Social Workers in late modernity - reconstructing a professional practice
not applied Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas / UTL Lisboa, Portugal
In the present context of redesigning of the welfare state, and by consequence also the reconstruction of the social professions, social workers try to find their professional space and expertise. We think that "empowerment" is a key concept to understand the social workers' dilemma between advocating clients true interest and rights, and having to apply to financial efficiency and performance neo-liberal criteria.
The empowerment concept is a value, a methodological and theoretical principle, central to social work practice and social welfare policies in general. Nevertheless, the rose has its thorns: the concept is polissemic and multidimensional, therefore also ambiguous, controversial and differently understood and practiced by different agents. Knowing this, it's fundamental to clearly define what empowerment is actually being practiced in the field by social workers: how do social workers apprehend the concept of empowerment, how do they try to implement it and what are the major obstacles to empowerment practice as defined by social workers? Several studies have shown that social workers tend to practice a predominantly individualistic view of empowerment. We argue that this tendency is a reflextion of some social processes typical of our late modernity societies and policies, namely individualization, prudentialism and depolitization.
To make our point we will present data from a qualitative study (a PhD research in progress) on empowerment representations and practices among Portuguese social workers.