Analysis of Literature on Social Action H.Y. SIDDIQUI The paper attempts...
Analysis of Literature on Social Action
The paper attempts an analysis of the literature on social action in India from 1940
to 1995, in order to identify the process of its development, the current trends and
the future possibilities. The author observes that the changing social characteristics
of social workers, together with the reorganisation of the work and market
situation of social work, suggest that the scale of militancy in the profession will
decrease rather than increase. Social action as a method, therefore, will remain on
the periphery rather than become a central method.
Prof. H. Y. Siddiqui is Head of Department of Social Work, Jamia Millia hlamia,
The field of social work continues to be a mosaic with varied patterns.
The indigenous and the imported models continue to coexist, the latter
a hybrid variety with a good deal of imported elements incorporated
in it (Pathak, 1989). Whether social work is a profession continues to
be a question on which divergent views are expressed. Most writers
would probably place social workers in the ranks of the 'professionals'
or perhaps — following Etzioni (1969) — the 'semi-professionals'.
The fact is often ignored that keeping this status in view the relation-
ship between social work and social action becomes a search for
political modes and styles compatible with professionalism. This is not
an easy task since the perception on compatibility are likely to raise
debates about the role of the profession itself. The history of social
work and the use of social action, as a method, reflect this dilemma.
It is a familiar theme in social work conference to highlight the lack
of 'social commitment' on the part of social workers in general and
social work educators in particular. The social commitment is gener-
ally assumed to imply involvement of social workers with macro issues
and using their power (howsoever defined) to remedy the prevailing
social injustice in society. This, in general, constitutes the notion of
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
social action which has been given a peripheral position in the teach-
ing, practice and knowledge development of social work globally.
Social action can be defined as an endeavour to bring about or
prevent change in a social institution, social system or society as a
whole, through a process of making people aware of the sociopolitical
and economic realities conditioning their lives and by mobilising them
to organise themselves for bringing about the desired change, or to
prevent change that adversely affect them. A variety of strategies could
be used, with the exception of violence. The need for a theoretical
framework for analysing the political, economic and social realities
and a consequent selection of strategies and goals should be empha-
sised. The compatibility of these with the larger social work philoso-
phy will be necessary if the worker has to function as a professional.
Therefore, social action should not be seen as diametrically opposed
to other methods of social work but rather as an alternative approach
of trying to achieve the basic objective of social work practice in order
to facilitate the social functioning of the human being in any society.
Social action is a logical out-growth of the fundamental belief of the
social work profession in the worth and well-being of the individual
as more direct services to the individual.
History of Knowledge Development on Social Action
The present pattern of social work education has been in existence for
about 60 years. The literature in the 1940s on social work education
in India, reveals that the desire to have a model designed to meet the
requirements of Indian conditions is as old as the education itself.
Clifford Manshardt, the initiator and director of the first school of
social work in Asia, was aware that it was 'quite impossible to
reproduce Western experience without first submitting it to a great
amount of critical analysis and scrutinising in the light of Indian
conditions' (Manshardt, 1941). Social work practice in India however,
started by laying emphasis on curative methods. Though they made
some changes in education by identifying field based specialisations
as against the method orientation in the West, social action, as a method
of social work, was not given much space either in education or in
The First Review Committee on social work education in India by
the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 1965 noted that, since
the objective of social reform has been achieved, the task of the social
worker should take a different form, to look after the needs of children
in orphanages, to rehabilitate the unmarried mother and to save chil-
dren from the stigma of illegitimacy. The other evils in society:
poverty, insanitation, prostitution, drunkenness and so on, were be-
yond the capacity of individual social workers to remove them. The
field of social work had become more or less similar to the field of
social work in the West. Hence, it had become possible to benefit from
the experience of social work training institutions in other countries.
The main methods of social work identified in this Report were
casework, group work, and community organisation, along with social
welfare administration, social research and statistics. The social work
intervention strategies and the areas of practice identified by the First
Review Committee, thus, reflected the continuing faith in the 'tradi-
tional' welfare approach. In fact, the report of the First Review
Committee made out a strong case for a greater emphasis on the
delivery of services and specifically listed efforts at 'social reform' as
outside the purview of the social work profession, on the plea that the
Indian social situation, with the achievement of Independence, had
become compatible with the social situation of the West.
