies, social work.
Global trends of
migration, growth of minorities, and increased consciences about rights are
some of the main factors that have brought multiculturalism onto the social
scene. As a term it has provoked
public and professional attention, commencing significant scientific and
political debates related to its implications on the redefinition of the
traditional concept of the State. Multiculturalism was introduced into
political discourse by the Canadian Premier Trudeau.
Initially, the main political goal of multiculturalism was to provoke the
political hegemony of Eurocentrism.
Multiculturalism represents “politics to regulate public
relationships among different cultures in a certain society, including the way
of using the language and symbols” (Dokmanovic, 2005). A number of western
countries undertook structural reforms under the influence of
multiculturalism. Nevertheless, in
some countries multiculturalism has been introduced on the level of
multicultural politics and in others it is still in the realm of rhetoric.
emphasize the close connection between multiculturalism and cultural pluralism. For some, these two
terms are synonymous, where
as for others cultural pluralism
precedes multiculturalism. According to Ibrahimi (2005) cultural pluralism
stands for equality, tolerance, and open relationship between the national
cultures, where as multiculturalism refers to cultures that already exist on
as a social and political phenomenon has its followers and its opponents. A
number of its adversaries point out the weaknesses of this concept. One of the
most significant arguments against multiculturalism is that it stands for the
respecting and supporting of cultural differences that potentially can lead to
serious obstruction of universally accepted values. Multiculturalism as a form of organization of the
State is not sustainable unless there are binding elements identified in supra
national, supra ethnical, supra cultural, supra racial, and supra religious.
The power of these elements should surpass the particular interests of one
The main goal of multiculturalism is to challenge the
domination of the white, European, Christian, and male.
History of multiculturalism
Cultural diversity is not a contemporary phenomenon. The
history of the world testifies that multiculturalism can be traced back to the
ancient history of the so called “polyglot kingdoms of the old world” such as
the empires of Alexander the Great or the Roman Empire. Furthermore, it can be
identified in the new age empires of the Austro-Hungarian and Turkish Empire.
Also, multiculturalism can be identified in twentieth century communist
federations such as the Soviet Union and Socialist Federative Republic of
Yugoslavia (SFRY). These are federations founded on the ideals of proletarians
which promotes equality among brotherly nations. But, multiculturalism in these
countries was endangered by the socialistic totalitarian monoculture (Atanoasov,
2003:79). Due to the different pattern of implementation of the socialist
ideas, the two countries had a different attitude toward the private sphere.
Although, the control in the private sphere was not exempt in both, it was more
rigidly exercised in the Soviet Union. The Russian language was imposed as an
official language in non-Russian and non-Slavic republics. On the contrary, in
SFRY we can find deeper roots of multiculturalism. The SFRY was postulated on
the notion of “brotherhood and unity”. Namely, SFRY in its federalism did not
promoted assimilation, especially not in the respect of the cultural language
characteristics of the six constitutive nations that defined the republic
borders. This statement may be accepted with reserves having in mind the fact
that at least four of these Republics will have strong arguments regarding the
language assimilation. Nevertheless, concerning the other elements of
multiculturalism, it is fair to conclude that the SFRY was an experimental
multicultural state that unfortunately had a fatal ending.
Multiculturalism is also connected to the practice of the
western democracy. Its specific political goal was targeted to provoke
political and cultural hegemony of Eurocentrism (Mahaligam, McCarthy, 2000:15).
Multiculturalism was developed and is still very closely connected to the
colonial countries that were practicing discrimination on racial bases,
segregation of the native peoples, and had assimilative attitude toward a non-
English, nonwhite population. Under the influence of the democratic processes,
these countries are challenged to revise their histories and make attempts to
reconcile the historic man induced injustice.
Multiculturalism is also present in countries that have no
dominant groups and have no exclusive right to land such as Switzerland and
Belgium (Ibrahimi, 2005). However,
multiculturalism does appear in the cases of cultures that exist on a
sub-national level such as Australia and Canada.
