Why Dialogue in Praxis
Facing the dilemma between the praxis and the dialogue and wanting to avoid unnecessary compromise (which is frequently done in SW), we did not want merely to juxtapose the two terms but to put them in a relationship that would form a good synthesis: DIALOGUE IN PRAXIS With a subtitle:
A Social Work International Journal
When we say ‘dialogue in praxis’ we are not referring to dialogue as an abstract notion (losing its content) – the dialogue is situated in praxis. Thus it ceases to be a mere act of knowing, a tool of finding truth (theoria); it becomes a tool of finding the true action – praxis.
Being situated in praxis the dialogue becomes determined by the context; it becomes involved with the concrete and real issues of everyday life, politics, and history... The determination and involvement is dialectical – it is about what there is and with what there should be.
Thus the dialogue acquires not only locality but also finality. It is not mere talking; it is talking for action, for doing. Praxis moves from being an adverbial determination to become a predicative value since the action is the reason of a dialogue, its end and its creation.
In such a way it construes the modality, it is dialogue that is in action that is alive and creative. It creates the knowledge of doing – praxis. The praxis is not only about doing but also about knowing how to do, why and what for.
Both terms (concepts) are to many of us the legacy of Paolo Freire. Using them would also be tribute to him (and also to the Praxis group that was instrumental to becoming of IUC).
In the Freirean thought it is impossible to talk about dialogue without mentioning praxis, and vice versa to talk about praxis without engaging in the dialogue.
However the concept of dialogue has been used more widely, if not even excessively, while praxis has become half forgotten -, a minor concept. That alone is a good enough reason to put it in the title of the journal. It is a statement that social work is not a science merely of talking, but above all a science of doing.
Extensive use of the dialogue as a term (not so much a concept) has led to the situation where we can be in dialogue with anybody about anything, but with very little change achieved. Dialogue has become a post-modern concept where it is possible to talk, but without consequent action or resultant change in reality Thus postmodernism devolves into that neoliberalism where everything is possible as long as it conforms to the exigencies of economic action – not the dialogue itself but that has become the criterion of action. Is re-introducing the praxis as a necessity of dialogue, a way of re-modernisation or neo-modernisation of social work discourse? I don’t know, but it seems that proposing the praxis as knowledgeable and critical action is a way to go for the future.
By using two philosophical concepts in the title we are running the risk of social workers and other potential readers saying: ‘This is all Greek to me!’ This risk is true, but worth taking.
Both terms are usually wrongly understood. Dialogue is usually understood as ‘two people talking’ and praxis is directly translated into ‘practice’. Both are quite wrong and far away from the real meaning of the concepts.
Dia- does not stand for ‘two’ but for ‘through’, and logos is a word, talk, thought... Dialogue translates into talking through (ideas, matters). Most of the Plato’s dialogues involve more than Socrates talking to someone else. It is a way of talking through (in order to find the way out – walkout! :).
Praxis is knowledge, not only knowledge of how (why and what for) to do things, but also the knowledge that we acquire by doing things, changing reality and creating new arrangements. Techne rather than logos.
Praxis transcends the usual binary division of theory and practice (imbedded also in our title of the school at IUC), it reforms the relationship of ‘knowledge/theory first and then action/ practice, so that one is not subordinated to the other.
Praxis should be understood not only as an knowledgeable action but also as an action of knowing -, learning through doing and knowing through changing and knowing to change. Theory is of course a big part of this process, but as Marx said, the point of the theory (philosophy) is not to understand the world but to change it.
Using Greek in the title does move us from a tradition of social work - that is: to talk in popular, vernacular languages, but may be worthwhile. First, because it gives it an international character (in Esperanto it would probably be the same). But secondly and more importantly, it can be a way of reaffirming at least some of the original meaning that ancient wisdom lovers (philosophers) have put into them and have been lost in today’s parlance even when the signifying word remain the same.
It is important to note in this context that Aristotle does not understand theory and praxis as a binary opposition, but rather as complementary knowledge of truth, production and action (theoria, poesis, praxis). To him the knowledge is a triad.
(The title contains a pun: The acronym of the journal is DiPSWIJ, which reads (with some phonetic corruption) ‘deep switch’ :) and this is what we need in social work today, but also in the society at large.)