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Social Work : The Ethico-Spiritual Paradigm: [01] The Ethico-Spiritual Paradigm

Published: 12.06.2005
Updated: 06.08.2008

The spirit of social work is eternal but its form is ephemeral. The relevance of the spirit is given but that of the form is gained. The formal relevance is contrived and sustained through the alteration of form in consonance with the prevailing ethos of the age. Professional Social Work (PSW) is a progeny of modernism and as modernism is facing multi-faceted onslaughts, PSW too is receiving blows and buffets from myriad quarters.

As modernism loses its elan, PSW also looks pale and palsied. PSW is now a landscape of collapsing ideology as its modernist foundation is being progressively undermined. Modernism was imbued with an imperialist mindset which tried to impose standardised, homogenized, universalized and essentialized norms and values on all colonised nations irrespective of their cultural milieu. As a corollary, PSW, a product of western capitalism became a commodity of export to subjugated nations in a decontextualized form. Professional social work in India basically has an alien origin, which has been transplanted on the indigenous soil without context specificity. It not only failed to flourish but also suppressed the growth of India's own tradition of service, an organic part of its 5000-year old culture. PSW inherited the same hollow and illusionary optimism which 18th century Enlightenment and newly-deified scientism had conferred upon modernism. Modernism had harboured the utopia of ushering in a millennium and laying down the path for an untrammeled and unbroken progress. Similarly, PSW was buoyed-up with the unbounded hope of finding a solution to all social ills with its scientific methodology and expertised competence. The endemic global violence, the ecological degradation and increasing immiserisation of the masses, however, have dashed all ebullience and euphoria. PSW having its epistemology based on positivistic premises i.e., instrumental rationality and empirical verifiability failed to fathom the depths of human existence and its endless potentialities. Its endeavour to understand man through science was a self-defeating exercise, for, man can be understood through love alone. Its structural foundation on human values has ever remained a questionable proposition since humanity does not and cannot exhaust the definition of man. Its exclusivist humanism has exacerbated the spoliation of nature and other beings and thus jeopardising the human survival itself. The professional culture spawns an imperialist orientation proclaiming arrogantly the whole humanity as its catchment area. Every profession casts its net wide so as to earn more profits and prestige through the enlargement of its clientele. "Modern psychiatric ideology is an adaptation to a scientific age, of the traditional ideology of Christian Theology. Instead of being born into sin man is born into sickness. Instead of life being a vale of tears, it is a vale of diseases. Whereas in the age of faith, the ideology was Christian, technology clerical and the expert priestly, in the age of madness the ideology is medical, the technology clinical and the expert psychiatric." [Thomas S. Szasz, Ideology and Insanity, International Social Science Journal, Vol. XXV No.4, 1974]

A profession enjoys socially-sanctioned authority to control the lives of people as potential clients and implicitly commands them to surrender their right to act freely and claims on its part to exercise its options unhindered. People succumb to professional authoritarian regimes, for without their certification nothing is authenticated. Human life has become a hunting ground under professional empire and man feels insecure and uncertain in the world of its prescriptive injunctions. He lives a factitious life under professional props and forgets all natural ways of living. A professional arrogates to himself a superior status only by stripping his client of its existential dignity through labelling. Man the paragon of creation, a cosmic being, becomes a patient, a client, a consumer and a service user. He becomes an alien in his own community, no longer a full blown citizen enjoying full human status. Instead of promoting continuous interaction, professionals propose fitful intervention. Canda has to say the following in this context: "Natural compassion is reduced to artificial, bureaucratized, technocratic intervention as we become role-bound, rule-bound, categorized and socially controlled. Think for a moment about the metaphor of intervention, used so commonly to describe social work practice: an outsider enters a clients' life and manipulates it. This is a militaristic metaphor, like paratroopers dropping out of the sky into a combat zone. [Canda, Edward R., Spiritually sensitive social work: Key concepts and ideals, Journal of Social Work, Theory and Practices.]

There seems to be an in-built contradiction in the professional approach. Social work originated as an expression of human concern to ameliorate the conditions of the poor, the excluded and the marginalised. But in the relentless pursuit of its own self-interest and self-aggrandisement, it totally became oblivious of its mission and pledged itself to the service of the privileged. Professional social work as a matter of fact has become antithetical to the spirit of service and social service and to all intents and purposes, a business enterprise in human relationships. Its mercenary motivation brings about a role reversal in as much as more arid more people are excluded from its purview as more and more people are excluded from its purview as more and more its expertise acquires technical sophistication. PSW in its very nature, even contrary to its code of ethics, lacks dynamism and activism, tends to tread the slippery path of complacency and give preference to individual rather than institutional or structural change. Its ideological neutrality and political purism precludes it from social activism and makes it careened towards statusquoism. Having lost all conscience, concern and commitment to its primordial cause, a professional loves to wallow in comforts rather than live a life of suffering and sacrifice. Void of the spirit of Dharma, love and compassion as motivating force, PSW becomes a discourse of lifeless, meaningless, ritualistic and mechanistic formalities. The increasing focus on the application of managerial mechanics by PSW in its enterprises has further led to the decay of the humanitarian spirit in social service. The managerial approach, in the name of efficiency, has transformed the very ethos of social work and has transported it from the realm of humanics to the realm of economics. All these and other deficient and dysfunctional traits that have emerged in social work on its trajectory urgently call for review and rectification.

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  1. Cosmic Being
  2. Dharma
  3. Science
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