Social work in modern society: Perspective and challenges

Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.


The topic concerned is the most challenging in today’s perspective. We live in a materialistic society and a concept of social work in this society is a bit challenging. This article will deal with all perspective and challenges subsequently. All sort of thinking and common beliefs that persist in the society somehow or the other affects the social work in the modern society. Doing a social work a worker has to face these common obstructions. Knowing the society we have to first deal with problems of the society and to know these problems we have to first deal with the research regarding that particular society. Man has always been interested in the facts and events that have been taking place around him. He has been exploring different sources of evidence concerning the facts and events to acquire reliable knowledge about the various aspects of human experience. However, it was observed that personal bias influenced the selection of sources of evidences and that care was not exercised to examine the authenticity of the evidence provided by these sources. Deliberating on the topic we will first deal with the social work and its origin.

Social services are those organized activities that are primarily & directly concerned with the conservation, the protection and improvement of human resources. Social services means these efforts to restore, maintain and enhance the social functioning of individual and families through (i)enabling social resources (ii)Processes that enhance the capacity of individual and families to cope with stress and with the normal demands of social life. The ideal goal of the social services is the enhancement of social competence changes in the individuals are not brought directly to modify their behaviour but through modification or alternation in their social environment. Social services includes health services, education, housing etc., social services are essentially ³People changing´ instructions. Social services may be seen of four types; development, remedial, supportive & substitutive. Educational services are developmental in nature family counselling and child guidance services are remedial services, day care and nutritional services are supportive service & foster care services are substitutive services. The main aim is to equip individuals with the competence and resources essential for effective social participation, social work fulfils the objectives of social services. Thus, helping the helpless is social services, helping the helpless to help themselves is social work.


One can trace the origins of social work back to pre-Modern history, but the version of social work as a practice which we would broadly recognise developed in the mid-19th century, evolving to professional status in many western countries by the early decades of the 20th. In subsequent years, industrialised society has often been described as having transformed beyond recognition – aspects of it did certainly: quite whether the essential nature of people, the human condition, or society has changed anywhere near as much as the infrastructure and trappings is a highly debatable subject. But one issue that historians and social scientists do appear to agree on is that there has always been poverty, vulnerability and need affecting people around the globe at various times and to various extents, since pre-history. And in tandem with that, one sees the development of what we now call social work. And social work of course is the epitome of something that has to be seen context. And that context is society. So social work is not a new topic but the context of society always made it change due to the change in society. We inherit different aspect of modernisation, as correctly pointed out, all new identities of ours changes the scenario of social work.

Dealing with some history of social work in those industrialised countries over the last century, there are a number of social changes which deserve mention in relation to viewing contemporary social work in context. Firstly, and these are not in any sort of priority order, there has been the increasing secularisation of society. No one is agnostic on the importance, or not, of religiosity (though secularisation certainly does not just refer to that), but one do recognise from a social science point of view the effects of secularisation on social structures, social welfare development, and meanings related to modernity and society. I will go no further into the detail of that here, as it tends to be an extremely complex, lengthy, challenging, and not infrequently divisive subject area. But one acknowledges its relevance within social history. And the effect that it has in the conceptual thinking in the modern society is unimaginable. As earlier pointed out, it has changed the mentality of those who previously thought of their own self and with the evolution of the further concept their thinking changed gradually.

Secondly, there has been the phenomenon which social scientists often refer to as ‘the death of the extended family’: another complex subject. Again, without getting diverted off into high detail, most historians and social scientists would agree that there has been significant change and evolution to western societal structures, communities and familial constructs over the past century. The arguments then begin over which were good changes, and which were not. The process of induction of western culture in the society has changed the thinking too. Our mentality towards western concept has indeed change the social structure which some says as good and some says worst in terms of social work.

Thirdly, there has been the emergence of the welfare state:  the evolution of the state, independent, and third sector social care and welfare provision which we see in the present day, in various shapes and forms, in innumerable countries around the world. This has greatly affected the social work as the emergence of social welfare has brought various changes in the society. India’s growth story of the last two decades has had one recurring theme: that the pattern of economic growth is accentuating insecurities. Yet, there continues to be a deep divide over whether the gains from growth ought to be ploughed back to achieve social security for everyone. Social security has come to be linked to job benefits, tying it to one’s status as a worker in the formal or the informal economy when, fundamentally, it originates from the notion of ensuring everyone protection against vulnerability and deprivation.