Liberalism as an ideological condition to multiculturalism
Liberalism as a political philosophy first appeared in the
period of Enlightment. Although, there is no consensus about the real meaning
of liberalism, preserving of peace, democratic procedures, respect of
individual freedoms, equality, promotion of economic growth, prosperity and
provision of social justices are identifies as basic functions of the liberal
state (Daskalovski, 2005:124; Kymlicka, 2007). Nevertheless, individual freedoms and
equality are considered to be the main postulates of liberal tradition. Namely,
only organized states through diligent implementation of these policies can
provide equal freedoms for its citizens. Secrecy of individual freedom is
closely connected to the neutral attitude of the State regarding the autonomous
right that individuals enjoy from constructing “the concept of good” (Daskalovski, 2005:125). In the
framework of liberal theory, the State guarantees its neutrality to the point
where the individuals are not endangering or harming others. Equality comes
from the fact that all peoples are equal and are representatives of the human
race, are homosapiens, share certain universal similarities and, therefore,
have equal value. Despite the universal identity we can distinguish particular
identity or as some authors are calling it group identity. Particular identity
refers to the status, gender, race or ethnic background. Universal identity of
humans is more fundamental than the particular. In the framework of the liberal
conception, the right of equality is based on the universal identity of persons
more so than on ethnic identity (Atanasov, 2003:19). Liberalism equally
protects civil and political rights of its citizens, regardless of their
ethnic, cultural or social group (Daskalovski, 2005:127).
The question that arises is, “Does multiculturalism
endanger some of the functions of the liberal state?” The answer to this
question depends on the ideological orientation of the theoreticians and the
degree at which they accept the idea of multiculturalism. Namely, supporters of
the liberal theory believe that liberalism offers the neutral conditions which
are crucial for the coexistence of all cultures. Kymlicka as a main supporter
of multiculturalism thinks that acceptance of multiculturalism is not
jeopardizing the values of the liberal state. According to him,
multiculturalism even strengthens some of those values such as democracy by
providing the access of non-dominant groups to the political institutions.
Multicultural regulative leads to mobilization and increased participation of
ethnic groups in politics. The degree of individual freedom is increased
through provision of larger possibilities for cultural choices that were
previously prohibited and stigmatized (Kymlicka, 2007:32).
On the other side, Brooks (2002) believes that in order to
provide the necessary conditions for cultural pluralism and equal respect for
the different cultural communities the intervention of the state is necessary.
According to Brooks, culture is no longer only a private matter, therefore,
every intervention in the area of the private contradicts to the liberal state.
In the case of multicultural practice, state intervention is necessary for the
protection and promotion of those cultural communities that historically, or
due to some other reasons have no economic, social, or political influences to
impose themselves on an equal level with the dominant cultural groups. Legal
and constitutional guaranties of multiculturalism, language protection, school
curriculum that reflects the history and culture of nondominant groups, and
affirmative program actions are among the kind of measures that are necessary
for provision of equal respect and opportunities for the members of the
different community (ibid.). Multiculturalism undermines the postulates of
freedom and equality in the aspect that is overly emphasizing the meaning of
the particular identity and undermines the universal identity. The attempt to
protect the particular identities, is closely connected to cultural values of
groups that can lead to compromises regarding the generally accepted
fundamental values. The violation of basic human rights in the name of
protection of individual particularity also means that violations of the basic
values of liberalism such as individual freedom and the right of equality may occur.
The answer to the question, “Does the multiculturalism
endanger the values of the liberal state?” Is connected in many ways to the
Multiculturalism and the reforms of the welfare state
The welfare state takes central role
in the leading ideological debates. There are a number of ideological
standpoints, influences, and factors that are connected to the phenomenon and
development of the welfare state. Through the prism of functionalist and
industrial approaches, the welfare state is considered to be an answer to the
growing socioeconomic pressures that modernized the outlook of the society and
resulted with urbanization, growth of population and economic development. The
emergence of the welfare state is connected to the logic of industrialization
and the reaction of the state to the “objective need” for healthy and secure
workforce. This view has been criticized by the Marxist viewpoint and certain
movements in the Scandinavian countries because it does not incorporate the
aspect of class conflict as a factor of development of the welfare state (O'Conor & Olsen, in Liberfied & Mau, 2007).
