Social Insecurity and Social Exclusion: Old and new challenges for Social Policy and Social Work

Juha Hämäläinen, PhD (SocSc), Lic Education, Professor
University of Kuopio
Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy
Horst Sing, PhD (PolSc), Professor emeritus
University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt

Preliminary remarks

In this article, the concepts of social security and social insecurity are discussed from the point of view of the relationship between a person and their society. The complexity of these concepts is indicated, and how to measure them is considered in terms of objectivity–subjectivity dialectics. The claim is made that the aim of social policies and social work is to contribute to social security as well as to resist social exclusion, and therefore, measuring social insecurity is considered as important to this. Social work is a professional system of the welfare state by which a democratic system might in some way see inside what it is doing in the struggle against social exclusion. By accepting this understanding of social work and using the strategy of ‘best practice’ and ‘best theories’ we might find more opportunities for social security in the future than we suppose in the actual period of insecurity. However, this will be another kind of security than the obsolete security of former days.


Since the tremendous waves of globalization generated following the collapse of the Eastern Block, the issue of social insecurity and social exclusion has become more and more a fundamental subject of the discussion about the future of the welfare state. Whilst until the 1980s the model of the welfare state had been analysed – in spite of some critical arguments from the Marxist side – under the ‘erkenntnisleitendes Interesse’ (Habermas) that there would be a more or less linear development towards a society without heavy social insecurity exclusion – firstly in the rich countries of the so-called First World, subsequently, in the so-called Third World, and after the collapse took place social policy and social work have been more and more discussed under the aspect of the Verabschiedung (parting) of the countries of the ‘real existing socialism’ in the so-called Second World, towards the end of the century a widespread disillusionment on behalf of the performances of this model took from utopia of the welfare state’ i.e.. from the aspect of the fundamental independence of social insecurity and social exclusion.


The farewell from the ‘Utopia of the welfare state’ does not only mean – as it is still often enough assumed – a farewell from sufficient financial inputs into the budgets of the welfare state. It takes place especially under the conditions of a ‘general dissent of orientation’ (Schimank 1992), which includes the problem that the welfare state – including the accompanying scientific disciplines – seems no more able to control interventions sufficiently on a sophisticated theoretical level: the insecurity does not only concern the individuals affected by social exclusion, but also the institutions which have the task to avoid, to overcome, and to abolish social exclusion (Stichweh 2000).


The following arguments will deal with these problems. They are the revised versions of two papers presented during the course ‘Social Work and Social Policies – Social Security facing Insecurity’, at the Inter University Centre (IUC), Dubrovnik (Croatia), 20–26 June 2004. Starting with two different epistemological approaches, we attempt to show that it is possible to react in the wake of different starting points in this new situation.


In the first part, and with a more ‘ontologic’ approach, Juha Hämäläinen tries to make transparent – the ‘subjectivity’ of the individuals concerned by social exclusion on the one side, and ‘objectivity’ of the professional interventions of the welfare state on the other side – the tremendous increase of social insecurity during the last two decades and its relevance for social policy and social work. In the second part, Horst Sing tries to do the same, with an approach in the wake of Niklas Luhmann, that is to say under the aspect of a ‘general dissent of orientation’ which cannot be reversed. In the third part, both authors attempt to give reasons for the necessity and for the possibility to elaborate new strategies in social policy, as well as in social work.


Part I: Social Policy and Social Work in the system of social security resisting social insecurity and social exclusion (Juha Hämäläinen)

Starting with Objectivity- Subjectivity Dialects

The concepts of social security and social insecurity are related terms, referring to the relationship between society and its individual members. In this relationship, from the point of view of social security, objectivity is expressed by the society, while the individual represents subjectivity. Social security manifests itself in the resulting tension between the two. The same also applies to social insecurity, although we cannot presume that social security and social insecurity are necessarily contiguous and form a common dimension.


On the one hand, social security is the objective circumstances of the society, while on the other it indicates the subjective experiences of individuals. This can be problematic with regard to both theory construction and the measuring of social security. A similar ambiguity can be found with some other concepts dealing with the relationship between the individual and society. For example, the concept of social welfare can be approached from the perspective of objective and subjective criteria (e.g. Allardt 1995; Kainulainen 1998). Theoretically, the structures and resources of society face the individual experiences and needs of people.


Several indicators are needed to measure social security, irrespective of whether its objective or subjective side is being emphasized. Indicators that express the society’s objective structures can be used, or conversely, the researcher may choose to operate with the individuals’ subjective feelings, experiences and ideas. People’s mental images of their social conditions do not always correspond to their living circumstances, with the result that the task of measuring social security becomes a somewhat complicated one.


Not only is measuring social insecurity an important factor in social work practice, it is also important in social political planning. Social security is one of the key concepts in the theory of social policy and social work. Social policies are aimed at the promotion of social security, and the alleviation of social insecurity in people’s everyday lives The mission of social work can be defined in the same terms.


The concepts of social security and social insecurity

The issue of measuring social welfare is one of the central themes in the history of social policy research. Controversy primarily concerns the objective and subjective criteria in operational definitions of social welfare, and the importance of taking both aspects into consideration is often emphasized (e.g. Kainulainen 1998, 83–84). There is a far-reaching tradition of research around the concept of social welfare in academic social policy, in which social welfare is connected to various operational definitions influenced by different concepts of man (e.g. Riihinen 1983, 74–83). There is no such tradition concerning the concepts of social security and social insecurity.1


In general, the concepts of security and insecurity refer either to the external state of things, the individual experience, or the relationship between the two. Security is seen as something intrinsically human, in terms of a need, a value and a human right. It is a multidimensional concept dealing with different economic, social and political systems, ideologies and theories (Niemelä et al. 1997, 13–15). In the discussion about social security and social insecurity, it is also important to clarify the meaning of the term ‘social’.


