SW 146 HBSE II (Social Theory)
Class Record for 11/20/02
1. Social Work is like human behavior. Both are embedded in a broader social context and need to be understood as arising out of that context. Social Work did not fall out of the sky and is not autonomous; instead, it arose from broader social movements focused on achieving social justice and it continues to this day to be affected by social movements that seek to mobilize public concern and action related to specific social injustices. Social work emerged out of the Progressive Movement on the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century deriving from the efforts of the Charitable Organization Societies, the Settlement House Movement, including people like Jane Addams at Hull House.
2. Social movements and professions are actually related in multiple ways. On the one hand, social movements sometimes end up in the form of new professions or changes in professions. This is way the effort to fight for change in society gets institutionalized in professional practice. Max Weber call this the routinization of charisma. He feared that this routinization can sap a social movement of vitality and leave the professionalized practice just a pale shadow of the political efforts of the movement.
3. On the other hand, we can we could conceive of professions giving rise to social movements as efforts to overcome the limitations of professional work, to get beyond professional constraints, to span professional boundaries, to connect with others more rooted in the community, and to push for needed reforms in society more generally that would enable professional practice to be more effective in meeting its ostensible goals. Social workers often join alliances and form coalitions with others in other helping professions and the wider community so as to enable needed social change.
4. Professions are groups of experts who are seen as serving society in the public interest. This puts them in the vexed position of working for the existing society and trying to ensure that it can change to better meet what is best for the public. This is especially the case for social work which is explicitly committed to changing society. Social work is vulnerable to getting caught up in practices of social control that focus on regulating people's behavior in order to preserve the existing social order, while also trying to engage in practices that promote social welfare by changing society so as to better ensure everyone's needs will be met.
5. Social movements have been particularly significant as a way of organizing for social change in the United States historically. This has been a country that is periodically wracked by upsurges in social movements. Some scholars argue this is because of American Exceptionalism . This is not so much the idea that the U. S. is the "first new nation" that was formed without a class structure. Instead, it is more the idea that even though a class structure developed in the U.S., the country has lacked a tradition of organizing social conflict along class lines. Instead, of class politics, we get issue politics. Instead of class conflict, we get social movements.
6. Without a successful labor movement that could organize oppressed people in "one big union" or movement, efforts to promote social change historically have come from more fragmented, episodic, single issue-focused social movements that rise and fall periodically, sometimes reforming years later in new form to address the same issue. The women rights movement is a good example.
7. With the multiplication of the 19th Century “Social Problem” in the variety of more specialized social problems of the last half century, social movements as episodic, fragmented, and single issue-focused can be vulnerable to cooptation. They often are bought-off with concessions and tend to dissipate after the worst aspects of the problems they are attacking get addressed. Social movement leaders often end up becoming leaders of new institutions or organizations and get incorporated into the existing power structure.
8. It is at this point that the development of new professions or of changed professional practice will occur. This can represent positive change. It can also mean that the social movement has only achieved a more diluted version of its goals that is more consistent with the existing power relations of the dominant institutional matrix operating in society.
9. For instance, the social movement to fight child poverty in recent years has tried to frame the issue in terms of treating the "next generation as our most important resource" and that developing social policies to support them as an important economic investment. Yet, this can backfire if people come to see children as a less than ideal investment, they will want to put their money elsewhere. Also, take the recent movement to fight homelessness . It has succeeded in socially constructing homelessness as a social problem but over time its successes have largely been manifested in the form of creating homeless shelters which are at best temporary, stop-gap responses that many homeless individuals and especially families find inadequate. They are being adopted in ways the maintain the hegemony of the dominant approach to social policy and housing policy that rely on the market to supply needed housing. Yet, housing markets continue to lag behind in building enough low-cost, affordable housing.
10. Social movements can be defined as mass behavior or collective action that promotes change in social relations and practices. Whether such behavior needs to be entirely conscious is subject to debate. Some people suggest that suburbanization has been a social movement. Others would say no because it has not been a conscious effort to reorganize residential patterns. Perhaps developers and realtors were very conscious and strategic about suburbanization, but home buyers less so; or if they were, they were only in terms of their individual choices and not the collective effort.
11. Social movements often arise through what C. Wright Mills defined as politics: the process by which people come to see how their prviate troubles are public problems. Paulo Friere called this process of consciousness-raising "conscientization." As people overcome their isolation, talk to each other, see that their personal troubles are not unique to the, they create the conditions to mobilize, work in concert and seek to change structural conditions in society that are working to perpetuate their problems and their inability to address them.
12. This raises a second dimension to social movements: organization. Also subject to debate is how organized does the collective effort need to be for it to qualify as a social movement. Was the welfare explosion in the 1960s a social movement? Did the dramatic rise in the number of people getting welfare result for the organized efforts of the National Welfare Rights Organization or was it the less organized result of single mothers, African-American single mothers in particular, finally getting to exercise their legal rights to get the aid for which they had been eligible?
13. Resource mobilization theory was originally proposed as an alternative to older theories of Neil Smelser and others that saw social movements as largely irrational spasms of collective action. Instead, resource mobilization theory emphasizes the logic and rationality of social movements. Resource mobilization theory relies on rational choice models or even collective choice or public choice models to highlight how social movements have their own logic and rationality. This perspective emphasizes the logic of collective action. According to resource mobilization theory, social movements are cunning, they follow a rational calculus, they weigh costs and benefits of taking one or another action. This might lead a social movement to end up emphasizing individual over collective empowerment by pursuing a calculus of self-interest and how to attract members in terms of what in it for them.
