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Professional Ideologies in Russian Social Work: Challenges from Inside and Outside
Since 1991 the Russian Federation faces multiple challenges for its welfare systems and for the development of social services and social work as a profession as a response. This chapter provides a review of some of the key challenges for social work in Russia. It focuses on contradictory ideologies that are shaped in discursive formations of social work in education and everyday experience of social workers in post-Soviet Russia. It is based on qualitative methodology, referring to interview material, and discourse analysis of the Russian textbooks used in social work and social policy education. The chapter addresses several main issues: social policy reforms, identity constructions of social workers; managerial modernization of social services and social work ideology; the education policy in particular, discourses of social work teaching materials and the impact of international co-operation in the development of training programs. Social welfare administration in Russia was inherited from Soviet rule with its centrally commanded planning and rigid system of social security based in public institutions. The general modernization of the system of social welfare in Russia is an ongoing process nowadays and it has had a contradictory effect on social work ideology. During 1990s and early 2000s a number of international donors have contributed to the development of higher education in Russia. International effects on social work education in Russia are noticeable at several levels: institutional, systemic, curricular, symbolic and individual. A series of tensions are explored especially in relation to curriculum, standards and modes of regulation; a number of factors are considered that hindered the effectiveness of international exchange programs. The chapter concludes by pointing out the peculiarities of Russian social work and the scenario of its future development.
*Elena Iarskaia-Smirnova Dr.of Sociology, Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology and Social Work at Saratov State Technical University and Department of Sociology, State University – Higher School of Economics, Moscow (Russia)
Helping professions today, address the growing number of social problems which have emerged along with contextual changes in Russia’ society, culture, and state social policy. Social work only emerged in Russia in 1991 and it still lacks recognition by the general public and by other caring professions. Many social work agencies are in search of new forms of organization and are trying to develop new philosophies of service, in order to build positive relationships with the community. However, given the 70 years of Soviet era when social protection was highly centralized and bureaucratized, the organizational cultures of the new social services sometimes reproduce old patterns of bureaucracy, especially where employees lack professional education. The goal of this chapter is to explore the peculiarities of the development of social work as a profession in Russia in the context of structural reforms and international co-operation.
Reflections on the development of social work education in Russia have been conducted over the last twelve years (Iarskaia-Smirnova & Romanov, 2002; Penn 2007; Ramon, 1998; Shanin 1998; Schmidt, 2009; Templeman 2004). Western researchers note the fast and effective development of social work in Russia. Penn (2007: 523) calls it extraordinary both from the point of view of the universities (teachers, courses, materials and students) and the agencies (supervisors and practice placements). Templeman (2004) suggests that shortages of resources, capabilities and technology have moved Russian social work rapidly towards professionalization. It is true that the network of social work agencies is growing simultaneously with a number of universities offering professional education programs that become an extremely popular choice for young people. However, a contradictory situation is in place: due to a low wages the majority of graduates leave the profession once they have got their diploma, therefore, unqualified social carers still make up the majority of the workforce (Penn 2007).
Comparative research into professionalization of social work reveals common features and peculiarities of this process taking into account important contextual factors (Abbott 1999; Hokenstad 1992; Lyngstad et al. 2004; Salustowicz 2008; Weiss et al. 2004; Weiss-Gal & Welbourne 2008). The data make clear a socially constructed nature of this profession, which takes very different forms in the various national settings throughout the world, where there is a distinct lack of ideological consensus over the goals, tasks, desired technologies, major client groups, the preferred sector in which to operate, and a variety of other issues (Weiss, Gal, Dixon 2004). While tackling global and local issues in social work education and practice, the authors are concerned whether a direct transfer and application of professionally specific concepts from one socio economic and political context to another is possible, whether it is appropriate and genuinely helpful to support these developments by introducing new models from a variety of European and transatlantic countries in particular, to Eastern Europe and Russia (Breslauer, 1995; Bridge, 2000; Montague et al. 2008; Penn, 2007; Ramon, 1996; Simpson 2009; Williams, 2003). In the process of adopting a new concept into the spheres of education and practice, different value systems counteract and often contradict each other. This constitutes an important area for research of professional development of social work in today’s Russia.
