Biljana Zekavica

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College of Social Work, Belgrade


This paper discusses the intensity, form, and degree of awareness of the postmodernization of social work. In that sense, the postmodernization of social work means its discursive and metanarrative placement in the context of globally postmodernized societies, both at the level of external institutional network of meaning and at the level of internal reconfiguration, reformulation, redefinition, and reorganization according to new postmodern principles, agendas, and requirements. However, this does not mean absorbing some other metanarrative, but formulating an authentic metanarrative of social work. The explanation of postmodernity and postmodernization does not necessarily have to be part of the "intellectual-speculative" sphere of postmodernism, that is, some modernist theories may be integrated with some postmodernist discursive protocols for the purpose of a hybrid explanation of a relevant phenomenon. Social work is at a significant turning point that requires a whole set of questions and related answers with implicit consequences for the practice of social work and the professional identity of social workers. Using the autochthonous contextual situational experiences of Serbia, as the main features of this transformation, we can detect:

  1. The existence of a genuine metanarrative of social work, which can also be described as a counter-narrative, constructed as deideologized, plural and distanced from generating and regenerating any power relations and power structures that do not benefit marginalized, vulnerable and exposed to processes of creating and maintaining inequality. The transmission of theoretical principles into practical procedures is emphasized as a matter of special importance.
  2. The actual metanarrative of social work directly opposes the neoliberal metanarrative in a wide range, which includes rejection of: market regulation of social work, new managementism, the inevitability of poverty, the disappearance/eliminating social work as a profession etc.
  3. The metanarrative of social justice is postmodern, but not in an anti-foundationalist sense or through the incorrect vulgar-postmodernist formula that "anything can go." Its universalism is post-foundationalist in nature (Marchart 2007), it has variable content and means of distribution.
  4. Inversion of the inefficient welfare state project with the social investment state project. The risk is no longer external in nature, but designed/produced. The action of social work is not aimed at repairing the consequences of its appearance, but prophylactically before its appearance.
  5. Cultural, historical and contextual/situational in social work no longer means adaptation to the universal, but its construction. Social work practice is therefore exposed to constant changes in the client's preferences/needs and understanding of care and help.
  6. The difference is no longer equal to the deviation.
  7. In addition to the fact that class, religious, gender, racial, educational, national and generational constructions are still extremely strong and formative, it is important to emphasize that postmodernization of social work does not mean rejecting theories relevant for the functioning of social work, but their nonlinear complement. They are not relativized, but contextualized. In this sense, we are talking about the process of hybrid postmodernization of social work. This implies the depsychologization of social work, that is, the rejection of the psychological theoretical paradigm as the most authoritative and most efficient in solving socially induced problems.
  8. Although the identity of social workers is often stuck between preferences and structural possibilities, the fact is that they are often bureaucratized and opportunistic conformists who cannot distinguish between short-term and long-term changes, and do not see their profession as a process of constant empowerment of the vulnerable, marginalized and unequal. Their metanarrative is based on the constant opposition to fixed/petrified/structural power: their power is in the negation of power relations.