Global Agenda on Social Work and Social Development- Dr. John Coates

Summary of the event:

The Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development (July 8-12, 2012 in Stockholm) was a joint conference of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, International Federation of Social Workers and the International Council on Social Welfare. Over 2,000 participants attended with several plenaries and numerous concurrent sessions. I particularly valued the fact that many sessions and presentations focused on environmental social work eco-social work, and sustainability.

Facilitated by John Coates, Fred Besthorn, and Tiani Hetherington

This workshop is designed for social work practitioners and educators interested in incorporating environmental social work interventions into their everyday practice. Led by leading scholars on environmental social work, it will outline the core areas of environmental scholarship, education, and practice centred on key environmental issues using, as its base, a typology of micro, mezzo, and macro interventions developed by Gray, Coates, and Hetherington (forthcoming 2012). The workshop will also discuss some of the major challenges in environmental social work and the challenges that engagement with environmental issues raises for the profession. The typology includes engagement in environmental issues relating to inter alia mining and industrial damage; global warming and climate change; toxic materials production and waste disposal; air, soil, and water pollution; species extinction; sustainable development and food security; and natural disasters. The emphasis is on theoretical frameworks, practice examples, and case studies of what social workers are doing, or might do, in relation to environmental and educational initiatives. The challenges include overcoming the limitations of anthropocentric thinking and strategically changing the focus of the profession of social work with its ecosystems or person-in-environment approach to include the natural environment. Although social work has only recently engaged with the modern environmental movement, this workshop specifically seeks to extend scholarship in this area beyond claims as to what the profession ‘ought to be doing’ to address environmental concerns in practical ways so social workers can incorporate the natural environment in their direct practice with clients. Moreover, it aims to address what the social work profession can do in terms of macro, mezzo, and micro practice levels of intervention around the key environmental challenges facing our planet. We seek to engage in collaborative discussions around this key emerging area of social work practice and to discuss the potential for creating an international network of environmental social work practice and education interventions where we can share our collective practice and research wisdom.

The session I co-facilitated was a 90 minute workshop on Environmental Social Work attended by about 35 people. As outlined in the Abstract, the goal of the workshops was to discuss a Typology of Social Work Practice on Environmental Issues that will appear in a forthcoming book, Environmental Social Work (Routledge) co-edited by Mel Gray, John Coates and Tiani Hetherington. Discussion groups within our workshop were also facilitated by the organizers and included as well, Fred Besthorn (USA), Margaret Alston (Australia), Lena Dominelli (Britain) and Jej Peeters (Belgium). At the workshop we also started a network of scholars and researchers interested in environmental social work and are pleased that all in attendance signed up. I think this network will grow quickly and be useful for furthering international cooperation among social work scholars interested in environmental issues. I think the network will be of interest to Dr. Arielle Dylan and Professor Aamir Jamal who have both global and environmental interests. I expect to be a member though I am uncertain of the degree of my involvement.

The conference also provided the opportunity to meet several scholars whose work I have cited, or who have contributed chapters to my edited journals and books; it was good to strengthen these connections. I was particularly pleased to meet Aila-Leena Mathies and Kati Nari whose work I only recently came across and plan to become more familiar.