Social work ideology is an important concept in critical reflection of its knowledge building and professionalization (Chiu & Wong 1998; Fook 2003; Loewenberg 1984; Mullaly 1997; Souflee 1993; Woodcock & Dixon 2005). Ideology includes professional values and beliefs motivating people to act in order to realize these values, but it also goes beyond the framework of the profession, being incorporated into relations and discourses around social problems and ways to tackle them. “Social work ideology is anchored in a belief in the welfare state, in the idea that society has not only the right but a moral obligation to intervene on behalf of its most needy and less powerful members, and in the concept that social institutions are responsible for the social needs of the members of the collectivity” (Souflee 1993: 318-319). On the one hand, it is “a consistent set of social, economic and political beliefs” (Mullaly 1997: 31) but on the other, it is a rather complex series of relations and discourses that conceal what is really going on in society and that people inhabit in a contradictory, common-sense way (Baines 1999). In changing societal context this profession may loose its political basis and become less critical (see for instance Chiu & Wong 1998), radical measures may become institutionalized and allow the state to reposition itself once again as a benign provider of welfare (Mclaughlin 2005). And just as the welfare state in its historical development has vacillated between the residual and the institutional solutions to social problems, so has the profession isomorphically shifted between individual treatment and social reform (Souflee 1993). The socio-political context may for example be unconducive for achieving aims of anti-oppressive social work (Millar 2008). Placing social work ideology in a complex picture of theories, policies, philosophies and myths, it is possible to consider various agents contributing to the constitution of shared knowledge and the value base of the profession.
The study presented here starts with a short overview of historical and current social context and goes on to discuss peculiarities of educational programs reviewing the issues of international co-operation. It focuses on the key challenges to professional development of social work, everyday experience of social workers and discursive formations of social work in post-Soviet Russia, seeking to uncover the contradictory nature of discourses in social services and training as well as their impact on the professional identity of social workers. The study is based on qualitative methodology, referring to interviews with social workers and social service administrators (1996-2006), heads and teachers of social work university departments (2006), observation in the field of social work education (since 1991 until now) and discourse analysis of the Russian textbooks used in social work and social policy education. The chapter addresses several main issues in shaping professional ideologies of social work: social policy reforms and modernization of services, identity of social workers, discourses of social work textbooks; education policy, and in particular, the impact of international co-operation in the development of training programs.
Legacies of the past: glimpses into the history of socialist welfare
After the decline of czarism with its relatively low developed social services Russia experienced since 1917 the transition to socialist principles of welfare. These principles underwent various major changes during years of Stalinism, the Second World War and in the post-war times, as well as in the late Soviet period while the “social work” was carried out by a number of other agents, institutions and professions – educators at youth and children places of culture and clubs, activists of women’s organizations and trade unions, teachers at schools and educators in kindergartens and orphanages, nurses or visiting nurses at policlinics and militia (Iarskaia-Smirnova & Romanov 2009a). State ideology in socialist times combined elements of conservative and social democratic value systems, and while the early Soviet political rhetoric appealed to the values of self-government and equality, the shift was made towards paternalism and totalitarianism. It was reflected in changes relating to the understanding of social problems, their causes and ways of tackling them, reforming social support and service provision.
The Soviet system of social welfare shaped in the 1950s served as a model for the states of the Eastern socialist bloc (Schilde & Schulte 2005). The state and its various agents played a major role in carrying out the double-edged care-and-control task at all levels of social life in society which was supposed to gradually move from tough and selective schemes of social security and insurance to the “bright future” of a communist welfare state. Social care tightly enwrapped the society, controlled the activity and thoughts of Soviet people for more than seventy years. According to the figurative conclusion made by Fitzpatrick, who created a historical and anthropological picture of the everyday life of ordinary soviet people, the USSR for them was something like school, quarter and charity dinner (Fitzpatrick, 1999). The population viewed the government and its agents as the source of both well-being and trouble.
The Soviet system undoubtedly had developed the system of social services in terms of organizing residential care for the elderly and people with disabilities, and care for the poor, orphans and students. However, the so-called universal medical care and equal welfare meant in practice the overall equally low level of service and unfair redistribution of resources to separate elite centers – for capital dwellers and party nomenklatura (the higher officials in the Soviet Union). Personal social services (Wiktorov, 1992) in Soviet times, included for example, the system of incentives, benefits and discounts on kindergartens and nurseries for children from single-mother and low-income families, the benefits on tickets to sanatoriums for aged citizens, the provision of clothes and food for children with disabilities living in boarding schools and for elderly people in nursing homes besides vocational education for persons with disabilities. The education and health care systems in the Soviet Union were supplied with cadres having professional education, but there were no social workers with appropriate education.
Under socialism a need for social work could not be articulated since it was considered that the achievement of economic equality should automatically solve the social problems generated by the previous system of market relations. Therefore in socialist Russia the social, social-psychological, or social-medical services existed in a fragmentary form and rather belonged to other kinds of activity: for instance, family problems were to be resolved in a court or at party gatherings. In turn, many social problems were not recognized while some of them, for example, dissidence, disability, prostitution and alcoholism were defined in medical and/or criminal terms. The recognition of such issues as problems generated by the system and not as an individual diagnosis would mean an offence against the foundations of dominating ideology (Iarskaia-Smirnova & Romanov 2009b). Russia inherited from the Soviet period a complex system of social security based in public institutions, without professional social work and with the small social transfers to different social groups (people with disabilities, single mothers, veterans, etc., altogether more than 150 categories of population), which were in addition irregularly paid.