The term ‘social’ refers to society or community life, or to the idea of solidarity. Thus, one may ask what makes security and insecurity ‘social’? One general answer might be that social security is generated by society or community in the sense of solidarity, and that social insecurity is the result of insufficient care, which expresses itself in anxiousness and uncertainty. For example, ‘age’ is not a risk if elderly people are well cared for in the society, but advanced years can bring a sense of social insecurity if those in question cannot expect to be guaranteed support in their declining years by society.


There is good reason for defining social insecurity together with the concept of social problems; hence all the insecurity people experience in their life cannot be placed under the heading of social insecurity, only that which results from social problems. For example, there are many regions troubled by war and terror where life is extremely insecure, yet this insecurity is not directly connected with social problems and thus will not be defined as insecurity with the attribute ‘social’. Social insecurity is met with through unemployment, poverty, criminality, lack of social care, and other social problems.


It was not particularly dangerous to walk in Moscow’s Central Park at midnight in the days of the former Soviet Union, though there were other serious risks concerning people’s everyday life and which caused insecurity. It is difficult to say which of these risks can be called ‘social’. Life in Russia has changed dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The rapid increase of individual freedom has resulted in a huge increase in instability and insecurity. Individual freedom and social insecurity are inevitably intertwined, and can only be balanced with social policies representing social security and trust in people’s everyday lives.


The concept of security is a complex and multifaceted one. On the basis of systematic analysis, its content has been clarified in the form of four main dimensions and several levels (Figure 1).



Figure 1. Logical framework of the concept of security (Niemelä et al. 1997, 131).


This logical analysis reveals the multifaceted nature of social security. It cannot be reduced to a one-dimensional scheme.


Social insecurity in terms of a person’s experience and society’s characteristics

In a comparative study on the insecurity of young people in Finland and Russia, the Finnish adolescents more often appeared to have mental images concerning insecurity in connection with various health-related, social and environmental problems (Hämäläinen et al. 1997). This result is inconsistent with knowledge about the objective life conditions in both countries. It shows that people’s experiences of security and insecurity do not follow circumstances.


In his novel Fateless, the Hungarian Nobel Prize novelist, Imre Kertész, describes his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp as a youth, and notes the adaptation liability of human nature. In the extreme inhuman conditions of the concentration camp, the human mind was penetrated by numbness. The young boy locked himself into his world and the surrounding brutality was unable to touch his senses. If considered objectively, his conditions were utterly threatened, yet from a subjective point of view he felt untroubled and calm.


In describing social insecurity in terms of the relationship between the individual and the society, it is necessary to specify the concepts of person and society (Figure 2).



Figure 2. Social insecurity as the relationship between the individual and the society.


Social security is based on various combinations of four elements. On the personal side, social insecurity is a matter of incompetence and lack of trust; from the society side, social incompetence is connected with social risks and inadequate social protection against them. People’s expectations of social protection generated by society do not only apply to their personal needs regarding social risks but also to the needs of others for whom they are responsible, especially their family members. Different social risks threaten people’s lives, health and self-fulfilment, i.e. their quality of life in terms of adequate needs satisfaction.


What is social insecurity as an individual’s subjective experience? As a psychological statement it will be operationalized in terms of ‘fears, psychosomatic symptoms and anxiety’ (Niemelä et al. 1997, 13) in relation to the societal reality. It is essential to realise that the actual issue is how a certain person thinks and feels about their society, rather than concentrating on the nature of the society. However, the subjective experience refers to risks and instabilities dominating the society and influencing people’s everyday life. On the one hand, it concerns the needs of a person; on the other hand, it concerns that person’s impression of the value of social security in their society.


While the amount of risk varies from society to society, an increase in risks does not automatically increase subjective insecurity. As an objective feature of the society, social security refers primarily to the mechanisms of social support and protection in the society. The question is how sure can people be that they will be taken care of by society in their time of need? This leads us to social policies in defining and measuring social security.


The late modern society is characterized by complexity and risks (e.g. Beck). One dimension of social insecurity is related to the inability of people to cope with the requirements of the time. In addition to social insurances and protection against harm and risk, another key question of social policies and social work is how to help people to get out of the instability and risks in everyday life produced by society. This draws attention to activities through which people’s social capacities can be strengthened. Thus, as well as social political action, social security can also be generated through social pedagogical means.


Social work is a special professional instrument for bringing social security into people’s everyday lives. It does not only deal with people’s experiences but also with the objective conditions which shape people’s everyday lives, livelihood and welfare. Thus, social work deals with information on people’s subjective needs, and the objective opportunities offered by the society’s welfare system. This provides a good case for emphasising the problematic nature of measuring social insecurity in social work theory and practice.


Measuring social insecurity in different welfare regimes

From the social political point of view, the critical essenceof subjective social security concerns the expectations a person has towards society versus the different kinds of risks in his or her personal life. A well-developed social political infrastructure allows people to trust in receiving social support and protection when needed. The effects of this are twofold; it promotes the feeling of social security, while similarly increasing people’s expectations of social aid.


