The Future of Social Work: Seven Pillars of Practice
Publication Year: 2018
Social media and the digital revolution have fundamentally changed the meaning of “social” and “work.” Social work, like all other professions, will undergo dramatic changes as apps and algorithms overtake human operations. The failure of social sciences in general and social work in particular warrants thoughtful innovations that ensure sustainable services.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Poverty, War and Welfare
- Chapter 2: The World of Welfare
- Chapter 3: Plateaus and Platitudes of Practice
- Chapter 4: Archaeology of Social Practice
- Chapter 5: Transforming Social Work
- Chapter 6: Hermeneutics of Help
- Chapter 7: Seven Pillars of Social Practice
- Chapter 8: Environmental Justice: A Practice Model
- Chapter 9: Freedom and Vocabularies of Change
- Chapter 10: The End of Social Work: Epilogue
First published in 2018 by
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Copyright © Brij Mohan, 2018
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Name: Mohan, Brij, author.
Title: The future of social work: seven pillars of practice / Brij Mohan.
Description: Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd,  | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018010274| ISBN 9789352806256 (print (hb): alk. paper) | ISBN 9789352806263 (e pub 2.0) | ISBN 9789352806270 (e book)
Subjects: LCSH: Social service.
Classification: LCC HV40. M556 2018 | DDC 361.3/2—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018010274
ISBN: 978-93-528-0625-6 (HB)
Sage Team: Amrita Dutta, Guneet Kaur, Shaonli Deb and Ritu Chopra
Published by Vivek Mehra for SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, typeset in 10.5/13 pt Adobe Caslon Pro by Fidus Design Pvt. Ltd., Chandigarh.
SAGE was founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune to support the dissemination of usable knowledge by publishing innovative and high-quality research and teaching content. Today, we publish over 900 journals, including those of more than 400 learned societies, more than 800 new books per year, and a growing range of library products including archives, data, case studies, reports, and video. SAGE remains majority-owned by our founder, and after Sara's lifetime will become owned by a charitable trust that secures our continued independence.
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Advance Praise[Page C]
A master of social welfare, social work and comparative social policy has written a masterful book. Enough already of professional social work, it has denounced itself with decades of foolish accommodations, empty scholarship and even a wandering commitment to those in need. Unique in these sorts of analyses, Mohan asks for the consideration of elements outside of the ambience of social work but with a humane and humanistic commitment. Reflecting the modesty of his deep learning, he refrains from offering a vision. These sorts of things, following Huxley, in their reduction of complexity only produce dynasties of tyranny. Perhaps Mohan's desire to ‘demystify the power of materialism at the expense of philosophical streams’ is best realized by first addressing the problems of social and economic inequality— two policies that are impeded by contemporary social work practice.
— William M. Epstein
Professor, Social Work University of Nevada, USA
The Future of Social Work is a brilliant exposé of social work's ontology and authenticity—a subject mostly untouched by intellectuals in the field. Brij Mohan re-examines the Legitimacy Crisis of his calling with courage and convictions strengthened only by his vast knowledge and experiences. The ‘heretic’ thrust of this unmatched opus may save social work from falling into the traps of competitive, market-based professionalization. Uberization of social services, as the author calls, is imminent unless professionals overcome their myopic and siloed view of their practices. The Future of Social Work calls for a return to the core values and principles of human-centred social practice, against dehumanizing patronizing practice, by adhering to the seven algorithms: mission, education, service, empathetic humility, liberatory assistance, transparent effectiveness and buoyance.
— Philip Young P. Hong
Director, Center for Research on Self-Sufficiency School of Social Work, Loyola University Chicago, USA[Page D]
In The Future of Social Work, Professor Brij Mohan explores ‘plateaus of practice’ that believers might find unsettling. The book is a futuristic humane critique of contemporary professional ethics and practice. Mohan's ‘Seven Pillars of Practice’ proffer a ‘liberatory praxis’ that snorkels the depths of knowledge in search of jewels of truth. As a philosopher of social hope, the author suggests a paradigm shift, thereby challenging social sciences and humanities to thwart the possibility of a dystopian future.
Artificial intelligence will fundamentally change the patterns of social interactionality. Sapiens make mistakes; computers don't. If human frailty can be reduced by techno-digital means, the delivery of social services can be mediated more efficiently without social agencies staffed by fallible workers. The future of self-driven cars is mainly based on this premise. Brij Mohan contends that designing obsolescence is crucial for progress.
Students, educators and policy makers cannot ignore this seminal work by one of the most brilliant minds in academic discourse.