In the Constitution, Article 41 of Directive Principles asks the state to “within the limits of its economic capacity and development,” make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want.” Article 42 says the state shall make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity benefits. These all thing and their work to get it fulfilled should b the primary aim. We cannot compare the social work done previously and the social work in today’s welfare state. Hence, the social work needs to be relooked every now and then.

The evolution of the social works in India from the pre-British period and then coming to the British era and then to an independent state has faced a lot of challenges.



  1. Pre- British Period to 1800 A.D:

Pre-British system was dominated by caste system, upper caste protected lower caste people in time of same difficulties, some of the important aspects are as follows;

Joint family:

It is like a trust sharing common property. It protected aged, children and women. It served as a social trust.

Village community:

Indian villages were independent in matters of food, clothing and shatter. The whole community used to take each other.

Village Temple:

In every village there were temples. People donated money to the temple and under this system socially backward people were protected.

  1. During the British Period:

Before the advent of the British, Indian practically lived in village. Thus the economy of the village was self-sufficient. But under the British rule, India was help as an agrarian country. Only Industries were allowed to develop which provided better opportunities for the investment of British capital. Further, the British rules menaced the organization of production. These economic and organization change brought down the economic condition of Indians. All the problems are chiefly related with health, housing, child and woman welfare and labour, recreation, crime and social disorganization. Due to these problems the need for organized social work was realized. British rule was main inspiration for social reform movement. Christian missionaries spread education, brought the theory of equality, which in turn helped the social reforms to attack the evil customs and inequality. There were no property rights for Indian women. Early marriage, inequality, caste system, widow remarriage, custom of Sati was the burning problems of Indian Society.

The situation was drastically poor for Indians being always exploited under the British people and it was here that we can state that the social work was not working in their fullest capacity. Some religious reformers were indeed there who worked for the society and their contribution is still applauded by everyone. But the effectiveness of social work was not much in that Black period.  Many social reforms came up to indicate these social evils. Raja Ram Mohan Ray started the Brahma Samaj, Pandit Ramabhai started the Arya Samaj, Swami Vivekananda established Ramakrishna mission and Annie besant started home rule movement against Britishers. They were rendering social welfare services to the needy people. Late Gandhiji did a lot of work in the field of social reform, besides Due to the impact of the western education, and Christian missionaries, a new term of social work began in Indian. It was based on the idea of democracy and humanitarianism

  1. After Independence:

In the Independent India the source of all welfare service are inherent in the constitution. Various schemes with regard to the welfare of women, children, youths and aged persons have been implemented. Government has realized the need of trained professional social workers to work in area of welfare and has also made statutory liabilities to welfare officers in Industries. These services are district from the general social services. In order to supervise the social welfare services, the central social welfare Board has been established. The board assists in the improvement and development of social welfare activities. Thus, in Indian social work is gradually emerging as a social oriented profession which will be dealt subsequently.



As explained earlier, the Social Work, especially in perspective of India is a bit challenging task. One has to face a bitter challenge to do a social work in this perspective. Now this challenge ranges from not getting the exact material needed to societal problems that one faces like the superstitious beliefs too.

One of the most significant challenges is this concept about doing more with less. The range of responsibilities for social workers continues to grow exponentially, but the number of employees doesn’t grow. Each social worker has to be both a micro and a macro person. This is one of the biggest problems that has to be faced. The numbers of social workers are day by day decreasing and the number of the responsibility regarding the work is increasing day by day. So it can be well argued that the balance between the two elements is not able to be formed. We are here living n the society that is randomly changing from a person centric to the society centric. Everyone here works with the thinking to gain a status in the society and that is not wrong. The problems began when everybody start thinking in their own perspective and the society as a whole is left out in no direction. The times of deep social changes, we are living in are particularly defying for the professional praxis of social workers. The rise of new situations and new problems, the contraction of resources and the new ideological and political orientations lying underneath them, as well as the change on the profiles of social workers, confront the professionals with the need of developing and implementing new responses, based not only in a theoretical and methodological corpus, strong but innovative, but based also, and priory, on a consciousness and on an ethical commitment, able to fulfil, even in the most adverse contexts, the major principles and goals of social work. The purpose is to reflect about the effects of deep social and economic changes we are facing nowadays, on the professional practices of social workers in India, focusing particularly on the new ethical challenges and dilemmas social workers face on their daily duties. The induction of the western culture can be the reason for social work to be worst hit out. It gradually changes the perspective of thinking that a person has and the gradual inclination towards the adoption of culture that perceives the western one have changed a lot. The diversity of changes occurring on the so called western societies, trapped between neo-liberal processes of reorganization of their economies and deregulation of the State, with its deep and predictably structural effects on employment and social functions of the State, forces the professionals of social work to reflect about their commitments, namely in what concerns the defence of social rights and the construction of increasingly equalitarian societies. The economic development that is there in the nation deeply affects the scenario. It’s not that the economic development should not be encouraged but the economic development must be of such a character that there should be a perfect balance between the two.