Ironically, in 1966, a year after the publication of the report of the
First Review Committee, the theme of a seminar organised by the
Association of Schools of Social Work in India (ASSWI) was 'The
Role of the Social Work Profession in Social Reconstruction'. Most
of the papers presented in the seminar severely criticised the traditional
welfare approach and emphasised the need for a developmental per-
During the 1960s the process of rethinking about the possible goals
of social work and, hence, social work education started. Many factors
— local, regional and international — contributed to this develop-
ment. To mention a few: the declaration of the 1960s as the First
Development Decade by the United Nations, the initiative taken by the
UN system in the region, particularly by the Social Development
Division of the ESCAP; the financial, technical and study supports
given by UNICEF as also the experience of few professional social
workers engaged in the formulation of social policy and social plan-
ning; and the role played by the International Association of Schools
of Social Work (IASSW) (Pathak, 1989). Dasgupta (1968) noted that
the time was not far when social workers and institutions offering
training in social work should plan to reorient their curriculum of
studies to meet the coming challenge of the 'growing rural society' in
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
At the 1966 Seminar organised by the ASSWI, at Calcutta, the role
of the social work profession in social reconstruction was highlighted
by Kulkarni, Hasan, Dasgupta, Nanavatty and others. Kulkarni, took
the stand that the professional and social reform goals cannot be
separated as far as social workers were concerned. A separation of the
two would negate the very effectiveness of the social worker. He
strongly advocated the commitment of the profession to act as a
powerful force in favour of democracy, social justice and social
development (Kulkarni, 1967).
Hasan, disagreeing with the stand taken by Gore, regarding social
reform and social work, felt that Gore's attempt to distinguish between
social work and social reform, even conceptually, posed a serious
problem for the profession of social work in terms of its social
responsibility (Hasan, 1967). He was also highly critical of the obser-
vations made by the First Review Committee about the role of social
work. His position was that though social work is primarily concerned
with providing services for the relief of suffering, it is vitally interested
in social reform at the same time. Professional social work, thus, has
a definite responsibility to promote social reform. Dasgupta,
Nanavatty, Pande and a number of other participants in the seminar
stressed the same point and in that sense the Calcutta Seminar is an
important landmark in the history of social work profession in India.
The realisation of this new perspective of social work also led to
the demand of reorienting social work education. Nanavatty stressed
the need for recruiting better students, in whom the desired values
necessary for development functions could be nurtured along with his
advice to staff of the schools to undertake development work for social
reconstruction. Hasan, in addition to the points suggested by
Nanavatty, stressed the need for teaching of social philosophy in a
systematic and planned manner. The need for reorganisation of cur-
riculum and field instruction, faculty development and recruitment of
students was stressed. Pande made the point of curriculum reorienta-
tion more clear by emphasising a total reorganisation of courses with
greater emphasis on social action rather than merely introducing a
course on social reconstruction. He also emphasised the importance of
reorienting the field instructions in this context (Pande, 1967). Social
action was, thus, conceived of as a method of social work when the
inadequacy of welfare measures led to the need for social reform in
the beginning of the present century in the west and around the 1960s
216 H.Y. Siddiqui
Similar debates about the scope of social work practice in general
and consequently the nature of social action took place in the United
Kingdom and the United States of America where social work educa-
tion and practice commenced in the late nineteenth century and
achieved considerable pace in the beginning of the present century. In
the West, in 1922, Mary Richmond had referred to social action as one
of the four forms of social work. None of the schools of social work,
however, has developed a special curriculum for social action; they
saw it rather as an integral part of the teaching in casework, group
work, and community organisation. The method of social action,
consisting as it did of research, planning, enlistment of public support,
and interpretation to (and pressure on) those with authority to imple-
ment it, has a good deal in common with community organisation. One
of the major differences perhaps lies in the emphasis on the types of
issues to be dealt with in the respective methods. There has been a
growing tendency in the West to identify social action with specialised
agencies, to professional groups, and to social workers as individual
citizens (Cohen, 1958). Some social workers, however, felt that this
represented a retreat from social work's full responsibility. For them,
social action was as logical an outgrowth of the fundamental belief of
the social work profession in the worth and well-being of the individual
as were more direct services to individuals.
Many social workers did not render or accept the role of a reformer
and acknowledge the importance of social action. They preferred to
see themselves primarily as clinicians. He/She tried to cope with a job
and one's own life than assume the role of a reformer, though he/she
may have been aware of many social issues which require more than
what a caseworker had to offer. In the broader area of social reform
and social policy, an opinion poll in the USA asked two questions in
1945. The first was whether a limited form of social action would
strengthen the National Conference of Social Work or divide it into
warring camps. Limited action was defined to mean, the official public
announcement by the Conference of principles which social workers
endorse in regard to public policy or social legislation. The results of
even this limited approach were so divided that no decision was
reached by the Conference (Potter, 1945).