Notes on contemporary development: new challenges and demands
At the very beginning of the 1990-s social work burst into Russia – simultaneously as a program of higher education (or a retraining program) and professional practice. The society changed drastically. It became more open and heterogeneous which brought acquisitions to some people and hardships to others. It was a time of big political changes and painful social transformations which were accompanied by a dramatic growth of poverty and unemployment, homelessness and juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol misuse, mental health issues; HIV/AIDS (Green, 2000; Höjdestrand 2003; McAuley 2010; Pridemore 2002; Stephenson 2000; 2008; Titterton 2006). It was evident that previous social institutions could not cope with these new social problems. During the 1990s a wide network of social services were established under the responsibility of the Ministry of Labour and Social Development (recently Ministry of Health Care and Social Development). This social services network has been expanding rapidly during the last 10-12 years (see fig. 1).
Figure 1. Increase in the number of social service agencies
Source: Ministry of Health Care and Social Development, Moscow, 2006
Since the beginning of the 1990s the practice field of social work was developing rather separately from the field of professional training, while the situation in human resources of the social work services sector was characterized by low wages, labor shortage, high fluctuation of personnel and insufficient opportunities of retraining. In the mid-1990s the majority of social workers in Russia were recruited from unemployed women, some of them were mothers with young children. Flexible working hours provided much opportunity for women to do caring work both in the family and in public services. Added to this, these positions were open while other job chances were scarce: “There are not very many options to find jobs, no choices” (Interview 2 with social worker, 1996) and at risk to be closed down. Such a symbolic contract between women and the state has been legitimised by the ‘National plan of activities concerning the improvement of women’s position in Russia and increasing their role in society up to 2000’ which promotes a ‘creation of additional working places for women by widening the network of social services’ (National Plan, 1996). The research shows that, by setting up inadequate wage policies for social workers, the state has reinforced the societal assumption of cheap women’s labour as well as the lack of professionalisation of social work. Dissatisfaction with low wages and medicalized treatment of social problems were the key notions in social workers discourse in the 1990s (Iarskaia-Smirnova & Romanov 2002). Research conducted in different regions of Russia bears this out: most employees lack training, and this impacts negatively on the quality of their services. At the same time, for some social workers, work was not difficult, but rather interesting. A central motive in all interviews was altruistic, i.e. being useful to people: “I would like to help, [with] some kindness, not even material [support], just purely psychological. [We have a] large effect – both mums and children leave with shining eyes – it inspires a lot!” (Interview 4 with social worker, 1996).
Not only politics and welfare policies but also the organization is an environment for shaping social work legitimacy (see Anleu 1992). The practitioner herself too contributes to the construction of the set of notions and values about an ideal client and ideal technology for intervention and treatment, quality of work, as well as the need for certain knowledge and skills. Social work everyday ideologies are practice theories, which often exist in a form of ‘tacit knowledge’ (Zeira & Rosen 2000), are interconnected with dominant thinking on gender and social order. The problems of a client might be an outcome of beliefs in traditional gender roles and traditional family definitions, which supposes inequality and subordination of women. As our research shows (Iarskaia-Smirnova 2004; Iarskaia-Smirnova & Romanov 2008), statutory agencies in 1990s have operated on a base of positivist ideologies reflected in attitudes of determinism and passivity (Fook 2003) in dealing with the issues of domestic violence against women, trying to solve the problems of each woman separately instead of bringing them together with other people with similar experience, which could provide help from the group. In contrast to them, non-governmental organizations, such as crisis centers for women, working with the support of international donors, have developed a strong emancipatory view based on feminist ideology. Currently, new understanding has formed that the various forms of violence against women are a problem worthy of state response (Johnson 2009).
During the early 1990s four professional associations were created (Association of Social Workers, Association of Social Pedagogues and Social Workers, Association of Social Workers, Association of Social Services Employees, Association of Schools of Social Work) and several special periodicals were developed and established anew. While the association of educators was not so visible, the others have been more active, they published several magazines and arranged for a number of conferences and training courses. Since 2001 the Union of Social Pedagogues and Social Workers has been acting as the national association with over 4500 members in 70 Regions of the Russian Federation (see: Russian Public Organization). However, it is not the Association but the Federal government which has jurisdiction over the profession. The Social Services Federal Law (1995) claims that “the system of social service agencies includes organizations under the control of both Federal and regional authorities, in addition to municipal systems which involve municipal organizations of social services. Social service can also be provided by organizations and citizens representing different sectors of the economy”. The workforce of social services provides care in many different settings, which according to the Social Service Federal Law (1995) includes home care, social assistance for family and children, social-rehabilitation services for children and youngsters under 18; helping children who are left without parents; shelters for children and adolescents; psychological-pedagogical help to the population; hot-line services; night stay hostels; day care for lonely elderly; residential social services (nursing homes for elderly and disabled, psycho-neurological nursing homes, nursing homes for children with mental retardation, nursing homes for children with disabilities); elderly care. Residential care established in state-owned institutions and other state-based social care services are also found in Russia. Similarly to the situation in Ukraine (Dzhygyr, 2007), this imbalance is rooted in various barriers in the development of the social services market, with non-governmental players, such as alternative non-state providers. Outreach work with youth delinquents, drug addicts and homeless people is conducted mainly by NGOs, which are active in big cities.
