Social Work : The Ethico-Spiritual Paradigm ► [02] Globalisation and Postmodernism

Posted: 13.06.2005

II. Globalisation and Postmodernism

Globalisation is a radically new process, unleashed by super technology whose full implications cannot be envisioned at the present moment. It is a man-made and socially constructed process that operates inexorably and autonomously. Man has landed himself in a strange predicament: he is powerless before his own powers. Globalisation tends to universalize the local and localize the universal. Though initially an economic process it ramifies in all domains encompassing the social, political and the cultural. Man, institutions, nations and other aggregations are under relentless pressure to fashion adaptive responses to meet its challenges.

Under its alchemy, social work will be transfigured into a marketable commodity, put on sale by the private sector. The resourceful will buy and consume it while the resourceless lacking purchasing power will have to remain contented with their deprivations. The global capitalism with its correlates of privatisation and liberalisation will exercise pressure under which the state will have no options but to relinquish its welfarist responsibility and hand it over to the private sector on a silver platter. This epochal role transfer is imperative if the economic interest of the global capital has to be served unobstructively. People who consume state-offered social services will now turn into buyers of privately, purveyed services, thus swelling the coffers of capitalism. Those that survived on states' munificence will face multiple deprivations and make themselves cheaply available as wage earners to capitalism. Social work will be reduced to a caring practice shorn of all methodological sophistications and philosophical protestations. The proper place of location of social work/welfare is the community. It was the community institutions, principally the primary ones, which discharged service responsibilities to the needy. The capitalist modernisation generated forces which impacted on these institutions adversely and caused their functional break-down. If globalisation coerces the state to shift its welfare obligations to the community, it will be a boon in disguise as this shift would infuse a new life in the moribund community institutions at the grassroots level and restore their lost pride and prestige. The civil society and its secondary institutions will have golden opportunity to enact their welfare role with a renewed vigour and make society, denied and decried by neo-liberalism, a genuinely welfare society. The global bourgeoisie would launch social/welfare services in foreign lands as business activities without paying any heed to cultural particularities. This decontextualisation of social welfare pursued with pecuniary considerations would distort social work beyond recognition and rob it of its sublime aura and divine fragrance.

Postmodernism is another associated phenomenon, which has obfuscated the sensitive minds of our age. It has brought promises as well as premonitions. On the one hand it opens vast vistas of cognitive adventures and on the other, portrays a scenario of unbounded scepticism. It debunks all hopes of human progress that modern science has so assiduously built into our psyche. It undermines all truth claims and certainties that meta-narratives so authoritatively propounded. It negates all value propositions that were based on traditional virtues. It is an 'ideology' that deconstructs all ideologies, sacred or secular. Its anti-foundationalism demolishes all knowledge systems that raise their edifice on the bedrocks of the absolute. Postmodernism, however, advocates a number of viewpoints which deserve celebration. It condemns the superiority of the modernist scientific culture of the West that trumpeted its providentially ordained responsibility to develop and civilize the whole world by making them its own replica. It deprecates all attempts that make differences the basis of status disparities. It affirms that every culture is unique, has its own share of truth and justification neither superior nor inferior to any other. It asserts the rights and dignity, of the excluded who so far had "enjoyed" only despises and disdain. The post modernists' celebrated words are difference, diversity, pluralism, heterogeneity, ruptures, discontinuity, immanence, non-linearity, localism, hyper-individualism, particularism, pragmatism, fragmentation, experimentation, experience, uncertainty, contingency, chance, play, fluidity, temporality, anarchy and nomadism.

Globalisation is the defining paradigm of post-modernity". [ Fred Powell - The Politics of Social Work, Sage Publications, 2001] It has engendered a growing sense of fragmentation in the self and disintegration in the society. Some thinkers call it a myth and others as a paradigm shift. Seligman (1998) believes that post-modern social order has delegitimised personal and social responsibility. It has "shattered the basis of social work which was informed by the virtues of care, control and cure... and has drained the meaning from social life" [ibid]. For the postmodernist, society is a reflexively constructed notion and not a reality. Marsland (1995) likens welfare to a cancer in the body politic and says, only markets can provide effectively for the range of human wants and needs. Neo-liberalist postmodernism replaces society with market as the arbiter of moral values. The post-modern society is characterised by a revolutionary economy based on desire rather than needs. It constantly stimulates new desires, which consumers can never satiate. Consumption, therefore, becomes the driving force of society. Human identity becomes equated with what we consume. Postmodernism has placed man in what Lyon calls "vertigo of relativity" and "vertigo of uncertainty". Foucault, the French philosopher of postmodernism, argues that the answer to these human predicaments lies in the acceptance of a new human condition in which we learn to be at ease with change and plurality, a kind of security with insecurity in which there is no more nostalgia for the fixed, stable and permanent.

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