Again, turning to social work education as a barometer, one finds
that social reform and social action were not being given the same
attention as the courses in methods of treatment and remediation in the
US. In a study of 'Social Action and Professional Education' made in
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
1944 by Marion Hathway, it was evident that matters of social reform
and social policy were being dealt with only around the fringe of the
total curriculum rather than as an integral part of it.
The trend was similar in India. Although social work paid a lip
service to the dual approach, it found itself giving more emphasis to
the problems of adjustment and behaviour and less attention to matters
of broad social policy. Sinfield (1969) noted that the profession had
failed to take a leading role in making society aware of the persistence
of poverty. Pathak (1980) felt that poverty has become a matter of
intellectual concern among professional social workers in recent years,
but, by and large, the curricula of schools of social work in India have
remained uninfluenced by the deliberations at seminars on the subject.
Several questions, however, were being raised in the West. What was
the element of social policy in the day-to-day operations of the social
workers ? What should social workers know about the existing body
of social policy? What knowledge and skills were necessary to evalu-
ate existing social policy ? What knowledge and skills were necessary
to participate in changing the existing social policy ? An examination
of these questions lead to the need for a better foundation in social
philosophy (Cohen, 1958). It also exposed the weaknesses of training
in such areas as social action, social administration, and community
The struggle to gain professional acceptance in the community has
accentuated some of the stresses within social work itself. Woodroofe
(1974) felt that some of the stresses spring from attempts to fix rightful
boundaries to its domain; others from efforts to define its settings.
Some spring from limitations of its knowledge and experiences; others
arise from the nature of its own activity. But, perhaps, the most serious
source of stress has been the attempt to reconcile the caution of
professionalism with social work's traditional commitment to reform.
It protects a group which needs to be sustained. It services society
which fearfully seeks protection through its work. It embraces values
which may be uncongenial to the domination order and it serves as a
reminder that society has failed to fulfill its obligations. It is at once
the expression of the conscience and the fears of the community, as
well as an embodiment of its determination to change and yet remain
the same. In the process of clearing a space in the professional world,
social work was forced to concentrate on methods and techniques.
Social action, perhaps too precarious a basis for professional special-
isation, was relegated to a limbo large and broad.
The Second Review Committee on Social Work Education in India
(UGC, 1980) in its report stated that,
an enquiry into the causes of poverty and the evolution of
measures of its elimination was the responsibility of social
work.... It took up the cause of assisting people in their
adjustment to an industrial, urban and metropolis dominated
social milieu rather than identifying the causes of poverty and
working for its removal.... Our model of social work practice
and education was consequently based on an industrial, urban
and metropolis dominated society.... social work education
was thus based on an individual-urban based model...the late
sixties have revealed that industrialization cannot eliminate
poverty even from the affluent societies....It has brought to
the fore the global need to emphasize the teaching of social
action, social policy and social administration, since it is the
social milieu and not only the individual, that is the major
client of the profession.
During the early 1970's the social development perspective was
advocated by a few social work educators which is now generally
accepted by most schools but is still to be implemented by many. In
view of the recent emphasis on the social development perspective and
the goals related to it, it has been argued by Gore (1981:1-13) that the
proportion of social science content in social work curriculum needs
to be increased substantially. He stated:
If we really want to take on broad social development tasks
as part of our professional responsibilities, our curricular
content in social sciences will have to be wider and deeper.
Our knowledge in the area of developmental economics,
organisational behaviour and the analysis of social systems
will have to be extended at least to the extent to which we
emphasise the understanding of human motivation for psychi-
atric social workers. Is this a realistic goal for our schools ?
