Social work and the life course in times of acceleration

Social work and the life course in times of acceleration

The 4th International Congress of the Swiss Social Work Society (SSTS) focuses on the transformations of social work in a society characterised by the acceleration of social and technological changes due to the unfettered competition typical of contemporary capitalism. It will take place at the School of Social Work and Health Sciences | EESP Lausanne (Switzerland) on September 12-13, 2018.

Uncertainties affecting social and political institutions, family relationships and employment status increase vulnerabilities in the life course, whereas the rise in inequality increase not only the pace of daily life for people in employment but also the apparent lack of activity of those who are excluded from the labour market. Against this background, the multiplication of transitions, choices and critical life events and situations that appear to be lived in ever tighter time spans clearly have an impact on both institutions and individuals. How does social work evolve in the face of such changes? How do social problems change? How do the techniques (or technologies) implemented to respond to social issues develop and with what impact on social work clients?

The SSTS Congress will approach these questions on the theme of acceleration along three axes. The first axis questions the connections between acceleration and social policies; the second seeks to look at the life courses of populations reached through social work, while the third examines the transformations of social work that lead to a marked increase in the number of actors involved in social interventions.

Acceleration and social policies

Social acceleration has consequences on the political functioning of liberal Western democracies as well as on their modes and modalities for decision making and policy implementation which tend to replace legislation with less rigid procedural directives (Scheuerman, 2004). Such processes also impact on social policies. Papers that pertain to this first axis will focus on questioning and conceptualising the transformations of social policies within the context of contemporary capitalism. They will deal with the following issues: how should these transformations be analysed with regard to social and technological acceleration? To what extent do they result in changes in the social representations and practices of social work? How should we think of the timeframe in which social intervention takes place? Which interventions or social innovations support social and technological acceleration? In what ways does acceleration impact on the modes of management, governance, bureaucracy and the demands placed on social policies in terms of efficacy and efficiency? How, and in what spheres does the financial onus of social policies shift between the public and the private sector as well as between the state, the philanthropic sector and the family?

Conceptualising social work in terms of the life course

The second axis is focused on the life courses of the target populations of social work. These life courses are the result of a complex set of more or less formal norms, procedures and rules and are framed by administrative and institutional processes. Within this context, age is prominent as a naturalised classification criterion (among others, such as gender) (Perriard & Tabin, 2017). Papers that will be included in this second axis will concentrate on the following questions: how do the life courses of social work clients unfold since these are now asked to assume personal responsibility, become active and invent or reinvent themselves in a shorter and shorter timeframe? (Ravon & Laval, 2015). How do social workers intervene using routinized processes, when life courses have become more uncertain and de-standardised and when statuses have become increasingly fragile and are subject to change? How do social workers adjust – or fail to adjust – to critical events, biographical transitions or bifurcations? How does the concept of the life course translate into the practice of social work and its professional development? Does it take into account social relations in terms of age, gender, ethnic origin and social class? Finally, what are the challenges for social work education and research when drawing on the individual and social policy dimensions of the life course approach?

Multiplication of actors and reconfigurations of social interventions

The transformations of contemporary capitalism force populations to leave the regions in which they live; these processes call into question the borders of the nation-state. This process also increases the complexity of social work as social workers have to respond – generally at the local level – to challenging issues arising from the internationalisation of social problems, the consequences of (de-)colonisation and the impact of so- called natural disasters. They find themselves in a paradoxical situation as they are simultaneously meant to promote the quality of life of social work users at the individual level and to respond to demands aimed at rationalisation, efficiency and efficacy dictated by the neo-liberal focus on management and on the bureaucratisation of practices (Dominelli, 2010).

Some countries regulate the conditions of practice of social work more strictly than others and tend to reinforce and legitimate its existence as a profession, while others subscribe to an approach that tends to broadly question the legitimacy of all professions. The latter trend weakens the position of social workers (Vrancken, 2012), reinforces modes of de-professionalization and generates the multiplication of actors in the field of social intervention. In either case, reconfigurations of practices, adjustments to existing intervention methodologies and/or the elaboration of new methods are required.

>> Programme

Organizing Committee:

Isabelle Csupor, Valérie Hugentobler, Pascal-Eric Gaberel, Morgane Kuehni, Mauro Mercolli, Jean-Pierre Tabin (HES-SO // HETS&Sa | EESP | Lausanne)
Laurence Bachmann, Francis Loser (HES-SO // HETS-Genève)
Jean-François Bickel (HES-SO // HETS-Fribourg)
Barbara Waldis (HES-SO // Valais)
Spartaco Greppi (SUPSI)
Jean-Michel Bonvin, Pascal Maeder, Dario Spini (LIVES)

Contact: Khadija Hemma, Project Coordinator (HES-SO // HETS&Sa | EESP | Lausanne)