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Precarisation, Exclusion and Social Work conference paper by J


Precarisation and social ethics . zeller. supi Graz. I understand the concept of precarisation as designating social changes that deteriorate the work and life ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Precarisation, Exclusion and Social Work conference paper by J

Precarisation, Exclusion and Social
Work conference paper by Jörg Zeller The Seventh
SUPI Conference, April 4 6, 2013 FH Joanneum ,
Precarisation and social ethics
I understand the concept of precarisation as
designating social changes that deteriorate the
work and life conditions of an increasing number
of society members. Such deterioration may in
the individual case have accidental causes but
it has as an epidemic social disease -
obviously systematic reasons in social systems
that exist and develop by periodic precarisation
of work and life conditions for the socially
weakest part of the population. I will say that
social systems of this kind operate with an
integrated precarisation logic. In addition - if
there exist such society forms working on the
basis of periodic precarisation - I will call
them unethical or more precise societies with
an unethical moral or mentality.
Conceptualizing social work as practice field
I understand social work as a profession in which
a social community practices its ethics. By
social ethics I understand the ethics of a
social community. I presuppose a community can
be understood as an actor, i.e. a subject of
action/practice. By ethics I understand the
way of thinking (logic) of an actor to base
actions/practices on intentions. I call it also
practice logics. Intentions I take as wishes
to realize desirable/valuable ends. Intentions
are thus conceptually connected to values. They
are members of the same concept-family
(Wittgenstein 1963) enfolding what people
consider as valuable.
  • I understand actions as constituted by
  • Actors or subjects of action a subject
    understood as a conscious human being.
  • Conscious human beings are able to experience,
    feel, imagine, remember, percept, conceptualize,
    predicate, infer, and act.
  • Action organs an actors body and optionally
    objective action instruments
  • An actor acts by activating or forbear to
    activate sensorimotor organs of his/her body an
    actors body is according to Merleau-Ponty
    1945/2006 to be understood as living body, i.e.
    an incorporated mind.
  • Performance the actors making his/her/their
    intention real.
  • Result of the action the by performance of the
    action realized state, event or process.
  • Consequences of the action effects of the
    action on the actor and/or other actors or living
    beings and their existence conditions.

Practice and its logic
By practice I understand a spatio-temporal
extended and coordinated system of actions,
performed in order to reach a manifold of
mutually connected ends. Practices can be
professional or leisure activities to cure sick
people, to teach students, to sell or repair
cars, to breed pigeons, to play football
Practices can be executed by a system of
actions of single actors or by a system of
interactions of a plurality of different
actors. Interactions of humans are steered by
the different intentions of the interacting
actors. By socially interacting, humans try to
make their intentions real i.e. to make the
world meaningful or to construct (Nørreklit 2004,
2012) a meaningful and valuable reality. I call
the way how a community of actors constructs a
meaningful and valuable reality the logic of
practice or ethics of this community. I
understand meaning and value realizing social
interactions on the basis of Wittgensteins 1963
concept of language games as practice games.
Practice games are on the background of my above
considerations also ethic games.
Language games as logic experiments
You can look at Wittgensteins 1963 seminal
concept of language game either with theoretical
or methodological eyes. Theoretically a language
game can be taken as an explanation of language
learning of human actors by creating a
conjunction between signs (sounds, gestures,
facial expressions, postures) and other kinds of
social actions. You can, however, also look at
language games as an experimental way to make
human existence and activities meaningful. Thus
language games become a laboratory for the
building (constructing) and testing of
communication and cooperation forms. The logic of
such forms is created and/or learned by doing. So
here we have to do with a to express it in a
Kantian way aposteriori logic or as I prefer
to call it a practical logic. It is a logic of
communication and action that emerges by the
attempts or experiments of actors to communicate
and interact with each other.
Practice games as ethic games
  • By practice human actors try to make their life
    meaningful and valuable. By practice game I
    understand therefore an extended variant of
    Wittgensteinian language games. It is the
    experimental logic of making human existence not
    only semantically meaningful but also in
    different other ways valuable. Besides meaning
    understood as semantic or cognitive value I
    differ between
  • aesthetic or experiential
  • instrumental or utile
  • ethic or way-of-life or existential
  • values.
  • Practice games can thus be taken as the at the
    same time experiential, experimental and
    constructive endeavours of human actors to make
    their existence meaningful and valuable.
  • By practicing their ideas of a good life, human
    actors show their understanding and
    (aesthetically, instrumentally and morally)
    appreciating of reality. They perform the
    practicing of their existence within what
    Bourdieu 1980 called practice fields.

