Invited Speakers

Social action in Europe: Different legacies, common challenges In order to address different legacies and common challenges important for the construction of social Europe, this paper will briefly review the European history which on the one hand and irrespectively of numerous conflicts and divisions, developed democracy, concept of individual rights and freedom, and thus welfare state and welfare rights. On the other hand, the post II World War divisions contributed to the fact that those developments were mainly connected with the Western Europe. In the East welfare state became the main instrument for one-party system. Political and civil rights were suppressed, while the welfare rights were developed to legitimate the political rule.
The fall of communism have not just ”corrected” the historical course of welfare developments, as different legacies have continued to operate, while many new challenges have complicated the picture. The process of post-communist transition itself caused many social problems, and generated new insecurities. However, during the years of transition the post-communist countries differentiated among themselves at least in two, or more groups – according to their transitional success, and future prospects.
The paper will also focus on the situation in South East Europe describing how this particular situation can reflect the development of the social action in Europe. Wars and conflicts connected with the fall of Yugoslavia deteriorated significantly the economic and social situation. At the same time inside the course of social development these countries (as almost all other post-communist countries) implemented many neo-liberal reforms which resulted with numerous social problems and disappointments of citizens (like in the field of pension reform and its consequences). Following that, the analysis of the specific Croatian transition will be offered as a paradigmatic case of transitional problems of countries of South-East Europe. At the end, the paper will reflect on a range of common challenges, like the current economic crisis, poverty, and social exclusion, demographic recession, ethnic diversification, etc., which pose a question of possibility of common answers to common problems. The question is if the experience in facing social problems in history together with educated experts could be crucial instruments in overcoming common social challenges.

‘No justice, no peace!’: Reflections on social work, social conflict and reconstruction

It is now twenty years since the publication of US State Department official Francis Fukuyama’s influential essay ‘The End of History and the Last Man’. In that essay, Fukuyama argued that the collapse of communism in the late 1980s signalled the definitive triumph of liberal democracy and of free-market capitalism. Henceforth, any conflicts which did take place would be purely local affairs while ideological debates would become a thing of the past, to be replaced by technical discussions about means, not ends. Despite the popularity of Fukuyama’s thesis in ruling circles, and the echo which it found both in postmodern notions of ‘the collapse of grand narratives’ and in Thatcherite assertions that ‘there is no alternative to the market’, it is now clear that history did not end in 1989. As recent events in Georgia have shown (not to mention the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza), so-called regional wars have the clear potential to become much wider conflicts; Bush’s ‘war on terror’ discourse on the one hand and radical Islam on the other shows that ‘grand narratives’ are far from having disappeared; while the experience of the world economy over the past 18 months refutes the notion that capitalism has overcome its tendencies to crisis first identified by Marx 150 years ago. This paper will explore the role of social work in addressing social conflicts and the task of reconstruction in a world which, after twenty years of neoliberal policies, is now more unequal and less stable than ever before. The return of global economic crisis is likely to plunge millions more into poverty and destitution. In this situation, the social work profession needs to critically re-evaluate the relevance of its responses to human need, as it had to do in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In particular, neoliberal-influenced models of social work, of the type which currently predominate in the UK, are unlikely to prove adequate to the task facing us. At the same time, as we know from theories of crisis intervention, crises, both personal and structural, can also provide opportunities for developing new ways of thinking, working and being. The election of Barak Obama as US president, for example, is just one indication of a widespread desire to break with the policies – military, economic, ethical - of the past two decades. The paper will conclude by suggesting some ways in which social work might engage with this desire for change and contribute to a very different kind of ‘new world order’.

Reinvigorating professional ethics: The role of passion in professional life

Many people are motivated to enter the social professions because they want to care for people in need and to work for a better society. These motives are reflected in the principles embodied in codes of ethics and statements of professional values (including the promotion of human well-being, dignity and social justice). However, these codes are now becoming longer as they incorporate rules as well as principles; employers are requiring professionals to use prescribed forms, follow detailed protocols and measure outcomes; national governments are setting more precise standards and targets for social welfare work. ‘Professional ethics’ is becoming increasingly associated with codes, rules of conduct and conformity to externally defined standards. Whilst some of these ‘new accountability’ requirements may contribute towards better outcomes for service users and fairness in the distribution of time and resources, they also leave much less space for other crucial components of ethics in professional life. This presentation will discuss the importance for the social professions of recognising and valuing the role of personal engagement and political commitment – considering qualities such as empathy, care, moral perception, imagination, courage and critical consciousness. This leads us towards a revival of approaches to ethics based on qualities of character, relationships, context and commitment. It also leads us to consider critically how we balance the demands of logic with the call of passion; the need for distance with the desire for closeness; and the demand for conformity with that for transformation.

Individualisation and social cohesion

Social work practitioners face similar challenges all over Europe: the measures taken by national governments and international bodies to combat the financial and economic crisis cannot avoid a dramatic increase of unemployment and new risks of poverty as well as working poor. At the same time developments in communication technology and ongoing deregulation of the labour market have a negative effect on structures such as families and social networks, reducing their capacities to deal with personal conflicts and limiting resources for mutual support. Over the last twenty years Europe as a geographical region and in particular the enlargement of the European Union as a wider political and economic platform, has focused on promoting social cohesion and closing the gap between western and former socialist countries. The positive results of that movement are now under pressure and some achievements providing substantial improvement in living conditions for marginalized and/or socially excluded groups in European societies are not longer prioritised and financed. How does this affect daily work of social workers? Are there solutions at grass root level and can we learn from each other within the scope of international cooperation? Do social workers need further qualifications in order to be fit for new challenges? Do we effectively use existing resources at national and international level to improve the framework of social work? There will be more questions discussed and the Dubrovnik conference is the right place to develop ideas for solutions.
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