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Making A Difference Without Being Imperialistic: The Complexity of Becoming A Social Worker in A Postcolonial World
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Work.
2017 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 20 credits / 30 HE creditsStudent thesisAlternative title
Att göra skillnad utan att bli imperialistisk : Komplexiteten i att bli en socialarbetare i en postkolonial värld (Swedish)
Abstract [en]

Social work can be perceived as a global profession, built upon a certain foundation of global values and ethical principles - like human rights, social justice, equity and empowerment - that are applicable everywhere regardless of context. In contrast, it can also be perceived as a locally based profession that needs to take local-specific conditions – such as culture and indigenous traditions – into account. Regardless, it is a profession that exists all over the world, due to globalization having spread both social issues and profession itself across national borders.

From a postcolonial perspective, contemporary international social work is equivalent to a new form of imperialism, i.e. that what started out as a western profession has now spread its values and methods to non-western contexts where they are not as well suited. This puts the profession in an almost paradoxical situation, as social work’s aim is to help socially vulnerable people improve their living situations and inspire them to self-actualization and empowerment, but by advocating this in the non-western world, western social work imposes ideas and methods onto contexts where they do not occur naturally.

This brings a dilemma for social work regarding how to deal with global issues. One option is to acknowledge social workers’ role as ‘helpers’ and strive to help people regardless of context, using existing methods and values. Another option is to acknowledge the West’s historic role as imperialists trying to take over the world, and thus let the third World solve their own issues without further involvement in order to avoid contemporary colonialism.

By interviewing Swedish social work students - whom all have completed educational field placements in non-western countries - this study strives to analyse how social work students that have experienced social work in non-western contexts relate to international social work and issues that come with it. This includes theoretical understanding, the role of social work education and their own roles as future professionals. The results show that the students found it frustrating to simultaneously want to help out and not be perceived as imperialistic. The conclusion was that the most important contributions western social workers can make in non-western contexts is to be aware of historical events and the contemporary part they play in global power structures, as well as try to humbly adapt to foreign cultures and accept differences rather than assume your own culture as automatically normative. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2017. , p. 66
Keywords [en]
social work, social work education, international field placements, postcolonialism, universalism, cultural relativism, cultural sensitivity
National Category
Social Work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-136689OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-136689DiVA, id: diva2:1113161
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Available from: 2017-09-22 Created: 2017-06-21 Last updated: 2017-09-22Bibliographically approved

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