Can this be attempted in a two-year programme of instruction
where we admit students even without any base in the social
The advocacy of social developmental perspective and goals for
social work practice have led to some debate recently whether social
work curriculum should continue to support the status quo
or advocate and work for system change (Desai, 1985). A further issue
debated is on the very nature of social work roles and tasks. Can we
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
simultaneously, through a two-year programme, prepare students for
the traditional role of ameliorative-rehabilitative function of social
work as well as the new role of initiating social change as activists or
catalysts of change ? Some social work educators are doubtful of the
feasibility as well as the desirability of combining the two models
By the 1980s the discussion on social development and social policy
issues has come to centrestage, particularly in developing countries as
noted earlier. The scope of social work practice was vigorously de-
bated in the 1980s. The doubts about the efficacy and relevance of the
American model (casework oriented clinical approach) surfaced, on
account of two main reasons. The first being the persistence of mass
poverty despite three decades of development planning. The second
was the rethinking on the reasons of poverty and the consequent
change in focus from individual deficiencies to social deficiencies —
whether structural in nature or inadequacy of services. The inability of
counsellors, group workers or even community organisers to make a
dent in the mass poverty started the exhortations for social action. The
1980s produced three major works on social action, beginning with
Social Work and Social Action
(Siddiqui, 1984), Social Action
(Gandhi, 1985), and a chapter on social action in the
Encyclopedia of Social Work in India
(Dasgupta, 1987). Social action,
as a method of social work, has thus, acquired a distinct identity.
In 1980, a seminar was organised by the ASSWI on the theme of
'Social Work and Social Action' at Madras. The deliberations of the
seminar produced a comprehensive text which was edited by Siddiqui
(1984). The principles of the method were suggested by Britto (1984),
an activist, who was working for his doctoral degree in the Tata
Institute of Social Sciences. The focus of his doctoral work was social
action. He has drawn his theory about the principles of social action
largely through a study of Gandhian Satyagrahas undertaken during
the national struggle for freedom. He also suggested models of social
action. Singh (1984) and Siddiqui (1984) dealt with the process details,
struggles and tactics, and different models of social action as well.
Issues relating to definition and scope were given considerable atten-
tion. Its relationship with other methods, in particular community
organisation, were discussed and definite positions stated. The conflict
and disruption strategies were discussed and advocated as a legitimate
part of social action method in India. Desai (1984) focussed on issues
relating to incorporation of social action in the curriculum of schools
220 H.Y. Siddiqui
of social work in great detail. This lead to the debate about the
compatibility of social action with the professional nature of social
work. The availability of existing theoretical base was also questioned.
The possibility of including the elements of social action in various
field practicum situations was suggested.
A year later, a symposium in Delhi was organised by the Depart-
ment of Social Work, Jamia Millia Islamia, on the theme of social
action through law. It was devoted to highlighting the role of public
interest litigation in promoting social change and justice. Gandhi's
(1985) text on social action contains the papers presented in the
symposium. It is ironical to note that the symposium on social action
in Jamia failed to take note of the earlier text on the subject in India.
It, however, did not deal with matters related to the method of social
action but provided details of socio-legal issues relating to labour,
dowry, prisons, tribals and slum dwellers, and advocated the need for
use of Public Interest Litigation to safeguard their interests.
In 1987, the Encyclopedia of Social Work in India
article by Dasgupta which dealt with various issues pertaining to social
action as a method of social work.
The discussion around the theme of social development and its
relevance to social work continued during the eighties. The relation-
ship between social reform, social change and social work received
considerable space in the social work literature. Social action was
deliberated upon in relation to these discussions but it did not emerge
as a potent tool for intervention in the work. The nature of professional
practice in social work, particularly in the USA, was more firmly
moving in the direction of becoming individual centred. The welfare
services were gradually moving towards greater privatisation on ac-
count of a general shift in the social policy to cut down the expenditure
on welfare. Social workers were opting out for private practice rather
than taking up jobs in institutional settings.
During the 1970s, radical literature on social work occupied con-
siderable space but during the 1980s, despite the predictions that
militancy in social work practice will increase (Mungham, 1975), the
trend has been towards greater consolidation of social services. During
the last decade and a half (1980-95) literature on social action, by and
large, remained peripheral in the West while in India the method
received specific attention. During the period, articles dealing with the
specific details of the method did not occupy any significant space in
the leading journals of social work in the West.
