Globalization and Social Work Education and Practice: Exploring Australian Practitioners' Views

Article excerpt

The process of globalization is a controversial movement supported by some due to the potential cross-national benefits, but criticized by others because of the fragmented or uneven distribution of those benefits. As many social workers interact with clients who may be affected by globalization processes, we were interested to investigate their educational preparedness and practice views on this topic. Sixty-six social workers completed a questionnaire which explored the relationship between local and international issues. Practitioner responses indicated a strong interest in the topic and widespread agreement that there is a link between local and global issues on clients in their daily practice. Also, while there was a diversity of opinion on educational preparedness for global practice, practitioner responses again indicated general agreement that ongoing education would be useful. The paper concludes with some suggestions to further enhance the knowledge and education of social workers for global practice.

Keywords: Globalization, Global Social Work Practice, Global Social Work Education


Interest in the global dimensions of social work practice has been renewed in the literature recently, with discussions regarding both the positive benefits of cross-national collaboration between social workers as well as the often negative effect globalization processes can have on people's health and welfare. (Phillips 2004; Healy, 2001; Hokenstad & Midgley, 1997; Kondrat & Ramanathan, 1996). Some of the recent significant global welfare issues which social work might be involved in include the globalization of children's rights, especially in relation to child abuse and pornography. Similarly, the social impact of global viruses such as HIV/AIDS and the respiratory syndrome SARS, the job impact of multi-country Free Trade Agreements, and the precarious welfare of international refugees and asylum seekers, are other important areas where social workers might be involved in dealing with the local consequences of global changes.

The underlying process affecting these pervasive changes is typically referred to as 'globalization' and in simple terms means the increasing interaction and interdependence of world society (Giddens 1993). That is, there is a more rapid flow of money, ideas, technology, and practices between nations. A major driver of this advance is the development of sophisticated global technology, such as the computer based internet, and users ranging from large trans-national corporations through to individuals are utilising this technology to participate in global activities. The changes brought about by this rapid flow of technology, ideas and practices can have a direct effect on the well-being of local citizens in those countries, and in this respect is of direct interest to social workers.

Some argue that if social workers are to practice effectively in the twenty-first century then social work practice itself needs to be conceptualised beyond the confines of the nation-state, as influences located outside this realm are increasingly being acknowledged as having some influence on local issues (Healy 2001; Ife 2000; Midgley 2001; Hare (2004); Abram, Slosar & Walls 2005). Thus, practitioners operating in local, national or international contexts should be fully trained to understand these interactive effects to be able to practice effectively and make a difference (Asamoah, Healy & Mayadas, 1997; Midgley, 2000). Since research indicates that educational content on the global dimensions of social work is limited in social work curricula (Johnson 1996; Boulet, 2001; Healy, 2001), and since this globalization topic is growing rapidly in public awareness, it is timely to investigate the degree to which social workers in Australia are aware of global influences on their practice, and whether they believe they are appropriately trained to deal with this global phenomenon. …