The role of social policies is to intermediate between subjective expectations and objective living conditions. In effect, both subjective social security and objective living conditions are significantly influenced by the social political infrastructure. There are two main social political instruments for providing social security, namely social insurance and welfare services. The nature of these varies significantly in different welfare regimes, with regard to amount and quality. Actually, social meanings vary in different welfare regimes, which make it difficult to define and measure objectively concepts such as welfare, quality of life, and social security (e.g. Walzer 1995).


Social policies against different risks in terms of a welfare state are developed only in industrialised and well-developed countries. A welfare state cannot come into existence without the appropriate economic and political conditions (e.g. Hämäläinen 1996), and most countries lack these presuppositions. In such underdeveloped countries, people do not have particular expectations of institutionalised social security, i.e. social security provided by the state or corporations. These expectations (i.e. to obtain social protection and care) only exist if there are promises to guarantee people’s security against different risks.


Welfare systems differ from each other both economically and ideologically. Generally, there are three models of welfare state, each expressing different views about the institutional forms of social security: the liberal model, emphasising the role of private insurance and services; the corporative model, highlighting the role of the civil society, especially in the form of corporations and associations; and the social-democratic model, emphasising the role of the state and municipalities (e.g. Esping-Andersen 1996). In these models, the relationship between individuals and society is formed in different ways. This shapes people’s expectations as well as their experiences of social security and insecurity.


Social security is most valued in the Nordic welfare system in comparison with other welfare regimes. In the Nordic countries, people’s expectations regarding social security are higher than in other countries, and the system of social protection against social risks is extensive. People are insured by the state in case of unemployment, illness and other risks, and they have the possibility to use the system of welfare services when needed. Thus, because of these social political arrangements, social risks cannot cause maximal harm, and people can rely on being helped for different social problems. Social work is one instrument for generating social security.


Social insecurity can be measured by asking for people’s subjective experiences and mental images or by using objective indicators. Simple questions can be used in measuring subjective welfare (e.g. Kainulainen 1998, 86–88), such as How often …?, How much …?, How sufficient …? However, using these questions it is possible to produce only a one-sided picture of the social conditions. There are two different areas of social insecurity in a person’s everyday life regarding the concept of life management: different social risks, threats and dangers (external living conditions) and coping with them (internal state of affairs) (e.g. Niemelä et al. 1997, 19). Both factors should be taken into consideration in measuring people’s subjective experiences of social insecurity.


The other side of social insecurity must be indicated by objective quantities. These include not only the rates of employment, criminality, diseases, and other problems but also variables of social care and protection offered by society. Illness can be a significant cause of social insecurity if a person cannot be sure of receiving adequate treatment, and the promise of proper social support for their family. Thus, social insurance and the system of welfare services play an important role in measuring social insecurity with objective indicators.


It is somewhat difficult to compare welfare regimes in terms of social insecurity. The social policies and social welfare systems generate social security through very different mechanisms. Societies vary significantly with regard to their development stage, financial resources, living conditions, and forms of everyday life. Thus, the amount of social insecurity is relative, depending on a complex set of several complicated factors. However, there is an important question regarding the measurement of the objective side of social insecurity in different societies, and this concerns the value of social security in the country’s social policies and welfare systems, and in social work as well.


The role of social work as a profession and institution is dissimilar in different welfare regimes (e.g. Lorenz 1991, 15–39; Niemelä & Hämäläinen 2001, 5–8). One of the key distinguishing factors is the difference between societies in paying attention to social security. However, there is good reason for saying that the promotion of social security is social work’s universal aim. The social policies of some societies provide better opportunities for this than others, i.e. through the forms of social insurance and the system of welfare services.


Part II Social Policy and Social Work under the conditions of a ‘general dissent of orientation’ (Horst Sing)

Social policy and social work – what makes a difference?

Since the beginning of this century at least all modern societies and all Western countries have been challenged by processes and phenomena of disintegration of the traditional welfare state. For social workers, for people committed in social policy, and for those people who are affected by social exclusion – or who are afraid that they will be affected some day – one of the most frightening symptoms or phenomena of this process of disintegration are the emerging cracks in the topography of almost all highly developed ‘classical welfare states’. What has kept this model of a democratic society together has been a system of subsidiarity of all important actors of a nation to avoid/overcome social exclusion within the nation and to give to every member of the nation, by reasonable structures of the society, the possibility to realize their individual ‘pursuit of happiness’.


The frame of the development of this model was mainly identical with the nationstate, but with the perception of the mass poverty in the so-called Third World since the 1950s an expansion took place: beyond the borders of the nation, ‘foreign aid’ should facilitate the ‘underdeveloped’ or ‘not sufficiently developed countries’ to build up similar welfare systems little by little. In the wake of the (Western) norms of human rights and the ‘Enlightenment’, a Global Society – a One World – with a Global Social Policy should be established.


One of the closest links between the different actors of a nation in the fight against social exclusion has been the link between social policy and social work. In a sense, both have represented the hard core or the nucleus of the classical welfare state: social policy has been important as a close connecting link to the decision makers in the political institutions, to the systems of social security, and to the professional social work – and social work is indispensable as the special link between the actors of the welfare state and the individuals affected by social exclusion. Together, social policy, and the systems of social security and social work represent the limits of the welfare state between the ‘marked space’ and the ‘unmarked space’ of a society in a democratic society’s fight against social exclusion.