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
The discussions on social responsibility in the context of social
development in the West was limited to looking for a collective role
for the profession rather than professional practice avenues in devel-
opmental practice. 'Social reform' per se
was not seen as part of a
professional's job description in the West but in India a section of
social work educators had attempted to design their curricula by
assuming that social reform was an inherent part of social work
practice. It was seen as a part of one's professional or social responsi-
bility or commitment, within a liberal ideological framework. Profes-
sionals were expected to submit memorandums, take up causes of
exploitation and harassment resulting from specific policies, or initiate
direct action. However, in practice, this was generally done as a
voluntary activity or as part of a professional organisation's activity
rather than as part of the individual's job. It was this difference of
conceptualising social reform as a collective responsibility and com-
patibility with job responsibilities that resulted in social action being
reduced to a peripheral position, both in practice and in professional
education. Social action thus remained a nostalgia, a romantic notion
with most social work professionals. On an emotional plane they did
identify themselves with the underdog, with the rational understanding
that as individuals they had limited capabilities to accomplish any
agenda for social reform howsoever conceived.
The first text on social action in India Social Action
was published by
M. Vasudeva Moorthy in 1966. Prior to this, only one article on the
subject appeared in the Social Work Forum
by Nanavatty in 1965.
Moorthy identified different types of disabilities people generally
suffer from and their causes. He broadly identified two types of causes:
• God made; and
• man made.
The second cause was subdivided into self inflicted and those
imposed by others. This subcategory which included war, political
exploitation, lack of social and civic amenities, social prejudices and
so on, provided the justification for social action, which he identified
as one of the four methods of social work.
He defined social action as a process of securing legislation, mobi-
lising public opinion to bring about change. The social activist was
seen as a social reformer but not as a revolutionary. He felt that
revolution meant sudden change which was not very desirable and led
222 H.Y. Siddiqui
to violence. He used a rather interesting term — 'continuous' legality
— as an important characteristic of social action. He emphasised the
necessity of keeping action within the legal framework. Talking about the
process of initiating a reform, Moorthy had the following stages in mind.
• Identification of an issue by the reformer/actionist.
• Generating awareness and feelings about the issue.
Research was seen as a strategy and as a means of generating
awareness. He recommended use of influential actors such as political
and religious leaders, theatre personalities, youth leaders, women
activists, and so on, as agents of generating awareness. He also
identified lectures, seminars and conferences as means of generating
awareness and consequently social action. He favoured the use of
foreign aid for financing social action but only with the approval of
the state. He concluded by rejecting conflict strategies and pressure
tactics and suggested the role of a watchdog for those engaged in social
Nanavatty (1965) in his paper on social action defined social action
as a process of bringing about the desired changes by deliberate group
and community action. 'Social change' was the central concern of
social action, both with Nanavatty and Moorthy, and the legislative
action formed a major strategy for bringing about the change. The
relationship of social action with social work was not dealt with in
detail and hence, at times, social action was seen as part of the more
established methods (casework, group work and community organisa-
tion) and at other places a method in its own right. This confusion was
created by Western notions of social action as noted earlier. A good
example is Seed's (1973) description of social work: 'The term "social
work" was first used in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century in
connection with the activities of people who had a sense of belonging
to a movement which aimed at social advance based on disciplined
and principled forms of social action.'
Social action was, thus, being conceived as voluntary action on the
part of society to help the needy poor. Seed (1973), therefore, discussed
three types of disciplined social action:
• social action within a developing system of social administra-
• the charity organisation movement; and
• direct social action.
The interesting point to note was that as an exclusive method of
social work, it referred to social action as the action on the part of
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
ordinary or extraordinary members of society either to help some
individuals or groups or to tackle a larger social problem. The concep-
tualisation of social action by Moorthy and Nanavatty was, therefore,
somewhat different from that of Seed, yet the similarity in approach
In the same issue of Social Work Forum,
in which Nanavatty wrote
about social action, Mathur (1965) wrote an article on the concept of
social education. Mathur felt that the problems faced by the people
were manifold and got manifested at the local level which became the
battleground for analysis, discussion and action. All problems cannot
be tackled at the local level. He recommended the need for building
up tiers of organisation at all levels which would not act only as
pressure groups but would develop vital links with the existing struc-
tures of coordination, joint planning and social action.
Barnabas wrote an article on social action in 1966 in which he
advocated the need for social action. He felt that social action besides
bringing about change, could also be initiated to resist change which
was undesirable and was similar to the definition of social action given
by Dunham (1958).