The ethical reflection is based on, in first place, the objective intended to be pursued by the profession in each historical moment and this means that this goal can never be regarded as static (though based on absolute principles), nor by the professionals themselves, nor even by society. To reflect ethically implies the ability to update the goals and the purposes of the profession, according to the circumstances and the requirements imposed by those circumstances. As a consequence, it seems essential to address the issues of ethics of social work in relation to current contexts of Western societies, and particularly European societies, and expectations that these contexts arise relating to Social Services. If ethical issues and decisions constitute, by definition and almost inevitably, a challenge for social workers, the profound social changes that we are confronted with nowadays, represent an increased challenge both for new problems and social tensions that do arise, and for the transforming features of existing problems. Indeed, the social, economic, cultural and even moral contexts, where, currently, social work intervenes, suffered deep and sudden changes, for which professionals are not quite prepared and that possibly were not even expected. Looking back to the history of social work we realize that it was born and raised on the conviction of social justice and equality. It was supported and it supported, on its turn, aims of social protection and protective States. The social work developed and established itself on the foundations of welfare States and societies. On a scenario of a new type of interaction between the citizens and the State, social work played an essential role as mediator and it is in this mandate that the underlies the essential identity of modern professionalization. On the other hand, we should not forget that all development of social work was also sustained by a full commitment of political intentionality and ethics, establishing a compromise between a liberal view of private and unregulated philanthropy and a socialist vision of ubiquitous State with overall responsibility for the needs of individuals. And suddenly, the whole scenario has changed, making urgent a redefinition of purpose and action methodologies in contexts whose features threaten, increasingly, to become the denial of the very essence of social work.


In their daily practice, social workers should question themselves about the objectives of that practice and what they want to achieve with your daily work. These issues are essential not only for the professionals themselves, but also, and primarily, for the profession itself , set in a society, to which it has the responsibility of providing a service, according to the expectations shared by that same society. Extrapolation of the issues that each individual professional arise, will result in a questioning of the purpose of social work and its contribution to the pursuit of broader objectives of society in which it operates. And the truth is that this kind of questioning does not always result evident when it comes to ethical reflection, as this tends to be more oriented to the questioning of the profession specific standards (normative dimension), or the questioning of professionals answers facing specific situations (the pragmatic dimension), and much less to the questioning of the fundamental aims that sustain the profession (teleological dimension). Moreover, it is the everyday professional practice, regardless of the conditions under which arises, that does not always facilitate the reflection on the ethics of the profession. This happens, first, because social workers work in the framework of institutions that have, themselves, codes and regulations, highly formalized, on the conduct and procedures, as necessary for the pursuit of its institutional objectives and these regulations, turn to be, eventually, even more important, in shaping the practices of social workers, than it is the ethical code of the profession. Indeed, by its close ties to the welfare state and its institutions, social work was never totally independent of these institutions, in what concerns shaping its practices and its objectives.


To give salience to social movements in connection with social change and modernity is to give salience to the notion of process.

