Iain Ferguson and Michael Lavalette
The initial idea for the journal developed out of our experience at the International Association of Schools of Social Work/International Federation of Social Work joint world congress in Hong Kong in 2010. In the pre-conference period, ourselves as members of the Social Work Action Network (SWAN) in Britain along with a number of other members approached the conference organisers with a proposal to run a series of plenary events at the conference. We were given three linked sessions, framed around the topics ‘social work and neoliberalism’, ‘social work and war’ and ‘debating social work futures’. At the end of May 2010, just before we left for Hong Kong, the Israeli Defence Forces boarded the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in international waters. The ship was part of the first Gaza Freedom Flotilla that was taking food and medicine to people in Gaza. As a result of the attack, nine people died. As an ‘action’ network, we decided that we would run an additional fringe meeting at the congress on the occupation of Palestine.
Each of the sessions was a success. All four events were packed out and, more importantly, each provided space for people to think about and debate the nature of modern social work and, in the case of the Palestine meeting, to start to think about how social work values should shape our collective response to war, occupation and state crime. Indeed, as a direct result of the fringe meeting, a motion was submitted to the general meeting of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, raising our concerns at the attack on the Mavi Marmara – the first time any of the international social work bodies had taken such a stance on the Palestinian question.
The Hong Kong congress was notable for something else. In addition to the events within the congress, we were also invited to speak at three meetings organised by social welfare workers, their trade union and service users. Iain Ferguson spoke to 100 practitioners and students at the Baptist University on the impact of neoliberalism on social work; Iain Ferguson and Michael Lavalette were invited to speak to 40 young social workers about the relevance of Marxism to radical social work practice; and Michael Lavalette and Vasilios Ioakimidis were invited to speak about the situation in Palestine in a meeting in Kowloon.
The week convinced us of several things. First, that neoliberalism was having a dramatic effect on social work across the globe. The meeting at the Baptist University, and the session within the congress had contributions from people from Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Greece, Japan, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States (US) and from across Latin America and Central Africa. The impact of neoliberalism, the growth of inequality and poverty, the privatisation of public services and the way(s) that neoliberal regimes were restricting social work practice were common – and yet there was a feeling in the meetings that these issues were not being articulated fully and adequately within the social work literature.
Second, there was a clear thirst for debate. The people who took part in the various sessions were engaged in a range of social movements in their countries of origin.They were consciously critical and radical social workers trying to apply a range of perspectives to their working lives. The evidence of the congress was that critical and radical social work is alive and well and is an international phenomenon.
Third, the meetings called by the young practitioners were crucial. Too often the claim is made that critical and radical social work is a luxury that is afforded to academics and social work educators, but has no practice relevance. This was always a lazy claim. The radical social work movement of the late 1970s in Britain had a strong base within social work practice and the trades union movement (Weinstein, 2011) – as indeed had the radical social workers of a previous generation within the rank and file movement in the US in the 1930s (Reisch and Andrews, 2002). The meetings with the workers in Hong Kong confirmed that there are significant numbers of practitioners across the globe looking for critical and radical ideas to help explain the problems that social workers and service users face and offer a guide to practice.
Fourth, the Hong Kong meetings engaged practitioners but also some service users. As has been our experience of organising the SWAN in Britain, the assault of neoliberalism (and more recently the impact of austerity) is creating a space where social worker service users and social work academics and practitioners can meet, as equals, to discuss shared and common problems. The welfare service movements have established a strong and powerful voice within many societies and there is much that social workers (academics and practitioners) can learn from a full engagement with the concerns and activities of such movements.
In the aftermath of the congress we approached The Policy Press to discuss our idea: that the new movement of critical and radical social workers needed a journal to provide the space for theoretical development, and for ideas and critique to develop. The Policy Press was delighted because it had noticed something important for its work: its expanding list of radical social work books were selling very well and it was interested in expanding into the radical social work ‘market’.
Of course, for any journal to be relevant and establish itself within the social work community it needs to be clear as to its purpose, its rationale and its audience. Thus, the general aims of the journal are:
- to analyse developments in welfare regimes across the globe from a critical/radical perspective and to assess the implications of these developments for social work and social care;
- to develop the critical/radical theoretical base within social work and social care;
- to provide a forum for dialogue and debate between critical/radical practitioners, academics, service users and movement activists;
- to report on the activities of social welfare movements and the struggles of social workers to shape new, more challenging forms of practice.
The journal is aimed at social work and social policy academics, postgraduate students, social work and social care practitioners and service users. While issues concerning the theory and practice of professional social work will be one of the journal’s areas of concern, the journal will adopt a broad definition of social work to include a variety of forms of popular welfare, non-professional services and forms of care and will address both the wider political and economic context of social work and social care as well as specific forms of practice.
To this end, we envisage the journal having a number of discrete sections. First, in each issue of the journal, there will be five or six articles that engage with theoretical or relevant practice-based issues from a critical or radical social work perspective. These will be academic articles as normally understood. Second, each issue will carry a section devoted to either ‘voices from the frontline’ or ‘radical pioneers’. The ‘Voices from the frontline’ section will allow practitioners, those involved in social movement activity or service users to write a short opinion or reflective piece of broader concern to social workers. The ‘Radical pioneers’ section will appear occasionally and will present new takes on, or descriptions of, the life and times of people in the critical and radical tradition. Our suspicion is that, across the globe, there are activist social workers and pioneers who have been marginalised or hidden within social work’s history and we would like to use this section to ‘rediscover’ their ideas and practice. Finally, there will be a book review section.
We would like to formally invite contributions from academics, practitioners, service users and social movement activists to any of the above-named sections.
To find out more about Critical and Radical Social Work, including how to sign up for a free trial, visit http://www.policypress.co.uk/journals_crsw.asp