This analysis of social action made it obvious that it was the
traditional emotional commitment to social reform of educated elites
and middle classes which lead to these exhortations. The authors did
not feel the need for any theoretical framework. Unlike other methods
of social work, the issues relating to methods and techniques of social
action were not discussed in detail. In the mid-1960s the term social
action simply meant personal involvement beyond the point of estab-
lished conventions. Questions about the social structure or social
institutions were not dealt with. Even the existing theories of the
relationship between the social and the individual were not taken into
account. The occurrence of problems at the individual, group or
community levels was discussed with reference to the need for social
action and social reform, and the ultimate goal of social reform was
not a change in society; instead it was the resolution or diffusion of a
specific problem. This was in line with both the Gandhian philosophy
and the liberal philosophy of the West. The emphasis on morality and
personal charisma on the part of the actionist was rooted in the
In a way these expectations ran contrary to the then social work
principles applicable to other methods. The worker, in other methods,
was generally expected to play a passive role and was expected to
224 H.Y. Siddiqui
remain in the background. The client was expected to take his/her own
decision and the worker acted as a facilitator rather than as a charis-
Of the collection of six papers presented in a seminar in social work
and social action, edited by Siddiqui (1984), the first paper dealt with
different issues related to social action as a method of social work. It
discussed different issues involved in defining social action and its
scope. The issue of identifying it as an independent method or as a part
of community organisation was dealt with in considerable detail. The
paper suggested treating it as an independent method. The scope of the
method was left open for debate and the need for a theoretical frame-
work to understand the scope was emphasised.
In the discussion on the process, four stages were identified:
• developing awareness;
• selection of strategies; and
These stages were based on the tactics identified by Lees (1972).
The Sarvodaya method and its process details were also indicated to
explain the process. It, thus, attempted a synthesis of indigenous and
the Western concepts to arrive at a hybrid strategy of intervention.
The paper on principles of social action by Britto (1984) dentified
six principles. These principles were based on the process Gandhi
adopted in mobilising the masses during the national struggle for
freedom in India. The principles suggested were:
• credibility building;
• multiple strategies;
• dual approach; and
• manifold programmes.
In yet another paper, Britto suggested some models of social action.
He broadly classified the models in two broad categories: elitist social
action and popular social action. Social action, he felt, could be carried
out by the elite for and on behalf of the masses with or without mass
participation. In the elitist category he included three types of models:
legislative model, economic sanction model and direct physical action
model. In the popular category, he identified, direct mobilisation, dialec-
tical mobilisation and conscientisation models. These attempts to
conceptualise the principles and models were grounded in theory as
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
well as on an analysis of mass movements. Similar attempts to interpret
the material related to social workers' involvement in influencing
social policy, researching the problem, planning a solution, enlisting
public support, presenting the data to those in authority and the nature
of social action had been done in the USA as reported by Khinduka
and Coughlin (1975). The process of developing theory to inform
practice related to social action had thus commenced in the the 1980s
Desai (1984) in her paper discussed issues relevant to incorporation
of social action in the social work curriculum. She raised the issue of
the need for a theoretical base of social action which she felt was
non-existent. She examined the existing material related to social
action and referred to the analysis of literature on social action by
Khinduka and Coughlin in the USA. She highlighted the dilemma of
lack of consensus on the matter of strategies of social action which she
identified as collaborative, bargaining and conflictual. She made an
interesting point that social action was a total way of thinking and
feeling and acting and, hence, could not be relegated to one course.
She discussed the various issues related to field work and research and
the institutional arrangements related to social action.
Singh (1984), in his paper, dealt with the history of social action
and noted that social action was as old as human society. He referred
to the writings of Aurobindo (1907-8) on passive resistance and later
to the the writings of Gandhi and his efforts to mobilise the masses.
He also discussed a number of definitions to highlight the issues related
to defining social action. The democratic framework, non-violence
and constitutional compatibility of action as characteristics were em-
phasised. In his discussion on process the following factors were
recognised: Need, Base, Agent, Process, Resources, Goals and Action.
He identified models of social action as Institutional (state), Institu-
tional (social), Social Institutional, Populist, Gandhian, Militant non-
violent, Gentle non-violent, Citizenship model and so on.
Singh (1984) emphasised the need for making social work practice
more aggressive. He also felt that social action was closer to social
reform than to revolution and it should be non-violent in character. He
quoted statistics to show that of the 27 schools offering Master's level
programme in social work, only four schools had some content on
social action, in their curriculum.
Another significant piece of writing on the subject of social action
during the 1980s, was the article on social action by Dasgupta (1987).
226 H.Y. Siddiqui
Dasgupta took the position that whereas development had been the
main lever of change in the new nations, welfare, a built in mechanism
of the developed world, was also concerned with social change. Social
action, he felt, was the method that helped to bring about these changes.