— Sonia Kapur
Assistant Professor, International Studies University of North Carolina at Asheville, USA
The book is a scholarly analysis of social work education with an implicit comparative view. It also is a brutally honest critique of robotic–human interface. It posits social work in this conflict as slowly morphing into inanity.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed much of transactional and operational services that fulfil human needs. Social services can't escape the avalanche of IT. Now, our profession has two choices: either get devolved into non-existence or launch a movement as defined by the author's theory of ‘Seven Pillars of Practice’. Brij Mohan proffers seven transformational ‘algorithms’ which mainly include mission, education and service embedded in empathetic humility, authenticity and praxis—all achieving buoyancy above the sea of oppression.
A book like this has never been written before. I enthusiastically recommend this book for the future of social work.
— Anil Navale
Mentor, Masters in Social Work Programme Navrachana University, India
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Human beings are not wicked by nature…. We are hampered by the Paleolithic Curse: genetic adaptations that worked very well for millions of years of hunter-gatherer existence but are increasingly a hindrance in a globally urban and techno scientific society. We seem unable to stabilize either economic policies or the means of governance higher than the level of a village.
—Edward O. Wilson (2014: 176)
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doings, There is a field. I will meet you there.
—Rumi, Open Secrets: 158: 8
[T]he earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.
—Pope Francis, Laudato Si[Page viii]
One of the main reference points of modern systems theory is the presumption that systems always reproduce themselves by the very same mechanisms that characterize them as elementary closed systems; in other words, they permanently reproduce themselves by extending and elaborating those mechanisms from which they are made—and reproduction actually means that they also apply the ideas from which they are made, as means of repair, as means of overcoming inherent shortcomings. Obviously, this is a presumption that is not without problems, performing a bit against the notion brought forward by Einstein: we cannot find the solutions of our problems by applying those means that actually caused the problems.
Brij Mohan shows with his new book the deep truth of such stance by presenting his reflections about social work that lost ground and also ceiling, and even all the space between. In other words, he criticizes a conception that lost a clear raison d’être, a formulated nomos and the breathing space within which practice is developed as part of ongoing social processes. Moreover, it even lost a relevant understanding of what the social is.
The one—and commonly walked—way of dealing with such challenge follows the rules of what is criticized. To take just one example, the claim of evidence-based practice is commonly criticized by giving evidence of its failure. Or new theories rebuke the old ones, while still referring to the same ontological and epistemological frameworks. Indeed, as we read on page 39, ‘The age of reason has fuelled the engines of anger. The complexity of social issues is challenging’.
In this light, Mohan's proposal for a social practice as a ‘discursive idea of transformative practice’ is itself a discursive process, the author entering into a discourse: with himself, relevant institutions and the practice itself.[Page xii]
This already marks a fundamental paradigmatic challenge as one of the central critiques put forward by the author is the shortcoming of social work, increasingly geared towards a narrowed understanding of individuals acting in a social space, while this space itself is hollowed out. As much as this is an issue of and for the profession, it can only be understood in the wider context of society in which
[w]ork as invented by our civilization will morph into apps. ‘Social’ as a qualifying prefix will become redundant as social institutions continue to meltdown. Simple algorithms will wipe out all the tasks, skills and checklists that therapists and social service workers employ with protective ‘licenses’. No one likes an unlicensed neuro-surgeon; however, licensing as a means to exclude dissent amounts to censorship. 
This book provides a personal account of the author's experience, not suitable for apps, too cumbrous for digitalized text and document analysis and challenging a professional understanding of which the glue is an administration for which problems do only exist during office hours, as Hans Achinger contented a long time ago—‘problems and suffering that occur outside of office hours are invidious’.1 This personal account resists the paradox that ‘[h]umans evolve [while] developmentality will devolve compassion into a vocation; and departmentality will degrade disciplinarities under the cover of science. Techno-hubris will shape human needs and services as functionally designed by its own necessities’.
The book is a valuable and timely contribution as it provokes the reader: not another sober analysis adding to the many that already exist, but personal, emphatic resistance against a profession and training of professionals that reinvents the humanity by misdirecting social existence towards a planet of ice and the jeopardy of a cage for which the key is lost by the age of reason, in the very same way as it is captured in Goethe's Faust by the words:
[Page xiii] And furtive shift from place to place. To nonsense reason turns, and benefit to worry. Woe unto you that you're a grandchild, woe!