14. Social movements therefore may get caught up in following their own rational calculus in ways that prevent them from "keeping their eyes on the prize" and just trying to push their issue. They may get too strategic, too interested in their own survival and success independent of whether this helps them achieve their goals. Secondary goals of organization may supplant primary goals of social change.
15. "New Social Movements" are allegedly different. They emphasize a politics of recognition over a politics of redistribution. They emphasize the legitimation of marginal identities over the reallocation of material resources.
16. These new social movements grow out of the growing emphasis on how there are a variety of forms of oppression in society and that there are multiple subject positions for the oppressed. Oppression is not simply along class lines. There is class, race, gender, sexual preference and other divisions making for the marginalization of a variety of identities.
17. These new social movements seek to emphasize how we need to first address the issue of how selected subject positions, such as defined by class, race, gender and other relations, leave some people out or behind in gaining access to needed social resources, to be included in social networks, to having access to social capital, to be valued as a legitimate member of society. The idea is that changing how identity marginalizes some is the first order of business for successful social movements and that this needs to be done along multiple fronts.
18. Rene Anspach raises the interesting issue of whether disability rights groups and others new social movements are really that "new" in emphasizing identity. Anspach effectively suggests that the new social movements like the disability rights movement lead to a reconsideration of labeling theory. Labeling theory is a well-intentioned liberal theory that is critical of how putting labels on people can stigmatize them as deviant. Yet this theory sees the stigmatized largely as passive victims and suggests that solutions to labeling lie in using euphemisms that will deemphasize difference so as to promote assimilation. The new social movements show that the oppressed are often actively resisting their oppression by embracing their categorizations in an ironic way, as in “queer politics,” in order to emphasize difference and promote multiculturalism.
19. As Lisa Duggan, Josh Gamson and many others have highlighted, new social movements often are effective by challenging how the dominant culture, the hegemonic order, the prevailing ideology, the biases in established institutions create hierarchies of privilege according which identities are seen as mainstream vs. marginal, normal vs. deviant, good vs. bad, etc. The main way such new social movements challenge the way identities are used to privilege some people over others is demonstrate, act out, perform in ways that get us to reconsider the sedimented identities established in society. They often use irony invoking terms of denigration and throwing them back at those in the mainstream. Good examples are the gay rights movement's use of the word "queer" or the disability rights movement's use of the word "cripple." Such performances are used to make us feel uncomfortable, to heighten our consciousness to see how we are marginalizing "others," how we are "othering" people, by labeling them as deviant, how we are stigmatizing them.
20. Duggan calls in particular for what she names "queering the state," where gay and lesbian rights movement points out the hidden, latent and not so hidden, latent bias of the state on behalf of heterosexuals and traditional families. The strategy is to get people to see how their existing categorial distinctions are not neutral but privilege some people unfairly over others. Such a strategy forces us to see the extent to which our categorial distinctions are socially constructed, how say disabled people are not really less able, just different. Such a strategy helps us resist constructing difference into otherness so that we can accept different without privileging some people as better than others on less than legitimate grounds.
21. It could be that social movements always need to attend to how a politics of recognition and a politics of redistribution are interrelated. This was true in the case of the famous Memphis sanitation workers strike of 1966 when these African-American workers' campaign to unionize for better pay, benefits and work conditions was centered on the slogan "I am a Man." This campaign was interrupted by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was helping to lead the effort there. This civil rights campaign was also a labor union strike that emphasized redistribution and recognition issues simultaneously.
22. Rob Rosenthal also forces us to rethink social movements along the lines we have suggested here to consider how social movements involve multiple dilemmas. His case-study of organizing around the issue of homelessness raises the issues of who gets to speak for whom: what are the consequences of having the Coalition for the Homeless front for the Union of the Homeless? Are we limiting the extent to which the homeless will be empowered, are we perpetuating their subaltern status as a subordinate group? Are we inevitably diluting their voice and promoting cooptation? Is this why the push for a "right to shelter" ended up in New York State interpreting that to mean that the homeless have a right to sleep in a shelter? Maybe there is a need to deemphasize "the homeless" as a distinct group and return to the broader issue of economic justice for all.
23. One effective response to the voice problem is not to give up on identity politics but radicalize it further by turning to the powerful. Instead, of claiming to represent the identity of the oppressed, good social work can turn to challenging the identities privileged implicitly by the allegedly neutral state and its public policies. As discussed in class, the history of social movements in the U.S. is fraught with balkanization and fragmentation that can collapse into a competition over which group is the most victimized and then over who gets to represent each group, leading to more and more fragmentation, competition and infighting. Instead of focusing on trying to clarify the identity of each group, it might be better to focus on challenging how the allegedly neutral state implicitly privileges identity. The goal is often to show how the allegedly neutral public policies of the state and its agents and agencies, and contractors and providers, are implicitly and sometimes even explicitly biased in favor of privileging the white male-headed two parent, middle class and upper class family. So again, we turn to “queering the state,” pointing out how it is falsely neutral, actually biased, reinscribing privilege and working to perpetuate the subordination of marginalized identities and groups. So we show how marriage law is biased in favor of heterosexual marriage, how unemployment compensation is biased in favor of male-headed two parent families where the breadwinner can work full-time, how welfare reform is biased in favor of the better educated and more trained middle class divorcees, etc., etc.
24. Professionals can be empowered to work more effectively when they are part of a broader social movement, especially movements that explicitly combine a politics of recognition with a politics of redistribution by “queering the state.” This can be very political, very risky, even at times putting the professional at odds with her agency, the law, and the broader culture but this might be what is necessary for social workers if their work is to push the limits of what is currently possible in order to get needed services and eventually social justice for their clients.
25. Doing professional work as part of a social movement can help resist how privilege gets constructed in society. It therefore raises the issue of what is social justice and how can we get it, through social work and otherwise.