Reconfiguring ‘Chineseness’ in the International Discourse on Social Work in China Rick Sin
In the new era of economic globalization, the success and sustainability of the coexistence of humankind hinges on how much we respect and learn from one another within and across cultural, geographical and political boundaries. In the field of international social work, practitioners and scholars in the north passionately call for learning from the south (Hartman 1990a; Midgley 1990). Their previously silent or silenced southern counterparts were eager to bring their perspectives into international intellectual debates. As Dei, Hall, and Rosenberg (2000) observed, more and more people have come to realize the urgency of ‘promoting multiple and collective readings of the world … and [of] exploring multiple and alternative knowledge forms’ (p. 70). The major challenge is to find ways in which these theories and practices are transferable across contexts (Gray and Fook 2004) while avoiding the imperialistic imposition of Western notions of social work (Gray 2005; Midgley 1981). At the core of these debates and dialogues is the question of how to identify, understand and respect cultural difference within and between national and regional borders (Gray 2005). An examination of the literature on cultural difference, particularly in relation to the so called ‘Indigenization’ of social work theories and practices within the International Social Work (ISW) journal between 1986 and 2006 revealed that ‘culture’ is used as a ‘relational demarcator’ (see also Park 2005) inscribing differential positions and hierarchical identities. The limits of universality and the need for adaptation rest on how we deal with ‘difference’ between the west, where social work originated, and the rest.