The challenge Brij Mohan takes up bravely is the one of accepting loneliness, paradoxically needed when aiming on resisting technocratically induced individualism. He shows that he rightfully can say, ‘I consider myself to be a humanist and social scientist. Alas, I was lonely in this strife. Our school chose to become a part of College of Human Sciences and Education for very pragmatic reasons’ [68 f]. We can only hope that people who read it—and many should—see this as well as a wake-up call. And as such it is a challenge for the reader, not necessarily agreeing with all details, meticulously elaborated, but acknowledging the fundamental result: that we face a suicide of professional action if we are not ready to accept the need to a fundamental change of our thinking—and practice.Availles-LimouzineFrance[Page xiv]Notes
1 ‘Leiden, die außerhalb der Dienstzeit auftreten, sind mißlich,. (Achinger, Hans, 1953: Soziale Sicherheit. Eine historisch-soziologische Untersuchung neuer Hilfsmethoden; Stuttgart: 43).
An eternal truth is a dead truth that has returned to the In-itself. A truth has not become; it is becoming [devenante]. And at the end of its becoming, it dies. That does not mean that it becomes false. It becomes indeterminate, that is we longer grasp it in its context and with its articulations but as a bone with which one constitutes a new organism. … The foundation of truth is freedom. This non-truth is ignorance or lie.
—Jean-Paul Sartre (1992: 12–13).
Human fallibility drives survivalist engines to become civilized. But our frailty fails us. What Edward Wilson calls Paleolithic Curse is essentially our species’ dysfunctional (2014: 177) adaption to a new brave world. ‘People find it hard to care about other people beyond their own tribe or country, and even then past one or two generations’ (Wilson 2014: 177).
The duality of past and future is only compounded by a brief history of time. Relativity, reductionism and romanticism change our perception of social reality. Yuval N. Harari's intriguing new book Homo Deus (2017) does not solve any human problems. Earlier in Sapiens (2015), Harari asked a simple question: Can we ever free our behaviour from the legacy of our ancestors? Robert Gordon's Rise and Fall of American Growth (2016) alerts us of hard times ahead. History's most nagging question remains unanswered: Can we as a human race survive our own trappings? Pankaj Mishra's Age of Anger, likewise, unravels the history of the present. Mishra's diagnosis goes back to the Enlightenment, specifically Nietzschean ‘ressentiment’. Enlightenment thinkers sought to liberate humans from the constraints of religion and traditions to pursue their self-interests. These ideals, Mishra argues, ‘underpin the modern embrace of free-market capitalism, which took sole position on the world stage after the collapse of state socialism in 1989’ (Time 2017, February 20: 20). [Page xvi]Enlightenment did predict populism. My plea for Enlightenment II (Pinker 2018) has long been to reinvent homo sapiens to ward off the dystopian reality predicted by Harari.
Human race has been subjected to utopian and dystopian visions of reality since long. From Thomas More (1965) to Karl Marx (1913) to Sigmund Freud (1961), one perpetually strives for hope amidst despair.
There is no winter of despair. But this is not exactly the spring of hope. This post-Dickensian paradox is the metaphor for contemporary human conditions. This monograph is a search for transformative pathways that improve the human condition in troubled times. This benign, simple formulation sits at the heart of what is intellectually named a sociology of knowledge. While I remain indebted to this field, I seek to go beyond its disciplinarity. In my quest for social practice (SP) as a discipline, I deal with the realms of social reality that is ‘socially’ constructed for the future of human race.
The trajectory of this thought is not easily discernible without implicit ideological predilections. I believe in scientific revolution (Kuhn 1996). Science in and of itself is a neutral force. The alchemy of human and social reality morphs science into a messiah or a devil. The main—perhaps the only—challenge that humanity confronts is posed by Homo Deus. Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli world historian, aims ‘to upgrade humans into gods and turn Homo Sapiens into Homo Deus’ (2017). Sapiens (Harari 2005), who invented the hydrogen bomb, cannot deinvent it.
Social work's (SW's) future, like the future of ‘work’ itself, is uncertain. All work is ‘social’. SW's inner contradictions further call for serious discussion since human needs, social issues and public ‘will’ will morph in congruence with societal evolution in the digital age. This is a formidable spectre.
The decline or ‘retreat’, as Edward Luce (2017) contends, of Western liberalism is unsettling. Luce argues that the Western values that organized a democratic order are now under mortal threat. Canada's public policies have contributed to its sustained peace and prosperity. However, social interventions, public policies and social [Page xvii]services do not always shape social reality; they simply sustain a repaired unit to function more effectively. This ameliorative, restorative, medical and psychological approach to human imperfections is fraught with fallacies of change, a kind of social change that does not ‘help’.
SW is a benign, quasi-professional approach to problem-solving, a formidable process over which practitioners of change—or therapists of misdiagnosed maladies—have little control. Agency-embedded roles, tasks and learning experiences offer controlled circumstances to operate. The reality stands out in the field like an elephant in a conference room. SP, on the other hand, is beyond the constraints imposed by logos and its ‘departmental’ culture. I use SW and SP interchangeably with the nuanced implicitness of distinct ethos.