Practice field
  • A practice field is a dynamic system of different
    practices, consisting in
  • Subjective action potentials, i.e. habitus forms
  • An actors habitus consists in his/her bodily
    and mental abilities to act in different ways,
    i.e. in his/her experiential, theoretical, and
    practical knowledge.
  • Objective action potentials, i.e. capital forms
  • An actors different forms of capital consist in
    all those objective or institutional instruments
    and resources, he/she disposes of in trying to
    realize his/her intentions.

Thus practice fields consist (normally) of a
plurality of actors, instruments and resources
interacting with each other and thereby changing
the quality and quantity of those habitus and
capital forms, which make up the power structure
of the field.
Ethics and morals
The function of ethics is to find out how an
actor has to act to reach desirable ends (realize
something valuable). Thus it is a way of
practical thinking, a logic (or grammar,
Wittgenstein) of practice. By morals I
understand the realized semantics of an ethics
i.e. the way an (individual or social) actor
connects (maps) his/her/their way of thinking
with a system of different types
values. Morality is thus the realized ethics
(way of practical thinking) of en actor. I call
it also the mentality of this actor. The
mentality of actors consists in their attitudes,
customs, conventions, world views, etiquettes,
etc., i.e. how they in customary circumstances
react on, understand, evaluate, and judge what
they experience. The difference between ethics
and morals can be described as the difference
between how an actor thinks he/she should act
under certain circumstances, and how he/she
actually does act. Ethics and morals are,
however, members of the same conceptual family.
Social Work as welfare or charity practice
SW as a profession and practice field is ruled by
a social communitys intention to help citizens
in social need. This can be done on the basis of
different attitudes (mentality) as either a
welfare support or a charity practice. In both
variants SW realizes the social ethics of a
community assessing it as a desirable good to
help people being in need. You could say SW is a
communitys political and legal expression of
either an understanding of social responsibility
or a principle of charity. The understanding of
social responsibility could be formulated as
follows Help people in need to empower them to
realize a good life. It could be based on a
backing good-community principle helping people
in need to become able to realize a good life
contributes to realizing a good community (good
conditions for realizing a good life for all
community members). In contrast charity doesnt
help people really but just accidentally just
making them survive under precarizing existence
Basis of ethics
  • Ethics is based on two conceptual pillars of
    practical wisdom
  • Free will of the actor
  • The actors valuation ability i.e. a
    disposition to discover values among what there
    is and takes place
  • to motivate an actor to act presupposes, that
    he/she is able to differentiate between good and
    bad things/states/events , and to desire the good
    ones and to decline the bad ones

Rationality and desire
The free will of an actor is a consequence of
his/her ability to reason, i.e. to think and
behave as a rational being. Free will presupposes
experience, emotionality (ability to become
motivated), imagination, and rationality (ability
to form concepts and propositions and to infer
conclusions from premises). It would notably be
impossible voluntarily to choose between
different possibilities to act without being able
to imagine possible states, events or processes
that actually dont exist or take place but can
(by action) possibly be made to exist or take
place. An actor losing his/her ability to
appreciate being alive, i.e. a person or
community restricted, hurt or bereft of his/ her
optative abilities (desiring, wanting, wishing,
intending), will be heavily be handicapped in
his/her abilities to realize a good life. There
exists overwhelming evidence that this not least
holds for the victims of precarious work and life
The actors of SW
  • Social Work (SW) as professional activity takes
    place as an interaction between two social actors
  • social worker a person professionally trained
    to help people in social need in this function
    the social worker acts as an individual
    representative (civil servant) of the social
    ethics of her society
  • person in social need a person not being able
    autonomously to create the basics of a liveable
    or much less a good life he can in physical,
    mental and/or social respect be needy because of
  • either by birth or by accident being physically
    or mentally handicapped
  • or made redundant because of working place
    economisation (being fired)
  • or depression because of death of or separation
    from a loved
  • etc.