According to the Marxist
view, the welfare state is a result of a class conflict where different social
groups influence the distributive processes of the society with the goal to
achieve personal benefits. According to Marxists “the welfare state serves to
the interests of the capitalistic government and represents a socialistic
island in a capitalistic sea, placed and defended by the working class”
Welfare state, according
to the social democrats is a neutral mediator that contributes to minimum
social consensus and provides protection of the basic common interests. Its
function and specific role is in the redistribution of the available services
(Ruzin, 2004:115 p.). In the framework of social democracy in order to
establish universality egalitarian measures, there is a need to promote equal
opportunities. The class differences are equalized through the measures of the
Baldwin, according to
Leibfried and Mau (2007), points out that the role the middle class established
collective agreements for the protection of risks. Other authors emphasize the
role of the public services and bureaucracy related to the provision of state
protection. They indicate the role of female movements over the improvement of
child protection, health protection, housing, education and other risks
connected to children, women and families (Naumann, 2005; Hiddess, 2004).
Welfare state fundamentally transforms the relationship
between the State and its citizens as individuals and a members of social
groups. The welfare state emerges as a result of the development of State
infrastructure and administrative capacities where the common citizen becomes
more involved in public and political life and, in such a way, redefines the
traditional state. The welfare state is the key institutional mechanism for
ensuring social rights of its citizens and transferring of the forms of social
inequities (Hidess, 2004).
The welfare state depends on demographic, geopolitical,
economic, and social factors that are powerful enough to guide its focus of
intervention. The main characteristic of the contemporary society is the
continuous change of the place of living. This phenomenon surpasses the state
borders and is closely connected to the processes of globalization. The
increase of intensity of migration movements caused the weakening of the
traditional State. The nation state, with one dominate ethnic group as its
constituent, had been transformed to a community with a multicultural
character. The intensity of the structural changes in the community imposed new
politics for the regulation of public relationships between the different
cultures in a certain society. The multicultural society supposes equal
treatment, equal opportunities, and equal rights and rules for all individuals
that participate in its construction.
Globalization and liberalism redefined the state’s
response to risks that were experienced by its citizens and has lead to
significant reforms pointed toward a reconstruction of the old architecture of
the welfare state. The pressure on the welfare state, especially in the
European countries is burdened by demographic factors, namely, aging of
population and growing rate of immigration. These two phenomena are common
factors for social exclusion that impose the need for revision of governmental
policies. Defocusing of the welfare state from welfare to protection of social
risks imposed the need for elimination of social exclusion.
Social inclusive policies represent a point of
interaction for the welfare state and multicultural policies. Nevertheless,
there is a dilemma concerning social inclusion. “Do social inclusive policies
impose the mainstream values (Eurocentrism) and in such way disturb the
multicultural principle of respecting cultural specifics or they are
precondition for improvement of minorities position within society?” Some social inclusive programs might
penetrate within the cultural value system of certain ethnic groups, but the
attempt to improve the social position of traditionally excluded groups
represents recognition of a multicultural character of the State. Affirmative
policy is also an expressive form of the welfare state.
Fundamental social changes are forcing the creation of a
model of welfare state that should respond to new risks. However, this model
should not endanger the concept of solidarity. The changes that undertake
western society are not only concentrated on the reconstruction of social order
and the welfare state, they penetrate and reflect in social work as a
manifested form of the social state. Social work as a social activity is
closely connected and conditioned by ideological changes and wider social
Theoretical concepts that precede to multicultural
The practice of social work has been founded and developed
under the influence of theoretical concepts. Basically, the value component is
one of the most important elements of social work practice. The value dimension
of social work is connected to the universality of human rights, social justice
and needs, common to all individuals, as well as to the concept of diversity
that originates from the essential uniqueness of individuals and distinguishes
them from others. Therefore, there is a need to elaborate on the dichotomic
relationship of human rights and social justice on one hand and the concept of
human diversity on the other hand.
The history and
the inheritance of social protection and social work differ from all other
social sciences and helping professions because they are founded on the values
of human rights and social justice (National Association of Social Workers,
1999; Sue and McGoldrick 2006). Human rights and social justice as dominant
concepts of social work are establish on the principle of universality.
However, under the influence of postmodernism, at the end of the twentieth
century a noticeable penetration of relativism in the theory and practice of
social work imposed and demanded questioning of universally accepted values of
social work. The relativism in social work differentiates into the dominant
concept of human diversity.