Recent changes in Russian social services of the 2000s include rise of a third sector, a concern with social work professionalization, and the development of the new managerialism. The most characteristic feature of the process of change in the Russian public sector in general and in the social services sector in particular is the persistence of the monopolised position of organizations providing public services and the narrow possibilities for creating a competitive environment. The on-going processes of social policy reforms in Russia are determined by the intentions of neoliberal ideologists and the government to make relationships between the citizens and the state more efficient and effective. In Russia these processes took place after the “shock therapy” of the late 1990s in crisis circumstances of economical and political life, competition for power between private oligarchs, regional leaders and central power. Under the conditions of rapid decrease of the quality of life during market reforms a number of welfare clients groups increased. Due to the ineffectiveness of a universalistic approach, the emphasis in solving welfare problems was shifted to implementing the means testing scheme. This has led to a cancellation of a number of welfare clients groups, and recently to compensating them via monetary means.
This shift to a market welfare system using the ‘means-testing’ method in distributing welfare including social support, characterizes the process of social policy liberalization in contemporary Russia. The content of the overall reform had been determined by the emphasis on increase in transparency of the system of social services in order to manage and optimize the distribution of budget resources. The development of a market for social services, provided in Russia by the state based, private and non-governmental organizations has been accelerated, which opens up for all types of social services a possibility to participate in the process of budget means distribution in frames of so called quasi-market processes. In Russia the liberalization of the social services market is limited by the lack of standards of services, weak knowledge base concerning the methods of working with clients and standard regulation in this field, lack of skills in evaluation of quality and effectiveness by many public and non-governmental organizations, as well as knowledge of how to be competitive to promote good services, organizations and methods of work (Romanov 2008). Although means-tested assistance was supposed to increase the effectiveness of the social welfare system, it has had negative effects on the most vulnerable population, especially single mothers who are the heads of low-income households. Having engaged in interactions with the social service system in late 1990s-early 2000s, they were often frustrated by the inadequate assistance and impossibility to improve their life situations.
There is an obvious attempt to move from the vague concepts of social work as an occupation where one needs only a 'big heart' and motherly kindness to manageable and accountable activities. Terms from business and management are increasingly entering the world of social services, like effectiveness, efficiency, productivity, professional qualification, successful performance, effective service delivery. These changes may indicate a turn towards technocratic competencies (Dominelli & Hoogvelt 1996), but in social services the majority of employees are still women with low pay and prescribed feminine qualities in their job:
“She got herself engaged into their situation, she shouldered a number of families with domestic violence, she gets inside these families, almost got herself in-between this offender and victim. She sort of takes them through herself. She tries hard, so that the family would be an ideal one” (interview with social service administrator, 2006).
A feature of the professional qualification, which is still being taken-for-granted, is a set of ‘natural’ qualities of a specialist’s personality. This gives rise to uncertain definitions of services, as well as fuzzy expectations and demands on the part of both administrators and clients. The features of social work routine in social services include high workload and inadequate reward, indefinite and irrational relations between a social worker and a client, an uncertain, irrational nature of worker-client relationships, a vulnerability of workers vis-à-vis the organisation and service users, paternalistic treatment of clients, non-transparency and complexity of caring work measurement, too high demands on the clients’ side and the concomitant risk of neglecting the needs of the same. Clearly, it is not ‘feminine qualities’ but the structural conditions of work that determine the labour relations and the choice of women among the labour force.
In today’s Russia the principles of neo-managerialism in social work are infused by the ideologies of neo-liberal welfare state. Dividing the poor as deserving and undeserving turned out to be useful to scientifically rationalize the allocation of resources already under socialism. By saving resources, modern ideologies of control create a gap between clients and social workers. This governmentality may be the reason why clients view practitioners not as sources of help, but as obstacles that must be overcome to get required services (Dominelli 2004). However, these market-oriented ideals are mixed with the notions of non-professional assistance, “big and kind heart” meaning emotional care, and rudiments of the universal welfare arrangements.
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