The term “movement” is so close conceptually to the notion of change that the following theoretical possibilities are suggested: either social movements constitute modernity, or they at least make a very large contribution to its appearance. Eyerman suggests the first possibility when he states, “Modernity connotes movement.” Elsewhere Touraine has expressed a similar view: modern society is the first type of society to reproduce itself, and new social movements are the decisive force in this process. To speak of “new” social movements is to imply a category of “old” social movements. Those who write in this tradition appear to conceive of old movements as those that were distinctively associated with the class systems of industrial capitalism, for example, liberalism and the workers’ movements. New movements are those that are less class-based, including the women’s movement, various ethnic movements, the ecology movement, the peace movement, and the anti-state movement. Conceptually, the distinction creates a few problems. Some of the “new” movements, for example, the women’s movement and the peace movement, have very long histories. Also, it is possible to identify various kinds of movements, such as popular uprisings in Rome and religious movements in medieval times and the Reformation, that are older than those identified as “old.” This suggests that the distinction between old and new as currently discussed is limited mainly to the distinction between classical industrial capitalism and contemporary industrial (or post-industrial) society. Be that as it may, the old social movements are commonly seen as representing the struggle for power and control over the organization of living conditions; thus they are perceived as being essentially economic in character.

These movements were commonly regarded as threats to the capitalist system. Tenbruck (1981) has argued, for example, that much of Durkheim’s sociology reflects an anxiety about the consequences of these kinds of movements and is an effort to find various kinds of social arrangements that could incorporate them into a newly formed society. Although offshoots of these old movements can still be found in various advanced countries, writers making use of the new-social-movement framework consider the old type of social movement to be no longer threatening. Accordingly, as Berger noted in discussion at the conference, “the proletariat has lost its role as privileged actor and subject of historical change.” Much of this loss of force (and threat) has been attributed to long periods of increased prosperity, the nullification of many of the impulses of the workers’ movement by the policies of the welfare state, and the incorporation of these movements into political parties and the state.

For Touraine modernity means the development of a system of production and distribution of cultural goods that threatens the current cultural self-definition of many actors. These actors anticipate personal and social progress through an increased sense of their own subjectivity, but this subjectivity is threatened because culture is currently being industrially produced and distributed. Subjectivity manifests itself in two ways: as a force of opposition to domination and in the recognition of other individuals as unique people with whom personal relationships can be formed. Thus the new social movements are fighting for “cultural creativity and autonomy and the capacity to act on all aspects of human experience.




What is urgently required is the precise analysis of the circumstances which have a great effect on the social work. In this system need is considered as a normal part of social life and that welfare provision is a normal and primary function of the modern industrial society. Welfare services are provided for the population as a whole such as public services like, roads, schools, public health and so on. In this system social welfare is not just for the poor and needy, but it is for all the citizens. In a society where a great number of social goods are based on universality, one can talk about institutional welfare service. Individuals in such a society will experience that they have access to large number of social rights which are formulated as legal rights. This is what we have to follow and we have to think over. We are there only for the good that has to be there. In a broader sense, in an institutional welfare involves stronger commitments on behalf of the state.

However these rights of the citizens are not legally claimable rather they are moral rights based on social contract. This concept also is associated with the redistributive function of welfare, in the sense that public welfare provision aims to redistribute the resources to the disadvantaged sections of the society. Social welfare service in the ancient time in Sweden is regarded as the prototype of institutional social welfare. It has developed the moral right of employment and housing condition to the legal rights like, right to work and right to have a decent housing standard. This form of social welfare is followed in all countries. We have to make the commitment in that perspective only



Social work as profession of the most recent times has not developed in isolation. It has developed its body of knowledge by pulling various ideas from different relevant disciplines. ‘The basic concepts of social work’ in the sense we use in this unit, deals with the fundamental knowledge about some of the important concepts which are incorporated/included in the study and practice of social work profession. The meaning of social work is so complex and dynamic that it is almost impossible to give a universally accepted meaning. It has been graded by different individuals in various ways on the basis of understanding of different individuals in the society.

We have to go deep inside the sea of social work and one thing that we don’t have to forget is th sense of dedication that one have to show n field of social work. The dedication for working towards the human well being should never be lost in the mid way. We don’t have to get disturbed with any obstruction be it any sort of western thinking or any other. We have the calibre and we will work for it.

Author: Saransh Chaturvedi, Student, BA LLB, BHU.

Disclaimer: This article has been published in “Legal Desire International Quarterly Journal (ISSN: 2347-3525), page no. 65. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from Legal Desire. All Rights Reserved.

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