If we take the relevance of this linkage in account we have to pay attention to some aspects of the disintegration of the classical welfare state which have not been examined so much until now but which are nevertheless crucial. It is necessary to try to explain why, under certain circumstances, the perception of these differences leads to the discovery of new aspects of the understanding of some actual processes in the field of social exclusion and social work. There are new risks and some new opportunities for the further development of social work closely connected with social political issues and the social security system dealing with objective and subjective aspects of social insecurity.


Until some years ago there might been many more important issues concerning the understanding of social work than the question of whether it is useful or even necessary to distinguish between social work and social policy. For instance, it was and it is still common opinion – in spite of the increase of faith-based social help in some Western countries and the increase of the NGOs in the so-called Third World – that professional social work is an integral part of the ‘welfare state’ as well as social policy, which may provide sufficient inputs for the social security systems so that social work – at the end of the flagpole of the welfare state – would not be overtaxed by problems of social exclusion.


So, social work and social policy would be linked by a special relationship and if there are differences, these would be only differences on the level of division of labour in the solidarity community of the welfare state: after the first and general systems of social security against social exclusion in the main fields of health, unemployment, retirement, etc., social work is a second system of providing social security in ‘not generalized cases’. Social policy is the specific part of a democratic system to do for them by specific and direct intervention and measurements what is possible and what is necessary from the side of the political system.


Right away it becomes apparent that the differences between social work and social policy are not isolated, but embedded in other fields of difference. Providing social security in ‘not generalized cases’ means for instance – at least in highly developed societies – that social work is more than a narrow-minded professional instrument of the welfare state to avoid/overcome individual social exclusion (Verschuldung). This is not only a consequence of the religious roots of social work but is also a consequence of the development of the self-understanding of the modern welfare-state: social work is a part of the ‘collective self-binding’ of the modern democratic society to provide as good as possible basic conditions for the political- and therefore social inclusion of all members of a nation, and thus far it may be concerned with all aspects of the ‘complex individual’, at least with those individuals who are socially excluded individuals. The inputs from social policy to social work may not be sufficient to cover all its tasks and furthermore, social work may not be able to ‘resolve’ the problems of the excluded individuals in contradiction because there are not only economic problems of scarcity.


On the other hand, social policy is not an autonomous, self-sufficient part of the political system that decides independently over the resources available. Budgets might be high and the relevance in the public meaning considerable (especially in times of election campaigns) but despite this relevance and despite being embedded in the political discussions and conflicts it may become dependent on other factors and aims than those of the welfare state. Further, as social policy budgets are in some way the results of secondary distribution, they are generally embedded in problems of choices between conflicting rights and duties which concern almost all actors of a nation.


Based on the ideology of the welfare state and on the experiences made during the course of its history ‘solidarity’ was the cement which enabled social work and social policy to avoid that differences in the huge network of the institutions of the systems of social security did not – until some years ago – break the frame of their understanding as differences which are due to a necessary division of labour. ‘Solidarity’ was the auxiliary saint, or to use a more secular expression, it was the ‘joker for missing rational arguments’ when ‘Social Security’ felt threatened.


Social work as a functional system of the modern welfare state

It is still very common – in an increasing number of cases – that differences in the topography of the welfare state become obvious, and the complaints on a decreasing solidarity and the appeals to restore it are increasing. It seems still a widespread opinion – at least among representatives from social work and social policy – that the welfare state is fundamentally a solidarity community. Therefore the political system has to establish – or to restore – a very close identity with such a model of society and that the nucleus of social policy, social security systems and social work should stand for realization of solidarity. The question is, however, whether these suppositions are contra-productive because they suggest a false security, on different levels.


This might be clarified using two examples: with the first example, to explain that if social work is a specific professional system it is based on a specific rationality, and with the second example, to illustrate that – although one might describe social policy as specific part of policy to provide public interventions to avoid/overcome social exclusion – social policy is not directly focused on social inclusion but on the codes of policy – and this is not the same. In the wake of these arguments, I will show that the difference between social work and social policy is a system-immanent phenomenon of modern democratic societies. This became evident when the success of the welfare state was at its peak.


The religious inheritance and the ethical respectively pedagogic aspects of social work, might be two of the reasons that in many countries it is still a secondary system after the first systems of social security. An overview of the history of the welfare state, however, shows that this position is not a backward position – at least, if one takes seriously its embedding in the logic of the self-understanding of modern democracy.


At the beginning of the long path to this self-understanding was the decision during the first steps of ‘nation building’ of the modern democracy not to be content with the model of the state that was developed by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes imposed fulfilling the wish of people in order to escape from the miserable situation of war and to establish a situation of physical security, in order to be able to enjoy the fruits of their work. Moreover, Locke and Montesquieu connected the ‘monopoly’ of the modern ‘Leviathan’ and the ‘Volonté générale’ of the sovereign people principally to the normativity of a ‘general reason’ and natural rights which are common to all human beings. In other words, they connected the development of the basic norms of democracy with the development of the process of ‘Enlightenment’.


Very roughly speaking, we could say: the rise of the modern democracy is closely connected with the establishment of social security systems including professional social work. In the light of the development of ‘Enlightenment’, the hard core value of a democratic society became as principle, according to which, all members of a nation had to be included in society. ‘Normal’ exclusion – necessary and caused by the division of labour, the different social roles of individuals and the different functional systems of society – should not lead to social exclusion. It should not lead to a kind of exclusion which avoids that the so-excluded person is no more able to participate in a due manner of the performances of these functional systems of society. Especially during the first three decades after World War II, in many countries and regions of the so-called First World the level of claims, requirements, and needs concerning the avoidance or overcoming of social exclusion became increasingly higher.