In fact the failure of the welfare model led to a movement for civil
rights and a militant approach to welfare.
He identified two broad models — not non-violent and non-violent
— and emphasised the fact that both the models used conflict as a
weapon. The not non-violent worked within the system and the non-
violent tried to bring in a different type of society. He felt that social
action movements broke the narrow confines of welfare rights and
made common cause with liberation movements of various hues that
were then going on all over the world. They included the struggles of
homosexuals, militant Christians, as well as those to end the Vietnam
War, anti-consumerism and other radical movements of various kinds,
both not non-violent and non-violent. Social action, as one of the
methods of social work, he suggested, could be used in different settings.
He identified two sets of processes — P1 and P2. The stages in
process P1 were:
• identification of injustice;
• defining the position;
• building support;
• mobilising pressure;
• sustaining reaction; and
• transforming values and structures.
In process P2, eleven steps were indicated:
• sensing that something is wrong;
• problem identification;
• building support;
• p r o b l e m d i a g n o s i s ;
• gathering information
• setting action goals;
• inventing new approaches
• weighing approaches;
• making final plans;
• implementing the new approach; and
• evaluating the process.
These details of the processes were based on the two different
scenarios represented by the Ben Carnion School of Social Welfare
and the Action for World Development respectively. He concluded
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
that both the models of social action evolved from two different types
of community organisations.
Social Reform, Social Work, Social Action
Social reform, social work, social action and social protest may be seen
as serially linked. Just as social work can be seen to be related to social
reform in its value orientation, it may be said to be linked with 'social
action' in its activity orientation. Social action is an effort on the part
of social workers to achieve social and structural change — with the
help and on behalf of the underprivileged groups in society — but
within the norms laid down by law for seeking change. The initiative
and leadership in 'social action' is still with the outside leader who
may be a member of the 'establishment' or the elite group in society
Seed (1973) felt that the social work of the late nineteenth century
did, at a minimum level, evidence these movement characteristics.
There was a strong normative commitment to the alleviation of social
problems and reduction of conflict in society. This was promoted in a
variety of ways through such forms as the university settlements,
contacts with government that the influential elite enjoyed, tenants'
associations and charity visiting. However, despite these activities it
is difficult to assume that social work has become a movement for
inducing change in the society.
The role of social work as a social movement and the rise and 'fall'
of the welfare state has been succinctly described by Perlman and
Gurin (1972). They note the paradox in social reform:
It usually springs from passionate indignation but has a way
of setting like plaster into institutional moulds. The end re-
sult...may well be an efficiently operating bureaucracy en-
gaged in doing what the reformer had worked so hard to bring
. into existence, but the outcome often seems alien to the
reformer who started the process. The programme that
emerges becomes either flaccid or rigid, and a new cycle of
discount and reform is generated.
It is difficult to view professional social work at this time as it is
practised, as 'an open system of ideas'. Professional concerns and
preoccupations are too well established for any major accommodation
to changing perceptions. This is not to deny that within the profession
there is a group of members subscribing to reform ideals. Social
sciences, as yet, cannot offer a sufficient understanding of the individual
228 H.Y. Siddiqui
person in relation to his/her life situation. As a result, we are impelled
to make a choice between personality and social structure, although it
is obvious that what we require is not a choice but an integrated theory.
But this is where the problem of reconciliation as well as its authen-
ticity begins. Even if Marxian analysis is, in the broadest terms,
accurate, the prescription for creating a socialist society offered by
Marx is still rather simplistic and gravely deficient.
What adequate checks could there be on exorbitant power? And can
fundamental changes be secured by persuasion, instead of force and
bloodshed ? Democratic socialists believe that socialist change can
only come through evolutionary democratic processes, to achieve any
practical benefit,; and in practice, despite the value of Marxists criti-
cism, there is little evidence to suggest that Marxists have been any
more successful than others in building the 'good society' (Pritchard
and Taylor, 1978). The construct of an ideal society is further ques-
tioned by the postmodernist and poststructuralist debates.
Social workers are peculiarly vulnerable to 'consumer control' as
Mungham (1975) noted or what Johnson (1972) calls 'communal
patronage'. But at the same time indeed, for some segments inside
social work the only effective social work practice is that which will
serve to destroy the very basis of social work as a profession.
The social work profession is going through a period of expansion and
redefinition. The changing social characteristics of social workers,
together with the reorganisation of the work and market situation of
social work, seem to suggest that the scale of militancy in the profes-
sion will decrease rather than increase.
