Vasilios Ioakimidis, PhD
notes and thoughts
Most of my research revolves around the broad theme of Social Work in Extremis, an exploration of social work practice in the context of unpredictable and extraordinary political, social, economic and environmental change. In my analysis, I use a historical and comparative perspective.
Social Work, a socially constructed and politically shaped activity, has been subjected to the same contradictions, changes and challenges as society itself. Despite the simplified mainstream narratives, it is important to appreciate that the evolution of social work has been dialectic and not linear; internal and external to the profession contradictions and tensions constantly shape its nature. The most defining and fundamental tension is this between the "social care and social control dimensions of the profession.
The overall question I have been trying to answer through my research is "how does our existing knowledge of social work evolve when established limits and well-defined boundaries are stretched towards the ‘unknown’. How would our current understanding of social work change if prevailing parameters were pushed to extremity”.
Three specific areas have, so far, attracted my research attention: a) social work practice in times of conflict (historical and current) and b) grassroots welfare movements in the context of extraordinary financial and political crisis and c) Making sense of social work troubled history. Geographically, I have primarily focused on the regions of Southern Europe and Latin America. My epistemological approach is influenced by critical social theory and my overall view on social work follows a radical analysis.
Social Work in the Context of Conflict
Conflict should not be defined as merely the "absence of peace". It is a much more complex sociopolitical phenomenon that presents itself in diverse forms such us state violence, armed conflict, violent austerity and extreme social inequalities. Social work although at the forefront of conflict has never meaningfully engaged with the nature and complexity of conflict. This is largely because of the contentious political nature of conflicts that defies the supposed neutrality of the profession.
It is exactly these contentious characteristics of conflict that I have been attempting to explore through my research. The main areas of this research have been concentrating on the following issues:
- What is the role of state social services in the context of conflict?
-What has been the historical evolution of social work in relation to broader social and political conflicts?
- How can we re-think the role and practice of social services in the context of conflict.
- How could a transitional model in social work look in the immediate aftermath of war and conflict? What can we learn from the field of transitional justice?
My research has involved the following regions:
Southern Europe with a particular focus on Greece and Spain. My research has been funded by the Greek Scholarship Foundation and it explores the nature of social work in Southern Europe in the context of military juntas and civil wars.
Colombia. As the Colombian State and partisan army FARC-RP engage with the most serious, complicated and promising peace negotiations in recent years, my research attempts to explore the voices of the victims of conflict and their views on the issue of post-conflict transitions. I have primarily focused this research on indigenous and Afro-colombian communities as well as trade union activists. My research in Colombia has been funded by the Santander Grant.
West Bank. Through a number of field visits and close collaboration with the Palestine-UK social work group, I have been trying to monitor and make sense of the nature and evolution of Palestinian social work under occupation. In this research, the help of Pal-UK social work group and the Palestinian Union of Social Workers and Psychologists has been instrumental.
Grassroots welfare and social work movements
Despite, the narratives of mainstream historiographies social work has always been a deeply divided profession. On the one hand, top-down and mostly Anglo-American models have captured the headlines and dominated our textbooks and curricula. On the other hand, however, a very rich grassroots tradition has informed some of the most fascinating, inclusive and creative approaches the social work profession has ever experienced (this includes for example social movements, indigenous social work and anti-fascist practice). The latter seems to have been largely ignored from mainstream scholarship. My research explores the rich and -yet unsung- grassroots social work traditions in an effort to highlight the importance of political engagement in shaping a relevant and socially just social work practice.
Currently, I am working with a group of Spanish, Greek and Portuguese social work scholars who investigate the impact of the financial crisis and violent austerity on social work theory and practice. Through this research, we have been able to identify a number of internal and external to the profession factors that have lead to the reconceptualisation of the social work profession in Southern Europe. In particular, we have been monitoring the dialectic relationships between social work and emerging grassroots movements in Greece and Spain which have led to the emergence of Podemos and Syriza.
Making Sense of Social Work's Troubled Histories
Social work historiography seems to have neglected to engage meaningfully with the most troubling aspects of the profession’s past: the histories of complicity, or at least acquiescence, in acts of state violence and institutionalised oppression. Through the exploration of historical case studies, my research provides a tentative typology of social work’s “horrible histories” focusing on the project of engineering the ideal-type family, in colonial and oppressive socio- political contexts. In this research, I argue that practices of oppression and complicity can neither be reduced to the “few bad apples” approach nor judged through the individualizing prism of moralism, prevalent in Kantian Ethics. Instead, I propose an ethics of transformative reconciliation which is based on the principles of apology, respect for victims and collective action for -professional and social- change.