During this period of development of the ‘welfare state’, a vague uneasy feeling of the difference between social policy and social work emerged, especially on the side of social work – and especially in Germany, though in some other countries too. Social workers became more and more conscious that the success in dealing with the problem of social exclusion was mostly on account of the social policy, whilst the ‘unsolved rest’ of the problems of social exclusion was accounted to social work. It remained, in some countries, something akin to a secularized ‘Salvation Army’, in other countries, the ‘footmen’ of mighty social associations, and in other countries still, the bottom of the hierarchy of the ‘administration’ of social exclusion – or all this together.


This so-called ‘suspicion of ideology’ became increasingly an essential problem of the self-understanding of social work. If it did not want to continue to live with the stigmatization of the suspicions of ideology it had to make clear what would make its difference to other functional systems or professional systems of society. Thus it became necessary to find fundamentals for a scientific control of social work which would be so specific that it would deal with the ‘subject matters’ of social work ‘independently’ from other scientific disciplines.


The definition of social work as a specific functional system of society and the establishment of a specific scientific discipline of social work imply logically that the difference between social work and social policy is fundamental: they see and they do things in a different way. This might still happen to a certain degree within the subsidiarity and the solidarity of the welfare state. There will be other dimensions, if we take into account that differences are system-immanent phenomena of the acquirement of knowledge and of democratic societies.


Social exclusion in the process of globalization challenging social work

The euphoria in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet system and the Eastern Block for some years concealed the emerging doubts on behalf of the unity of the welfare state which had been articulated in the course of the discussion about function and scientific control of social work. Now it began to take place in another field and on another level: with the collapse of the Eastern Block, the Western model of democracy might have become the model for the whole world but in the understanding of the ideology of the Western welfare state the socially excluded of the ‘one world’ amounted some 1.3 billion people and more than 100 million in Europe – a huge challenge. What should have been eye-opening or even frightening was that the logic consequences of the connection between democracy and the norms of ‘Enlightenment’ would have been to comprehend that the excluded of the past and of the actual (and future) period of globalization as well had now become the excluded of the modern democracy as a whole, in the field of theory as well as in the field of practice.


Instead of improving theory and practice in the fight against social exclusion in the process of globalization, one of the main consequences is not a fundamental reflection on the problem of social exclusion in a global society based on differences but the decision in almost all welfare states to become more and more ‘market states’. Under the name of ‘robust democracy’ and with reference to the ‘challenges of globalization’ the ‘global players’ try to come along with problems of the systems of social security by separating some or most of them from the welfare state. They give the problems of social exclusion back to the people concerned with social exclusion.


So roughly speaking, we could say that the actual phenomena and events of the emergence of the difference between social work and social policy do not only represent an increasing division of labour or an increasing differentiation of functions which might not question the fundamentals of the classical welfare state. Instead, social work seems to become more and more a professional system with an autonomous scientific control, and social policy seems to become more and more dependent from an understanding of policy which is dominated by the code ‘to get political power/to lose political power’ and which therefore becomes more and more removed from its former links to the norms of ‘Enlightenment’ and ‘solidarity’.


The self-understanding of the political classes might still be very much articulated in terms of the ideological inheritance of the welfare state, yet in case of choices between conflicting rights and duties, usually the code will dominate the hierarchy of the decisions to be made. So, for instance, social work, social policy, and policy are at the same time actors and symptoms of processes of globalization and deregulation which make it impossible to believe in a linear process of the expansion and improvement of the national classical welfare state to a global social policy in the service of the realization of the norms of the Enlightenment. It is, at its best, a painful search of many different groups in a ‘dissent of general orientation’, and the differences are sometimes so deep that they obstruct themselves or revert to the times before the modernization of the fight against social exclusion – just with the argument of defending the norms of Enlightenment. On the whole, sometimes it seems that this field of politics resembles a shunting yard, where theories, strategies, objects, and inputs are pushed here and there in accordance with an ‘organized chaos’, and of which nobody seems to be able to identify the principles of organization.


If one assumes the ‘collective self-binding’ of the democratic state to avoid/overcome social exclusion is still as valid, one has at least to try to find theories or arguments to ‘understand’ this kind of development. On behalf of professional social work, for instance, it is useful to know that it marks – if we take these problems really seriously – the end of the real existing ‘marked space’ of the democratic society to avoid overcoming social exclusion not only in a more general frame but also even in ‘not generalized’ cases.


If we accept the thesis that the core values of a democratic society implies, that none of the citizens should be socially excluded, this would mean that the professional social work determines the limits of the democratic state on behalf of its ‘collective self-binding’ to avoid/overcome social exclusion. Social work is not a ‘secondary system’ in the sense of simply ‘secondary’ but the ultimate touchstone for the ‘limits’ of the democratic society on behalf of its faculty to come along with the problem. If we are making differences between social work and social policy, one of the next questions to be answered should be: What is the third system or the fourth system if it is evident that there are some 1.3. billion people in the global society who are socially excluded – who ‘have no voice’ to articulate their basic needs?


There is a general feeling of uneasiness concerning a general dissent of orientation in the field of the fight against social exclusion but the challenges are so diverse that new questions and new answers are necessary.


