Social workers' reflections on implications of neoliberal tenets for social work in South African non-governmental organisations

Ornellas, Abigail (2018-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2018.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Social work can be said to be a contentious profession, one that is deeply swayed by the socioeconomic and political forces that surround it. These forces can often challenge the profession’s commitment to social justice. Neoliberalism, much more than simply an economic theory, has been a dominant force in the global world since its emergence at the political forefront in the 1970s. Disseminated through the global market and organisational bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, neoliberal theory has infiltrated much of societal functioning, including the realm of social welfare and service rendering. The adverse impact of neoliberalism has been widely recognised and debated, linking its influence to the widening gulf between the rich and the poor and the prioritisation of economic means over and above human dignity and rights. Although the impact of neoliberalism has been critiqued and discussed within the field of social work, this has largely been limited to academic circles, and less consideration has been given to the views and experiences of frontline social workers regarding the impact of the neoliberal narrative on their practice. Furthermore, this impact is often subtle and discrete, emerging through various strands of influence or principles of commitment referred to as neoliberal tenets, and thus requires more critical and robust reflections to both recognise and understand how the broader neoliberal conception is at play in social work. South Africa has not escaped this global neoliberal hegemonic march, and through the contracting of a 1993 IMF loan, quickly saw its redistributive commitments compromised by market-driven expectations. The South African social work profession, it itself in the early stages of rebirth post the demise of apartheid, has been significantly affected by such neoliberal tenets, within the spectrum of managerialisation, marketisation, deprofessionalisation and consumerisation. These challenges are particularly evident within the non-governmental organisation context, in which social work services dominate. The aim of this study was to explore the implications of neoliberal tenets, such as those identified above, for NGOs in South Africa, as perceived, experienced and reflected upon by frontline social workers and social work managers. Toward this end, the research objectives included the conceptualisation of neoliberalism as a global economic philosophy; the conceptualisation of the global impact of neoliberalism on social work; the critical analysis of the influence of identified global neoliberal tenets on South African NGOs; the empirical investigation of the perceived implications of neoliberal tenets for social work in NGOs through the reflections of frontline social workers and social work managers; and the presentation of conclusions and recommendations for NGOs regarding the management of perceived neoliberal tenets and its implications for social work. These objectives also represent the chapter layout of the study. The research was ontologically cemented in the interpretivist paradigm, focused on understanding narrative, dialogue and meaning; it was an exploratory and descriptive study, within a purposive sample selection of five NGO case studies and a population of 24 frontline social workers and social work managers. The primary research instrument within the case study framework was the semi-structured interview schedule, which was developed based on themes emerging from literature. Qualitative data was analysed through a reliance on such theoretical propositions, logic models, cross-case synthesis and pattern matching. The resultant empirical analysis explores the narrative of social workers when reflecting on the identified and/or suggested neoliberal implications within their practice. Identified neoliberal tenets at work include the growing expectation for social services and NGOs to rely less on government support and funding, and to function more as private operations; the development of a dominant welfare discourse which promotes self-reliance, and individuals, families and communities taking responsibility for their own wellbeing; employing efficiency and cost-effectiveness as a yardstick, with a preoccupation with procedures, norms and standards; and the deprofessionalisation and diminishing of social workers’ professional identity. Through reflections and explorations of these tenets in practice, the deep challenges, needs and successes of the South African NGO and social worker are presented in a manner that is unique in its perspective. At the heart of the study is a warning; a cautioning to the profession to be aware of the often hidden neoliberal impacts and to stand its ground in an increasingly volatile neoliberal world.