However, this factor alone cannot determine the outcome and character
of social work concern for social reform. Some role, for instance, would
have to be given in the development of militancy among social workers
to their ideological commitments and their experience of the poor condi-
tions in which their clients live. Reform work, even though individual
social workers can and do choose to support pressure groups, such as
the Narmada Bachao Adolan, or the movements for the protection of
environment or similar other protest movements, would continue to be
a voluntary concern. As a segmental profession, and welfare bureauc-
racy, social work is both the subject and promulgator of cross-cutting
political actions and tensions in the West but in India it has remained
largely apolitical and timid in character.
Analysis of Literature on Social Actions
There are, within the professional ethos of British social work, four
views which may be characterised as the moral-ethical; the psycho-
pathological; the psycho-social and the radical-political (Pritchard and
The moral-ethical view sees social work as an apolitical activity —
an essentially individual and moral concern, a task consisting funda-
mentally of tidying-up societal loose ends and casualties, the concern
being centred on the individual and the implicit assumption being that
the problems, and hence the need for a social work function, are not
peculiar to our society and would remain in any social system. Such
an outlook sees social work as being concerned with those people who
are socially inadequate and are unable to exist in a community at an
acceptable level without both material and professional help.
Alternately social work can be seen, again apolitically, as a therapy
exercise in which the social worker's role is to help people adjust to
the dominant norms of society (thus by implication accepting, at least
in their professional roles, the social structure as given). This psycho-
pathological view of social work sees the need for 'treatment'-,that is,
some sort of intervention on behalf of society to another individual,
but implies that the causal factors are exclusively within that person.
The psycho-social view of social work stresses the extent to which the
client's situation results from social and general environmental influence.
These factors should, according to this concept of social work, be com-
bined with individual psychological/emotional influences to achieve a
correct perspective on the client's situation. Politically, this concept of
social work is often held to imply a social democratic perspective.
Social work, therefore, can be seen as a reforming agent within society,
helping both the individual and society to evolve via the social democratic
parliamentary system along more socially concerned and humane lines.
In comparing Gandhi's views to those of Habermas, Pantham noted the
extra-rational elements in Gandhi's approach of truth-centred direct
action. According to Gandhi, the 'attribution of omnipotence to reason is
as bad a piece of idolatry as is worship of stick and stone believing it to
be God' (cf.: Pantham, 1986: 203). Gandhi's approach requires partici-
pation in action and involves the abdication of persuasion even by
argumentation: 'everyone should follow his or her own inner voice'. The
shift from persuasion to dialogue is a matter of principle in Paulo Freire's
(1972) popular education approach.
Pritchard and Taylor (1978) noted that from a Marxist perspective,
society, and the function and role of social work within that society, is
230 H.Y. Siddiqui
viewed somewhat differently. From this viewpoint the essential fea-
ture of British society (and the Western world generally and after the
collapse of the communist block it is becoming a global reality)
remains its basic capitalist structure. To a very large degree this
structure determines the shape and nature of the social and political
institutions. The way in which British society and political culture have
evolved have, according to the Marxist view, masked the essentially
irrational and contradictory nature of the system. Despite a welfare-
oriented capitalist system (although even this is open to major ques-
tioning), the fundamental point about the society remains not its
welfare but its capitalism. This analysis is valid for India too, and in
the emerging reality of a twenty-first century, similar views are being
Panikker (1995), while commenting on culture and globalisation,
noted that the exogenous cultural presence is not only unsettling the
indigenous but also tries to hegemonise it for legitimising a concept of
social development modeled on the advanced capitalist societies.
Gavaskar (1995) similarly noted in the context of agenda for transfor-
mation that, awesome technological strides under the aegis of capital-
ism have helped market forces to penetrate the remotest corner of the
globe. Industry and agriculture and space and culture have been
increasingly colonised for capital accumulation.
In part, the confused relationship between social work and political
action reflects the 'fragmentary' character of social work; but it also
reflects the uncertainties of contemporary politics in India. Part-time
radicalism was one of the crucial elements in the failure of the
Congress and other left of the centre political parties. A commitment
to radical politics must mean a commitment to a style of life which is
congruent. Ideology, which is not tested and practised in everyday
behaviour, will inescapably become unworkable and brittle with age.
Integral to the radicalism of the structural change is the struggle for a
new life. Social action, as a method, therefore, will remain on the
periphery rather than become a central mode of intervention in
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