Dimensions of difference between social policy and social work

Instead of giving a long report on the different propositions made and explanations given in connection with this issue it seems appropriate to refer to an old Arab parable which has already been used by Heinz von Foerster, Niklas Luhmann (1981, 189), Dirk Baecker, and others as an approach to discussing similar issues (e.g. Baecker 2002, 129–169), as follows.


A prosperous Bedouin had settled his estate consisting of twelve camels for his three sons in the following manner: the eldest should get half the number of the camels, the second a quarter and the youngest only a sixth. For our purpose, it is not necessary to discuss the question of whether the will of the father was just or fair. Instead, we suppose it was. For our purpose another part of the parable is relevant: when the father died, there were only eleven camels to share out. The eldest son claimed six camels as the half of the heritage and the others complained. They went to the judge and claimed justice. After having given the matter considerable thought, the judge made an offer and said: I’ll put at your disposal one of my camels. Give it back to me – if it is the will of Allah – as soon as possible. Thus, the sharing out was not difficult: the eldest son received six camels, the second son received three, and the third son received two. Thus too, the letter of the testament was fulfilled and each son had got his share: namely, the eldest received half, the second one-quarter, and the third one-sixth of the heritage.


However, there remained the problem of the camel which the judge had given to them for the purpose of completing the legal procedure of realizing the regulations of the testament: He had given it to them with the remark to give it back to him ‘if it would be the will of Allah’, as soon as possible.


It is not necessary for our purpose to discuss the question of how the three sons interpreted the will of Allah and if or when they gave the twelfth camel back to the judge, or under what circumstances. In any case, we suppose that the judge wanted to have his camel back and that he referred to a third authority, to the will of Allah. Furthermore, we suppose that the three sons would not have found – even if they had wanted to fulfil the will of Allah – the same constellation as that at the moment in time when their father had twelve camels to share out. Also, since there is no indication of the possibility of a specific message on the part of Allah, there was only the hope of a kind of reappearance of a similar constellation.


Returning to the arguments, the following transfer from the parable to the issue of our theme is used. The welfare state was at the peak of its development during the 1960s or 1970s and thus might be accepted as the point of departure for a comparison: If we put aside the critique of the different Marxist positions , the vast majority of the population of the Western democracies shared the opinion, that all in all – at least in comparison with other models of society – this model of the Western welfare state would be able to provide something akin to just opportunities for the greatest possible number of the members of a nation. The famous German sociology called this society the ‘nivellierte Mittelstandgesellschaft’.


In our comparison, this ‘nivellierte Mittelstandgesellschaft’ of the 1960s and the 1970s is similar to the regulations of the testament in the parable: the inheritance of the classical welfare state – the material as well as the theoretical ‘goods’ – seemed to be sufficiently balanced or at least capable of further development in this sense. However, similar to the parable, and as shown above, the further development of the welfare state was not the same as expected. Unlike the parable, while it is true that the inheritance as a whole did not diminish, the balance did become out of order – at least, it came to be outside the order of the ideology of the welfare state.


So, if we take the situation at the beginning of the 21st century we can compare it with the situation when the father in the parable died: Instead of 12, there were 11 camels – or 13 or more – though it is not possible to divide them in a logical way: In spite of the increase of the CNP and in spite of (or because of) the increase of options, there are winners or losers and they are not willing or able to find a consensus: emancipation and autonomy of individuals, specific rationalities of the functional systems of society, complicated and non-transparent causalities, etc. are against a logically balanced consensus. Further, at least in the understanding of the ideology of the welfare state the sharing out of the performances and goods of the society is to a high degree asymmetric. Also, it is not only a problem of asymmetry from an academic point of view but for many people it is existential: 1.3 billion in the world, 100 million in the so-called First World are excluded.


Without doubt, this situation is more complicated than the situation in the parable, as there are not only three individuals who are involved but millions. Furthermore, there is more than one judge, for the evident reason that the welfare state, the social policy or even the political system does not have the same legal power or authority as the judge in the parable. If we maintain, however, the assumption that the ‘collective self-binding’ of democracy to avoid/overcome social exclusion is on the whole still valid – and the model of the welfare state is not entirely an error of the development of democracy – there is an analogy to the parable which might be instructive for our issue: if the democratic society does not want to give back the mandate to be responsible for the general condition of life of the people, it has to do the same as the judge of the parable. He accepted the mandate to settle the procedure of the testament. He did not give back the mandate, although he knew that it was not possible to find a solution – except by cheating. So the main question in the general dissent of orientation, on behalf of the issue of the transformation of the welfare state, related to security and insecurity in the struggle against social exclusion, in my opinion, is whether there is a possibility of cheating as a starting point to manage the problem of the general dissent of orientation to use it for a new security with the obvious general insecurity. In other words: What is our twelfth camel?


Following the discussion of ‘insecurity/security’ from the point of view of social exclusion, there is – in theory and practice – no common absolute fundamental base for a common approach except this that there is none. Instead of the (probably) vain search for a common ontological base, we could take for a common starting point in an analogy to the famous bet of Blaise Pascal, according to which we admit that we are obliged to introduce a cheating strategy, adopting ‘making differences’. This does not mean that it would not be important what we know or what we use as theoretical control. Nor does this mean that anything goes, that anything is possible or that anything is good/bad. Rather, this means that the end of the flagpole is in so far in the same condition as they are in the situation of incompleteness. What makes the difference between social policy and social work means, for instance, what this incompleteness consists of and how the actors handle this problem. Thus, knowledge based on measuring social insecurity, both from the point of view of objectivity and subjectivity, becomes more and more important in fighting against social exclusion in both social policy and social work.