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Maatskaplike werk kan as ʼn kontensieuse professie beskou word, wat deur sosio-ekonomiese en politieke magte beïnvloed word. Hierdie magte kan die professie se toewyding tot maatskaplike geregtigheid uitdaag. Neoliberalisme, wat meer is as bloot ʼn ekonomiese teorie is, is ʼn dominante mag in die globale wêreld sedert die konsep in die 1970s op die politieke voorgrond begin tree het. Deur middel van disseminasie deur die wêreldwye markte en organisatoriese liggame soos die Internasionale Monetêre Fonds en die Wêreld Bank, het die neoliberale teorie maatskaplike funksionering sowel as maatskaplike welsyn en dienslewering in ʼn groot mate begin infiltreer. Die impak van neoliberalisme word wêreldwyd erken en gedebatteer, en verbind met ʼn invloed op die verwydering tussen ryk en arm, en die prioritisering van ekonomiese middele bo die waardigheid en regte van mense. Alhoewel die impak van neoliberalisme gekritiseer en bespreek word in die maatskaplikewerk-veld, geskied dit hoofsaaklik binne akademiese kringe, en minder oorweging word geskenk aan die sienings van eerstelinie maatskaplike werkers met betrekking tot die impak van die neoliberale narratief op hulle praktyk. Verder, hierdie impak is soms subtiel en diskreet, en vloei voort uit die verskillende invloede en beginsels van toewyding, waarna as neoliberale eienskappe verwys word. Dit vereis dus meer kritiese en robuuste reflektering om die breër neoliberale konsep in maatskaplike werk te herken en te begryp. Suid-Afrika het nie die neoliberale hegemonie ontsnap nie, en deur die aangaan van ʼn 1993 IMF-lening, is die toewyding tot herverspreiding verminder deur middel van markgedrewe verwagtinge. Die Suid-Afrikaanse maatskaplikewerk-professie, wat self in ʼn fase van ontwikkeling na apartheid is, word toenemend beïnvloed deur neoliberale eienskappe, met die spektrum gefokus op bestuursbeginsels, markte, deprofessionalisering en oorbeklemtoning van verbruikers. Hierdie uitdagings kom spesifiek voor binne die konteks van nie-regeringsorganisasies, wat maatskaplikewerk-dienste domineer. Die doel van hierdie studie was om die implikasies van neoliberale eienskappe te eksploreer, soos dit deur NROs in Suid-Afrika beskou word, ervaar word, en deur eerstelinie maatskaplike werkers gereflekteer word. Om dit te bereik het die navorsingsdoelstellings ingesluit dat neoliberalisme as ʼn globale ekonomiese filosofie gekonseptualiseer word; die globale impak van neoliberalisme op maatskaplike werk is gekonseptualiseer; die invloed van geïdentifiseerde neoliberale eienskappe op Suid-Afrikaanse NROs is krities geanaliseer; die implikasies van neoliberale eienskappe op NROs is empiries ondersoek; en gevolgtrekkings en aanbevelings is aangebied ten opsigte van die bestuur van die neoliberale eienskappe en implikasies vir maatskaplike werk. Hierdie doelstellings het ook die aanbieding van die studie gerig. Die studie is ontologies begrond in ʼn verklarende paradigma, gefokus op begrip vir narratiewe, dialoog en betekenis; dit was ʼn verkennende en beskrywende studie, met ʼn doelbewuste steekproef van geselekteerde NRO gevallestudies en ʼn populasie van 24 eerstelinie maatskaplike werkers en bestuurders. Die primêre instrument vir die gevallestudie se raamwerk was ʼn semi-gestruktureerde onderhoudskedule, wat ontwikkel is vanuit temas voortspruitend uit die literatuur. Kwalitatiewe data is geanaliseer deur staat te maak op teoretiese voorveronderstellings, logiese modelle, kruis-gevalle sintese en die uitwys van patrone. Die gevolglike empiriese analise eksploreer die narratiewe van maatskaplike werkers wat neoliberale implikasies op hulle werk reflekteer. Geïdentifiseerde eienskappe sluit in die groeiende verwagting van maatskaplike dienste en NROs om meer op regeringsfondse staat te maak vir befondsing, en om om as besigheidsorganisasies te funksioneer; die ontwikkeling van ʼn dominante maatskaplike diskoers wat selfonderhouding bevorder; individue, gesinne en gemeenskappe wat verantwoordelikheid vir hulle eie welstand aanvaar; om effektiwiteit en kostedoeltreffendheid as maatstaf te benut, met ʼn oorbeklemtoning van prosedures, norme en standaarde; en die deprofessionalisering en vermindering van maatskaplike werkers se professionele identiteit. Deur reflektering en eksplorering van hierdie eienskappe vanuit die praktyk, word die uitdagings, behoeftes en suksesse van die Suid-Afrikaanse NROs en maatskaplike werkers aangebied, wat ʼn unieke perspektief bied. Sentraal tot hierdie studie is ʼn waarskuwing wat gerig word: die professie moet bewus wees van verskuilde neoliberale invloede om te oorleef in ʼn toenemende neoliberale wêreld.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/103320
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