Debates about human diversity can be traced to discussions
of emigrant policies, political correctness, educational practice, affirmative
actions and positive quotas, and influences on equality in social politics and
social work practice (Tricket, Roderick, & Birman, 2004). The concept of
human diversity has an immense contribution in pointing out the need to
consider cultural specifics in the treatment of individuals, groups, and
communities in social work. There is a particular assumption within this
concept regarding the nature of culture and its influence on the development
and functioning of people. The
differences between people and groups are the result of biological, cultural,
and social factors (Bornarova, 2005). This theory critiques the dominant
Western European values in social work.
positive contribution in social work, the greatest deficiency and fault of the
human diversity concept is that this concept vouches for “acceptance of
numerous truths”, but it imposes its self as the absolute truth and manifests
no tolerance toward those that negate its absolute. The relativism does not
offer a clear answer for the positioning of social workers in situations of
obvious violations of human rights or the rights of the child, that are
universally accepted as common. These particular rights reflect the nature of
men and a priory does not mean that they are imposed by the dominant white,
European, man, and Christians.
Cultural competence and multicultural social work
above mentioned processes of migration caused by globalization, instigated
structural changes in traditional beneficiaries of social work. Ethnic minority
groups often are marginalized in a society, therefore, practitioners most
commonly interact with these groups.
Education and training of practitioners often reflect broader social
values and perspectives. Nevertheless, there is a gap among aspiration
standards, professional ethics, and its practical implementation. One of the
main reasons for this gap is connected to the fact that social workers, as well
as other professionals, in the field of helping professions are not immune to
cultural inhibition. The
interaction of social workers with different cultures imposes a change in the
approach of social work practice.
and their cultural competencies are in the focus multicultural social work
practice. They are the main agent for transformation of contemporary practice
and redefinition of their attitudes, knowledge, skills, and world views which
are essential for causing positive change in the world of the beneficiaries of
services. Social work as a profession has been focused on assisting individuals
in accomplishing their full potentials. Within this holistic perspective,
social work should take into account biological, psychological, social, and
spiritual aspects of human needs, strengths, and experiences as well as
cultural dynamics and diverse functioning sets among people.
and McGoldrick (2006) differentiate universal, group, and individual dimensions
in the treatment and overcoming of problems. They point out common neglect on
the group level of identity. The group level incorporates cultural values and
believes. On one hand, culture influences the way individuals experience their
situation, and on the other hand, culture determines the reaction of others and
consequently impacts the response of social services or more precisely social
workers. Multicultural social work assumes dual focus in the treatment of
clients. Therefore, the dual perspective of social work improves understanding
of the behavior of culturally different individuals. Dual perspective enriched
with the knowledge on cultural diversity, value system, and religion enables
social workers to deliver appropriate treatment to different groups in everyday
practice. According to the dual focus in multicultural social work the accent
in the process of intervention is on the alternative client system.
identify social repression as a main source for the increase number of
cultural, ethnic, and racial unrests. They strive to eliminate repression and
advocate for protection of minority rights. Repression within social work is
identified as a lack of cultural competencies possessed both by practitioners
and social services. Multicultural social work assumes transformation of the
position of power. Social workers and their competences are in the focus of
change. Multiculturalism assumes the practitioner’s continuous questioning of prejudice
toward culturally different clients but also assumes the client’s awareness
about their prejudice regarding the practitioner’s culture.
postmodernism, and relativism influenced the development of multicultural idea.
The emerging of multiculturalism was also enabled by globalization as social
phenomenon closely connected to liberalism. Precisely, processes of
diversification of modern society leaded to revision of the concepts of nation
and national state as well as Eurocentrism. At the same time, liberalism,
globalization, and multiculturalism challenged the welfare state and
consequently transformed the practice of social work.
policy within the welfare state is closely connected to recognition of
indigenous, ethnic, emigrant, and other groups. Nevertheless, there is a need
to maintain social solidarity despite the diversification of the society.
Solidarity is a key value of western democracy crucial for the future of the
of the theory and practice of social work is and imperative of their success.
Therefore, multicultural social work has been naturally developed as a response
to a social reality. The challenge of contemporary social work practice resides
in maintaining the natural balance of relationships within one group without
attempts for cultural assimilation and conformism.
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