Sosialt arbeid. En begrepshistorisk undersøkelse
Not peer reviewed
MetadataShow full item record
This thesis investigates the relationship between professional social work and the municipal social service administration. The study follows a method of conceptual history inspired by German historian Reinhart Koselleck and aims to understand how concepts of professional social work were formulated. The analyses centers on national plans for social work education and the social policy language underpinning legislative and institutional reform, and asks: (1) How have concepts within these two institutional contexts been formulated, and to what degree have they corresponded and been formulated in relation to each other? (2) How and why did the conceptualization of professional social work change from 1964 until 2009? Chapters 4, 6 and 9, centers on legislative and institutional reforms in 1964, 1991 and 2009, and chapters 5, 7 and 8, on educational reforms in 1966, 1983 and 1999.
Following the 1964 Social Care Act, social care administration was established at the municipal level. The Act was a symbol of the belief, that the abolition of poverty was merely a question of time. In terms of political semantics, the 1964 Act was perceived as a turn towards a more humanistic social policy, based on principles of self-help and social harmony, and shredding the treatment system and the clients of the poor relief stigma. As an institutional reform, this meant the dismantling of the existing poor relief system and represented a breach of ideology in terms of how the client was perceived and treated. A system of elected laymen in local councils and schematic treatment norms was to be replaced by professional administration, discretionary practices and individual assessment. In particular, the new system meant a more coordinated approach to social problems.
The 1964 Social Care Act was replaced by the 1991 Social Service Act. As a legislative reform, the 1991 Act was one of several efforts formulated in response to a rising number of people not employed and dependent on different forms of welfare, and as such, a means of (re)gaining control over public expenditure. Political discourse was shaped by the fear of weakening sense of duty among especially young people, regarding their willingness to work. Subsequently, policy language was framed by a semantic shift relating to the concept of activation: The need to activate citizens out of work, who by definition were coined as passive. While the 1991 Act was perceived as an important legislative reform, providing the basis for a somewhat more restrictive line in terms of the distribution of social assistance, it did not encompass a reorganization of the social service administration. Instead, the principles of the 1964 Act were strengthened and formulated with greater precision. As means of preventing what was perceived as destructive societal norms, even stronger emphasis was put on principles of self-help through activation and a coordinated approach to social problems. As such, the 1991 Act could be seen as a continuation of the 1964 Act, but at the same time a result of a shift in political semantics, from humanistic social care to activating social services.
In terms of administrative organization, the 1991 Act represents an effort to invoke with greater precision the principles of professionalization first formulated in relation to the 1964 Act. While the 1964 Act was supposed to instigate a new program based on professional discretion, in reality the professional role was very restricted and the local social-care-regime highly dependent on elected laymen in the municipal social committees. While the reform formally provided a basis for professional expansion, in reality there was little or no recognition for social workers as professionals. Following the gradual expansion of the Norwegian welfare state, the municipal level grew in complexity through the 1960s and -70s. A growing number and specialization of services provided a basis for the professionalization of the workforce, the organization of services and the demand for a new division of labor between local professionals and local politicians. This in turn left room for a more autonomous role for the professional social worker in the social service administration, which is clearly reflected in the 1991-reform where the explicit recognition and demand for professional social work is at its highest. This professionalization of the social service administration can be traced on a conceptual level, through the use of concepts of professional social work within both institutional contexts.
From 1964 until 1991 the concept of social work became gradually more indispensable in policy language related to the formation of the social service administration. It had several meanings: occupation, education, academic discipline, professional method, as well as being used to conceptualize the work within the social service administration. Meanwhile, within the context of social work education, professional social work was being conceptualized through the use of terms signifying what it meant to do social work. Mainly, in 1966 professional social work signified the unity of care/treatment (behandling/hjelp) and administration/assistance (administrasjon/fovaltning). From 1966 until 1999, administration gradually became a more central concept to the understanding of social work. This gradual change in the semantic framing of social work, followed mainly as a consequence of research pinpointing lacking competence among social workers regarding judicial and administrative practices, and recurring insistence on the part of governmental officials for a more administrative oriented social worker. Meanwhile, representatives of the social work professions themselves found the care/treatment aspect even more problematic, arguing it denoted a too individualistic approach to social problems. The processes leading up to the 1999-plan was thus marked by a deliberate redefinition of the concept of professional social work, now being conceptualized through the unity of administration and relational work.
There never existed a formal connection between the education and the social service administration, and governmental departments didn't execute direct control in the shaping of educational plans. Still, there was a marked tendency, especially from 1983, to formulate the plans in accordance to current social policy. The reconceptualization of professional social work through the 1999-plan should be interpreted in light of the changes in social policy norms and semantics, markedly the gradually stronger emphasis put on activation-policies and what during the 1990s came to be known as the political work-line (arbeidslinja). Relations between professional social work and social service administration have long been characterized by some level of tension. Especially during the 1980s questions were being asked regarding the relevance of the education in relation to developments within social policy, typically signified by the continuous call for a more administrative oriented social worker. The 1999-reconceptualization represents a deliberate adaptation to current social policy making. Still, this semantic intervention seems to rest on an underestimation of the more fundamental changes in political norms following in the wake of the political work- line.
The 2009-reform represents a more fundamental change. The social service administration was dismantled as part of a grand scale reorganization of the national insurance administration and the national employment service, and became a fully integrated part of the NAV-organization: The joint governmental organization for insurance/welfare, employment/work and social services. The policy language through which the reorganization was formulated centers on concepts of work and activation, and concepts of social work barely figure within the policy documents. Furthermore, the professional role within the context of NAV is thoroughly restricted through guidelines regarding professional practice and the division of labor within the organization. On top of this, NAV-workers, regardless of their educational background, are subjected to internal educational programs aimed at shaping professional competence in accordance to the work-line. This leaves the role for professionals in the organization less autonomous, the recognition of professional social work virtually non-existing, and the demand for social workers unclear.