The Welfare State Crisis and the Transformation of Social Service Work

By Michael B. Fabricant; Steve Burghardt | Go to book overview

5 • Charting A New Direction:
Generative Social Services

Even in the best of times, social service practitioners have been required to balance daily tensions that are built into the structure of their work. The demand for social services always has outstripped what can be supplied by agencies. Waiting lists, the shutting down of intake, and a scarcity of referral sources in the community did not suddenly appear in the last two decades. Equally important, the agencies' tendencies toward specialization of skill, centralization of authority, and routinization of service have deep historical roots that frequently limited opportunities to develop an autonomous, flexible, and skill-based practice. There are many accounts of workers struggling throughout the twentieth century against these constraints (Lubove 1973; Fisher 1980).

The workers' resistance to these forces has been propelled by a desire to develop a more professional practice both to improve the quality of work life and to meet the needs of clients. These interests are not always complementary. Too often, agendas advanced by professional associations have further insulated and isolated workers from community needs. However, autonomy, skill, and craft reflect both the dominant social imagery and core aspirations of a range of professions. These qualities also represent the critical underpinnings of any intervention that is intended to improve the quality of life for individuals and/or communities. Although the intensity may vary according to historical period or professional group, the struggle to carve out a more autonomous, skill-based practice has remained constant. The push—pull between the worker's desire for greater independence and the organization's need to control its labor force is part of a long-standing tradition within and outside of the welfare state.

During the past two decades, however, the intensity and balance of

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