Consequences for social work

Although there may be different starting points to approach and to illustrate the problem of difference for social work, it is useful for our arguments, to make a ‘re-entry’ with some fundamental issues. For instance, we should take into account that a democratic society is a society which is based on the acceptance of being incomplete – contrary to totalitarian societies which pretend to be complete or to be at least on a direct right way to completeness. So, incompleteness on behalf of the problem of social exclusion is an immanent problem of democracy, and only a society which admits incompleteness, and in a certain sense accepts incompleteness, needs social work and a scientific theoretical control of social work and not a control by the representatives of a one-dimensional ideology.


One problem is that science itself is ‘autologic’ and therefore it is not able to avoid or to remove incompleteness at one attempt but only step-by-step and only by ‘new scientific truth’, which is not the same as ‘absolute truth’. The problem is how one becomes able to deal with this incompleteness in a manner which is the best one in comparison to others or to the status quo: not only ‘best practice’ but also ‘best theories’ are required.


Returning to the question of what makes the difference between social work and social policy, including their scientific control, we could state for instance that we can understand social work as the attempt of democratic societies to manage their immanent problem of incompleteness to avoid/overcome social exclusion in ‘not generalized individual cases’ by professional measures. In other words, social work marks the ‘marked space’ of the democratic society on behalf of the avoidance/overcoming of social exclusion in ‘not generalized individual cases’.


If we postulate a ‘specific’ scientific discipline of social work to provide the’ best theories’ for it, we could define this description as the subject matter (Heckhausen 1987) of a ‘specific’ scientific discipline of social work: it is embedded in this context of a democratic society and therefore in the context of a theoretical scientific control which has hold of incompleteness too. At first glance, this might intensify the general dissent of orientation respectively the general feeling of insecurity in the field of avoidance/overcoming social exclusion.


It might be explained why this is not the logical consequence of a theoretical scientific control of social work ‘based on the strategy of making differences’ and that, on the contrary, this might contribute to abolish at least a part of the false security which is the real insecurity; since no system, no theory and no practice is complete, the admittance of incompleteness is a bridge which could connect all of them involved in the field of social exclusion.


This thesis might be considered with two questions which are fundamental for the actual debate on the welfare state. The first one is the question of ‘if the welfare state is able to observe the effects of the interventions of the functional systems of society and if it is able to evaluate somewhat solidly its own interventions’ (Stichweh 2000, 93). The other question is ‘if the society is indeed too complex to get a feed-back and conclusions from the social excluded individuals to the causes and from there to measures’ (Luhmann 1981, 189).


If we understand social work as a profession that marks the end of the real existing ‘marked space’ of the democratic society to avoid/to overcome social exclusion, the relevance of what social work is doing or not doing becomes enormous: in the wake of this understanding, social work would become a part of the society which is decisive for the assessment of the quality of a democratic society at a whole, and not only of social work or social policy as specific parts of the welfare state.


The same is valid for the second issue: social work is the specific institution of a democratic society which is able to give an ‘official’ and professional feedback to those systems which may cause the exclusion, by telling the story of the socially excluded. Social work is the professional system of the welfare state, by which a democratic system might in some way see inside what it is doing in the struggle against social exclusion.


If we accept this understanding of social work and use the strategy of ‘best practice’ and ‘best theories’ there will be more opportunities for social security in the future than we suppose in the actual period of insecurity. However, this will be another kind of security than the obsolete security of former days.


Part III: New challenges and new questions concerning social policy and social work (Juha Hämäläinen/Horst Sing)

The difficulty of measuring social insecurity in social policy and social work is not limited to research alone but relates to planning and professional practice as well. Both from the research and the practical point of views there are several questions of particular interest dealing with measuring social insecurity and fighting against social exclusion, both through social policy and social work:

1. What is social insecurity in terms of objectivity and subjectivity?

2. What means do social policies have to diminish social insecurity?

3. What means does social work have to diminish social insecurity?

4. What kind of information about social insecurity is needed in social political planning and decision making?

5. What kind of information about social insecurity is needed in social work practice?

6. Why does the role of social work vary in different welfare regimes?

7. Is there a difference between professional social work and ‘foreign aid’ or grass-roots work in the so-called Third World?

8. What is the difference between the ‘case-work’ of a social worker and a psychologist?

9. Are there similarities between the phenomena of social exclusion in the Third World and those of the First World?

10. What is ‘self-reliance’?

11. What kind of strategies of communication between social work and other functional systems of society are there?

12. Welfare state and market-state – are they reasonable alternatives?

Although there is still no doubt that modern professional social work is an integral part of the democratic welfare state and that therefore there is no alternative to it, if one does not want to give up the normative fundamentals of democracy, there are some disturbing new questions which are emerging concerning the relationship between social policy and social work. They are disturbing because until now it seemed to be evident that in a democratic society social policy and social work would be connected by the common matter of priority to avoid respectively overcoming social exclusion of all citizens who were members of the nation: social work is in the same line as social policy, since it is a professional instrument of a democratic society, along with social exclusion, in a huge process of subsidiarity including and obliging all members in this task.


At least since the beginning of this century, all modern societies and all Western countries have been challenged by processes and phenomena of disintegration of the traditional welfare state. Roughly speaking, there are mainly two options in this situation: one option is to save the idea and norms of the welfare state by the construction of a ‘tough democracy’, confining the performances of the classical systems of social security to some fundamentals. In Europe this would mean that, in a very superficial understanding, the European model of the classical welfare state would be replaced more or less by an American model of understanding social security. The other option is to react by the foundation of New Leftist political parties or social movements in order to rebuild, together with the trade unions, without too many changes in the classical welfare state.