Ethical reductionism
  • The bipedal basis of ethical thinking can give
    reason to two forms of ethical reductionism, i.e.
    two ways to amputate ethics either
  • to liberalism (will to power, power is law) all
    human beings are free by nature and can get what
    they want by really willing it everyone is
    responsible of his own prosperity or breakdown
    a person in social need is an actor with reduced
    will power and for this reason rightly a Social
    Work client or
  • to economism - reduction of value-diversity to
    economic values (all capital is based on economic
    capital, all goods are commodities, the utmost
    end of human practice is to get rich)

a client is according its Latin etymology a
socially weak person seeking protection of a
socially powerful patron. In countries with a
weak state and a powerful mafia it is often the
mafia with its patronage system that takes over
SW functions.
SW in ethically reductionist societies
Present day western style societies try to
combine a freedom-welfare based (utilitarian)
ethics with a liberalist-economistic reduced
moral. The ethics of this kind of society
requests that the community helps people in
social need. Social work is in charge to do this
to help people with reduced action power
(habitus) to (re)constitute their will
power. However, because of the reduced moral
of this kind of society, SW gains paradoxical
Liberalist minded politicians usually believe
that people in social need just lack will power
to turn their need into prosperity. Therefore
their eagerness for shortening unemployment aid
and forced activation arrangements for unemployed
The paradox of social work
Reducing the actor-side of ethics to free
(pure) will power and the value-side to economy
SW shall free the social client a person
handicapped in the execution of his/her will by
economistically reducing his/her social dignity
to a minimum income needed to exist. A human
person gets so reduced to a economic quantity
(economic man).
In consequence, SW is in charge to free a social
client, i.e. a person dependent of social mercy,
by holding him economically imprisoned in a mere
subsistence capital, i.e. in accurately that
form of society that has made him a person in
social need.
The liberalist freedom concept is abstract
insofar as it assumes a human being itself (by
nature) free i.e. free from all qualifying
(subjective and objective) conditions enabling a
person to choose between different action
possibilities. The liberalist concept of freedom
reduces Bourdieuan habitus to pure (unpersonal)
agency, and Bourdieuan capital to pure economic
action means. A concept of real freedom should
instead define freedom by the subjective
(habitus) and objective (capital) conditions
(potentials) for intentional acting/practicing.

Conclusion sketching a possible solution of the
SW paradox
If social ethics is about how a human community
enables its members to realize a good life then
it seems impossible to help people in social need
without changing the social conditions making
people socially needy. Helping people to realize
a good social life requests a good society
i.e. a society that doesnt enable the good life
of some citizens at the cost of the needy life of
other citizens.
Bourdieu, P. 1993, Sozialer Sinn, Frankfurt a.
M. Suhrkamp. Nørreklit, L. 2004, Hvad er
virkelighed?, in Christensen, J. 2004,
Vidensgrundlag for handlen, Aalborg Aalborg
Universitetsforlag, p. 25-59. Nørreklit, L.
2012, Filosofi i praksis, in Reinbacher, G. S.
and Zeller, J. 2012, Filosofiens anvendelighed,
Aalborg Aalborg Universitetsforlag, p.
9-48. Merleau-Ponty , M. 1945/2006,
Phenomenology of perception, London
Routledge. Wittgenstein, L. 1963, Philosophische
Untersuchungen, in Wittgenstein, L. 1963,
Tractatus logico-philosophicus, Tagebücher
1914-1916, Philosophische Untersuchungen,
Frankfurt am Main Suhrkamp Verlag, p. 279-544.