The European Union has declared 2010 the ‚Year of the Fight against Poverty and Exclusion’.Parallel to this programmatic declaration and in light of the economic and financial crisis that has impacted our lives in many ways, poverty and exclusion have become more current than ever and must be newly addressed.This prompted the Swiss Association for Social Work (SGSA) to title the second international congress that was held in Geneva from 21. - 23. March 2010 ‘The Fight against Poverty and Exclusion – Social Work in Times of Crisis’.
The president of the Swiss Association for Social Work, Prof. Dr. Peter Sommerfeld from the FHNW in Olten, opened the congress with the demand that social work in times of crisis should position itself by articulating its role in the complex interaction between politics, the economy, and its own practice.
In his opening speech titled ‘Soziale Arbeit in entgrenzten Gesellschaften’ (‘Social Work in Societies with blurred boundaries’) Prof. Dr. Lothar Böhnisch of the Free University of Bozen (Bolzano) contextualised the theme of the congress with a critical social analysis. The impacts of blurred boundaries and detachment on social work in the context of digital capitalism are a tendency towards weakening the welfare state, individualising poverty, and an increasing disconnect between rich and poor. Since the mid 20th century poverty has shifted from being a marginal phenomenon to becoming a structural problem within industrialised societies. Current tendencies towards blurred boundaries and detachment lead to a transformation of poverty itself: poverty has become a transnational issue.
The topic of transnationalisation was implicitly and explicitly addressed in several presentations at the congress, for example in a symposium on ‘Approaches of Social Work between transnational and regional orientations’ which was held by the Institute for Social Work of the FHS St. Gallen (Nadia Baghdadi, Christian Reutlinger and Mandy Schöne). This symposium focussed on the question whether in social work transnational strategies are the key to addressing poverty and exclusion. Empirical evidence and theoretical reflections about transnationalisation processes and social support were presented and discussed (e.g. by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schröer, University of Hildesheim, speaker of the DFG Graduate School 1474 Transnational Social Support).
During the three days of congress the roughly 400 participants from different countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, France, England and Lebanon, discussed in 4 parallel sequences, 5 symposiums, 16 workshops and 3 main lectures. The official languages were German and French. Most lectures and discussions were interpreted simultaneously.
The congress contributed to one of the main aims of the Swiss Association for Social Work, namely: ‘Advancing the exchange of knowledge – between the four language regions – and also with other European countries’.
The next international congress will be the third congress for Social Work and will be held in Zurich in 2013.
Picture: www.pixelio.de (Photographer: Peter Kirchhoff)