A rational choice is only possible if one takes into account the complexity of society and of the knowledge we have to understand it and which have both increased tremendously during the last three or four decades. Thus it is necessary, for instance, to distinguish between social policy and social work and to realize that such a distinction could help the modern society to see things on behalf of social exclusion and social security that could not have been seen until now.


Social work, if conceived as a professional functional system of a democratic society to avoid/overcome individual social exclusion, is not only a simple cog in the works of the society to come along with these problems but it is an ‘autopoietic’ system with a specific ‘rationality’. On the other side, as a part of policy and as a political functional system of society, social policy is involved in the code to gain or to lose political power and therefore cannot function as the highest representative for social justice.


If we want to come along with the challenge of social insecurity and to prevent against intolerable phenomena of social insecurity we have to realize the difference between social policy and social work and we have to realize the difference between the other actors concerned in the field of the fight against social exclusion. If we understand the necessity to perceive and to make differences as a chance, we are able to find new successful methods and strategies of interaction and cooperation for and with social work even in the ongoing process of globalization.



References (Part I)

Allardt, Erik 1995. Having, Loving, Being: An Alternative to the Swedish Model of Welfare Research. In: M. Nussbaum & A. Sen (eds.) The Quality of Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 88–94.


Hämäläinen, Juha 1996. Die Krise des nordischen Wohlfahrtsmodells und ihre Auswirkungen auf die Sozialarbeit am Beispiel Finnlands. In H.-J. Göppner & R. Oxenknecht-Witzsch (Hrsg.) Soziale Arbeit und Sozialarbeitswissenschaft in einem sich wandelnden Europa. Beiträge aus der Sicht verschiedener Länder. Freiburg i Breisgau: Lambertus, 71–79. (The Crisis of the Nordic Welfare Model and its Influences on Social Work: Example Finland)


Hämäläinen, Juha & Kainulainen, Sakari & Vornanen, Riitta & Menshikova, Anna & Niemelä, Pauli 1997. Kuopiolaisten ja pihkovalaisten nuorten arvot, ihmissuhteet ja turvatomuus. Snellman-instituutin B-sarja 39. Kuopio. (Values, Relationships and Insecurity of the Adolescents in Kuopio and Pskov)


Kainulainen, Sakari 1998. Elämäntapahtumat ja elämään tyytyväisyys eri sosiaaliluokissa. Kuopio University Publications E. Social Sciences 62. (Life Events and Satisfaction with Life in Different Social Classes)


Lorenz, Walter 1994. Social Work in a Changing Europe. London: Routledge.


Niemelä, Pauli et al. 1997. Suomalainen turvattomuus. Inhimillisen turvattomuuden yleisyys, perusulottuvuudet ja tyypittely – haastattelututkimus 1990-luvun Suomessa. Sosiaali- ja terveysturvan keskusliitto. Helsinki. (The Finnish Insecurity. Prevalence, Basic Dimensions and Typology of Human Insecurity – an Interview Study in Finland in the 1990s)


Niemelä, Pauli & Hämäläinen, Juha 2001. The Role of Social Policy in Social Work. In A. Adams, P. Erath & S. Shardlow (eds.) Key Themes in European Social Work. Bath: Russell House Publishing, 5–13.


Riihinen, Olavi 1983. Hyvinvointia koskevien käsitysten muutoksista toisen maailmansodan jälkeisenä aikana. Sosiaalityön vuosikirja 1983, 65–85. (On the changes in the concepts of welfare after the World War II)


Walzer, Michael 1995. Objectivity and Social Meaning. In: M. Nussbaum & A. Sen (eds.) The Quality of Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 165–177.



References (Part II)

Baecker, Dirk 2002. Wozu Systeme? Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos.


Bardmann, T.M. 2000. Soziale Arbeit im Licht der Systemtheorie Niklas Luhmanns, In:Gripp-Hagelstange, Helga (Ed.), Niklas Luhmanns Denken. Interdisziplinäre Einflüsse und Wirkungen. Konstanz:: Universitätsverlag Konstanz, pp.75–103


Michael Bommes/Albert Scherr: Soziologie der Sozialen Arbeit. Eine Einführung in Formen und Funktionen organisierter Hilfe.Weinheim/ München, Juventa, 2000, p. 140.


Heinz Heckhausen: ‘Interdiziplinäre Forschung’ zwischen Intra-, Multi- und Chimären-Disziplinarität, in: Jürgen Kocka: Interdisziplinarität. Praxis-Herausforderung-Ideologie. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1987.


Niklas Luhmann: Politische Theorie im Wohlfahrtsstaat, München/Wien 1981.


Uwe Schimank: Spezifische Interessenkonsense trotz generellem Orientierungdissens.Ein Integrationsmechanismus polyzentrische Gesellschaften, in: Hans – Joachim Giegel,:Kommunikation und Konsens in modernen Gesellschaften, Frankfurt a M., Suhrkamp, 1992, pp. 236–275.


Helmut Stichweh: Die Weltgesellschaft, Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp, 2000, p. 93.




1. At the University of Kuopio, Finland, the problematic of human insecurity has been processed since the end of the 1980s. Led by Professor Pauli Niemelä, this research activity has produced about 200 scientific publications based on theoretical and empiric analysis.




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