Darkness at noon is disappointing. It can be challenging as well. 1958: It was dawn before darkness in Mussoorie when I ran into R.N. Saxena, Founding Director, Institute of Social Sciences (ISS), Agra, that I later joined for pursuing master of social work (MSW). My examination scores were highest in a cohort of 75+ graduates but I received near pass marks (105/200) in the so-called fieldwork. ISS, as I learnt, was an excellent extension of Lucknow University's social sciences since most of my professors spilled over from there. A fresh doctor of social work (DSW) from Columbia University and a protégé of the famed Evelyn M. Burns, named S. Zafar Hasan, was building a doctoral programme in SW under the leadership of Radha Kamal Mukherjee, India's ‘father of sociology’. I left Agra in despair and joined Lucknow University to obtain PhD in SW (1964). I taught SW there for 13 years; 1 March 1975, I left India and emigrated to the United States with an illusion that SW might transform the world.
On a sultry, humid southern morning in April 1984, I was hospitalized in a critical condition. A month after a major abdominal surgery, when I returned to work—three weeks before the recommended convalescence—I sensed a hideous unease. The pressure of transformational work—mainly pertaining to the incorporation of Louisiana State University School of Social Work into the Graduate School and initial preparation for a proposal for doctoral programme in SW, mainly faculty recruitment, promotion and tenure processes—nearly [Page xviii]consumed me. However, the outcome was so sweet and substantial that the School of Social Work (henceforth referred to as the school) continues to thrive on accomplishments.
I had resigned from deanship in July 1986 to establish my eligibility for a promised Boyd Professorship (university's highest reward for ‘international’ recognition). The three decades that followed gave me an opportunity to grasp how organizational goal-displacement thrives at the expense of creativity.
This book is a very small, humble tribute to the people—mostly my students, family and teachers—who kept me going. Since I bear, with great honour and pride, an Indo-American (not Asian American!) identity badge, my deliberate efforts to make this book a worthwhile read to those who work in the ‘trenches’ to achieve peace and justice is a reward in itself. I make suitable, albeit short, comparative–analytic references to contextualize the ordeal of two great democracies. I added Chapter 9 to proffer an integrated view of my work in a rather nutshell. It was not an easy task; I got some ideas and help from certain friends whose encouragement has been inspirational. Shortcomings are solely mine.
Alienated and estranged, I used my adversity to my advantage. I taught with love and wrote with vengeance, becoming a better teacher and renowned author. I saw how responsibility was the shortest, albeit hardest, cut to freedom. It was the toughest patch to transform the poison of angst and anger into self-empowerment.
I retired 25 December 2009, having served the Louisiana State University (LSU) for 34 years. This monograph is an oeuvre of my work during the last three decades of my post-dean years at LSU. The pages that follow unravel certain concepts, conflicts and contradictions that embody SW's contemporary culture and its influence on people who serve it. Opinions and views may vary depending on individuals’ interests and affiliations. Nevertheless, factuality sustains itself.
Social institutions nurture and serve society in vital fields of life. The spectre of meltdowns of these institutions cannot be overlooked when we offer ‘problem-solving’ skills in a rather discordant manner. [Page xix]The obsolescence of methods, skills and values in a transient culture is a sign of entropy. This book seeks to offer critical insights as a simple pathway on the cusp of change that belies reason. ‘Postmodernism is an instrument of power’, claims Noam Chomsky. He is right. Postmodernity's instruments of power—inclusion, diversity, political correctness and other non-essentialist attributes of deconstruction— failed Derrida and Rorty. My profession has used this power less professionally than any other academic field I know of.
I wasn't born an American; I became one. This odyssey is a formidable story. My work is a product of this compelling journey.
I am very grateful to SAGE for their interest in and support for my work. I am deeply touched by the professionalism of the entire SAGE team for helping me to improve the quality of this work. Professor (Dr) Peter Herrmann's kind Foreword is deeply appreciated. I shared this manuscript with a selected group of academics who know the subject. Some of their comments are posted on the back cover. Their reviews and suggestions have been most commendable.
I dedicate this work to Prem—my wife—who stood by me like a rock for over half a century with undying love, trust and support. My children, Anu and Sanjay, and grandchildren, Gujri, Quince and Aneel, are owed the strength that is required to write a book at 78.Baton RougeLouisiana, USA[Page xx]
The Truth is always naked. Any attempt to cover it is a lie. We live in a post-truth era where contradictions define identity. The ambiguity of real and unreal is an absurd phenomenon, which we are dealing with. This schizoid reality is the new foundation of a ‘helping profession’. If mental health is a critical element—as Speaker Paul Ryan and his ilk believe1—the response (see what people think about the carnage2) to the Las Vegas gunman is an exemplar. In the post-truth culture, counter-factual reality becomes a dangerous chimera.
