Integrating Globalization into the Social Work Curriculum

By Rotabi, Karen Smith; Gammonley, Denise et al. | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Integrating Globalization into the Social Work Curriculum


Rotabi, Karen Smith, Gammonley, Denise, Gamble, Dorothy N., Weil, Marie O., Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


The reality that social work is a global profession is explored. Authors encourage a broadening of social work education, moving beyond the traditional conception of "internationalized" to a "globalized" social work curriculum. Practical teaching strategies for a globalized perspective are presented with selected key concepts specifically applied to social policy, community practice, human behavior in the social environment, and sustainable development. Discussion includes macro-scale ethical considerations in a neoliberal economic system.

Keywords: social work education, globalization, cultural competence, interdependence, reciprocity

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While there has been discussion about the true relevance of globalization to social work (Powell & Geoghegan, 2005; Webb, 2003), the evidence of practice world-wide and the burgeoning literature indicate that social work is now truly a global profession (Asamoah, et al., 1997; Caragata & Sanchez, 2002; Cox & Pawar, 2006; Healy, 2001, 2002; Johnson, 2004; Midgley & Hokenstad, 1997; Midgley, 1997; 2001, 2004; Nagy & Falk, 2000; Ramanathan & Link, 1999). Clearly, we are now entering a period in which our profession embraces both international practice and also a more complex global understanding of social problems and solutions (Asamoah, et al, 1997; Cox & Pawar, 2006; Healy, 2001; Midgley, 2001; Ramanathan & Link, 1999).

In this paper we expand upon the idea of an internationalized curriculum (Estes, 1992; Healy, 2002; Johnson, 2004) employing a global and holistic conception that fully embraces the complexities of the transactional nature of social work and its ecological perspective (Hutchinson, 1999). An integrated curriculum addresses demographic, cultural, social, political, economic, environmental and psychological causes and consequences of globalization (Midgley, 2001, 2004) attends to the consequent ethical responsibilities (Rotabi, Gammonley, & Gamble, 2006; Link, 1999; Singer, 2004) and the necessity of inter-cultural competence (Rotabi, et al., 2006) to promote social justice and human rights (Cox & Pawar, 2006; Finn & Jacobson, 2003; Reichert, 2003).

From International to Global

There are different definitions of international social work and some usages of the term have been restrictive to practice (Midgley, 2001), or used to "denote the exchanges that take place between social workers" (Midgley, 1990, p. 295). Also, social work scholars have used the term in a comparative model and policy approach (Healy, 1995; Kahn & Kamerman, 1978; Mayadas, Watts, & Elliot, 1997) or international profile presentation focusing on the roles of social workers in other countries (Hokenstad, Khinduka & Midgley, 1992). However, more broadly, Healy defines the outcomes of "internationalization" as being "(1) improved social work practice; (2) more humane and socially oriented public policies at the national and global levels; and (3) enhanced status for the profession of social work through its increased visibility" (Healy, 2002, p. 4).

While Healy consistently integrates a broad global perspective in her international social work discussion, we suggest adding a fourth more explicit outcome: an increased understanding of the complexities and human costs and benefits of a globalized and interdependent world with rapidly changing social, technological, and economic systems. We present this fourth outcome as a way of moving beyond more traditional conceptions of international social work towards a globalized social work perspective (Asamoah, et al., 1997; Polack, 2004; Ramanathan & Link, 1999) which captures the nuances of multiple and interacting world systems. This approach is consistent with Singer's view that "the term "globalization" rather than the older "internationalization" moves us past the era of growing ties between nations towards something beyond the existing conception of the nation-state" (Singer, 2002, p.

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