Crossing times and spaces – working social work together
We want to see the IUC School for Social Work Theory and Practice combine the traditions of IUC and of the school itself and we want to lead it along the principles of social work perceived as a science of doing.
The Inter-University Centre was established at an historical moment of change. It was designed to provide the answers to the ever appearing question What to do? The Praxis group brought the minds of the East and West to the island of Korčula to reflect on the changing world. IUC was established as a theoretical context in in which we could create a vision of what has to change, and invent ways in which such changes could be brought about. It has aspired to be a temporal community of scholars, practitioners and students of changing society. It has laid the format of common space where creative thought is possible and is not bound to preset notions of status and dominance, where the dialogue between the people from different backgrounds, trajectories and systems is possible. It was one of the projects of the New Left 1968 Revolution, a Revolution that has not reached its ends, but which has established many useful means.
The Social Work School was established at a different historical moment, that of the quite opposite Conservative Revolution of the Eighties. It was born at a time of fear that the Welfare State might be abolished and social work as a profession with it. Dada’s project was instrumental in the survival of the profession but also in the process of its academisation. The dissent and critical stance that social work obtained in the radicalisation of the sixties has found its open and academic expression in the framework of the IUC. Dubrovnik and IUC have been instrumental in putting social work on the map of sciences. IUC has provided its participants with the confidence of academia and above all established an assertive epistemology in open discussion and expression. Social work has not only survived the Thatcherite threat of annihilation but has emerged as a global profession.
The present moment is quite different from the moments of establishment of the IUC and the School. It is not a time of Revolution but one cannot escape the impression that the change we face might be great. It is definitely a time of great challenges for social work. It may the time of syntheses, broader syntheses than in the past –not only of East and West but of North and South as well. It is also a time when an open academic space for reflection for action is needed, and may be when the social work epistemology of doing might be employed for common good.
Social work is a science of doing, it is transversal, pragmatic, partisan, probabilistic, experimental, reflective and reflexive and it is based on the ethico-aestetic paradigm. These are the concepts we want to employ in the future thought processes of the Social Work School in Dubrovnik.
Doing. Doing in social work is producing change. It is about desire. The desire is however born in the dialectics of change and tradition. We cannot desire something that will be as it is, but also something that never was. Dubrovnik as the historical site of a Republic is a place with the tradition of Freedom (Libertas), the tradition of desire. The IUC is a place of the tradition of change and our school is producing a tradition of a science of doing. Doing things together.
Crossing. The School will continue to address the diverse planes of existence. It will be cutting across the spiritual, communal, political and theoretic planes of working within different spaces and engaging in different levels of functioning and addressing different registers of needs, wants, wishes and necessities. It will remain interdisciplinary, inter-university and promote the international; with the social work framework providing the meeting place for different gazes and for working on diverse matters.
Knowing how. Social work is not grammatic it is pragmatic. Its priority is not whether something is right or wrong but rather to identify what works, what is least harmful. We want to emphasise the skills, the operations and innovations. We need to explore the four basic operations of social work: working together, empowering, analysing the risks, and mapping and resourcing. We want to explore the innovations and provide 1001 new ways of responding to people’s distress instead of relying on the few standard metonymies of human need.
Discovering opportunities. Social work sponsors a probabilistic not a causal perspective on life events. The discourse of risk which dominates the social work practice (and has been addressed in IUC in the past) is looking at the hazards and dangers of living; we have to turn attention to the opportunities. Social work has the potential of reconstructing the ordinary – even when we talk about catastrophes, personal, natural or social.
Experimenting. Social work is an experimental science. We are engaged in lively experiments of trying to live better. IUC is a venue for reporting the experiments and planning new ones. Maybe also of doing things together.
Reflecting and reflexing. The immediate presence of the others in Dubrovnik elicits responsiveness. It is place of stories being told, but also provides an opportunity to escape from everyday routine. Stories in Dubrovnik often become jokes and we enjoy there a relatively low incidence of institutional politics.
Ethical and aesthetic. So called post modernism against the background of Dubrovnik is showing its phoney face. The renaissance and baroque of Dubrovnik may help us to overcome the positivistic rationalistic transcendentalism of the science that has become religion. The humanist endowment is stronger to that of Reason. Maybe through Art and Knowledge that stem from our desire to be human we can learn how to be reasonable without being inhuman.
In other words: we want to hang on to legacy of Dada, to the tradition of IUC and use it to promote new kinds of knowledge of doing, innovating, transforming distress into opportunity and thought that will make us appreciate the humanity of wisdom.
We really need to be grateful to Dada for bringing us together. She has brought together spiritual and radical, theoretical and practical, personal and political. She has done the housework, maintained the space, if not the place. Her strong yet tolerant presence ensured the safety of Free Speech. She has provided us with space, inspiration and company. She has established a path to be safely trodden.
We cannot replace her. It is unthinkable to imagine that what she has done can be repeated. As a result we must seek of running the school collectively. The role of course directors is therefore crucial for the continuation of the School. We must take care of what we have got.
The way we see the prospects of the school is just a point of view to be complemented by you. By your contribution, your initiative and an open invitation to the colleagues.
Becoming links not only between East and West, but also the South – Asia, Africa, South America, and of course the Mediterranean seems overridingly important in the present moment and in the conditions where social work is becoming a global profession.
Hopefully we can extend the school from our actual encounters into a Virtual School and explore the possibilities of being together even when apart. This can be done in more than one way.
We have the Journal that is representative of our enterprise. It is to be a source and resource of our proceedings. If we make an effort we can upgrade it in next few years to become an essential and seminal point of reference.
The journal is not just a (news) paper - it is a means, an instrument, and, we might say - a situation in itself – to create knowledge and to communicate it. It is a tool for dialogue: to write and read, to find out and to learn, to observe and to let know.
A journal is a way of documenting knowledge and a note about developing the theory and practice of social work across time and place. Knowledge today is no more exclusive, it is continually verified through the experience of knowledge users: practitioners, service users, scientists – and we all step into these roles. To have a journal means to have a point for reflexion of experience, to have an opportunity for voices to be heard and an arena to sharpen concepts and thought. The journal is and will stay another “meeting point” for mutual learning.
Besides the journal we will try the new electronic and informational possibilities of extending our stay in Dubrovnik and escape from the routines of everyday. We can try to keep the track of summer in the winter and “come to the school” even when we cannot physically attend.
There is a possibility of “spin off events besides the normal dates. These might not be continuous but will help us to foster thought and action that would transcend the boundaries of the continuous courses.
On the other hand we have to explore the means of communicating skills, of how to include the users in our happenings, since these two are the cornerstones of our metier.
The hope is to bring us back together, to bring joy and laughter, to be able to smile and laugh at each other. Just like we always did.
Vito Flaker and Vera Grebenc
Published in: Maglajlić, D. (ed) (2010) Proceedings of the 20th Anniversary Conference - The IUC Dubrovnik Social Work Theory and Practice, Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, pp. 15-17.