‘Alt’ is the new word for white supremacists in America. Violence erupted like a dormant volcano on a university campus in Charlottesville, VA, after a neo-Nazi protest erupted into civil rights mayhem.3 President Trump invented ‘Alt Left’ as an amoral reality. Liberty, equality and freedom are noble values for a free society. However, persistence of bigotry, racism and xenophobia make a mockery of the world's leading democracy.
How to be free in an unfree world? That is the question that intellectuals in universities and colleges must teach. A few social programmes supported by mediocre state jobs and a locally endowed professoriate will not transform academia. SW's future rests on its standing amongst the cognate disciplines. The current self-exclusion [Page 143]in the name of autonomy and professional identity is a convenient untruth.
Small things bring big changes. Little changes—ideas, experiences and events of no general importance—can become tsunamis of transformation. Malcolm Gladwell (2000) made a theory of this butterfly-hurricane impact, if I may. It seems SW's tipping point that reached around the 1960s came and passed. In the post-globalized world, however, the ‘tipping point’ logic perversely follows the same principle. SW devolution in the age of robotics is a monumental event in the unfolding drama of human evolution.
Therefore we must make ourselves historical against a mystifying history, that is, historialize ourselves against historicity.
—Sartre 1992: 80
1Banality of crime and carnage, howsoever evil it may be, cannot be passed as a mental health issue. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paul-ryan-says-mental-health-reform-is-criticalingredient-in-stopping-mass-shootings/ (accessed on 5 October 2017). It is a dangerously political ideology. Social workers ought to refute and protest against this unforgivable naïveté. However, this will not happen in a therapeutic climate.
2It is instructive to know about this man and his mind. Public response will shape policy formulations. https://www.yahoo.com/news/will-happen-las-vegas-shooters-room-mandalay-bay-150549171.html (accessed on 5 October 2017).
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About the Author and the Foreword Writer
By the Same Author[Page 158]
Global Frontiers of Social Development Theory and Practice: Economy, Climate and Justice. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Construction of Social Psychology. Introduced and Edited. Lisbon: InScience Press and The World Institute of Advanced Research and Science (WIARS), 2015.
Transforming Social Work. Based on a keynote address delivered to the 3rd Indian National Congress of Social Work, 24–26 October 2015. Lucknow: Rapid Book Service. (ISBN 978-93-82462-59-0) http://esp.whioce.com/index.php/ESP/article/view/01006
Death of an Elephant (debut novella). Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, 2013 (Republished by Scholars Publishing, 2014; trans. in Hindi by Kamal Varma, 2017; trans. in Persian by Mina Taherifard, 2018; in process).
Society and Social Justice: A Nexus in Review. Bloomingdale, IN: iUniverse, 2012.
Development, Poverty of Culture and Social Policy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
Fallacies of Development: Crisis of Human-Social Development. New Delhi: Atlantic Publisher, 2007.
Reinventing Social Work: The Metaphysics of Social Practice. Foreword by Thomas D. Watts. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005.
The Practice of Hope: Diversity, Discontent, and Discourse. Foreword by David G. Gil. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris/Random, 2003.
Social Work Revisited. Foreword by Johan Landon and S. Zafar Hasan. Philadelphia, PA: Xlibris/Random, 2002.
Unification of Social Work: Rethinking Social transformation. Foreword by Leon H. Ginsberg. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999.
Democracies of Unfreedom: The United States and India, Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996.
Eclipse of Freedom: The World of Oppression. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1993.
Global Development: Post-Material Values and Social Praxis. Foreword by David G. Gil. New York, NY: Praeger, 1992.
Glimpses of International and Comparative Social Welfare. Ed. Canberra, Australia: IFSED, 1989.
The Logic of Social Welfare: Conjectures and Formulations. New York, NY: St. Martin's; Brighton, England: Wheatsheaf, 1988. (Also translated into Korean).
Denial of Existence: Essays on the Human Condition. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1987.
Toward Comparative Social Welfare. Ed. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman, 1985.
New Horizons in Social Welfare and Policy. Ed. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman, 1985.
Social Psychiatry in India: A Treatise on the Mentally Ill. Foreword by Milton Lebowitz. Calcutta: Minerva, 1973.
India's Social Problems: Analyzing Basic Issues. Foreword by S. Zafar Hasan. Allahabad: Indian International Publications, 1972.