Open Journal of Social Sciences
2013. Vol.1, No.6, 73-80
Published Online November 2013 in SciRes (
Open Access 73
The Philosophical Exposition of the Mind of the Social Worker:
Issues and Questions on the African Environment
Ani Casimir1, Ejiofor Samuel2
1Department of Philosophy/Institute of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
2Department of Social Work , University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
Received November 2013
The philosophical penetration of the social work practice in Africa comes full cycle when a critical expo-
sition of the contending issues and questions is carried out. Social challenges and problems in Africa
make human suffering in the continent to be one of the highest in the world. An attempt to know the mind
of the social worker in Africa reflects the issues of social work that dominate the African society. The
mind of the social worker is perturbed by the problems of human suffering, poverty, societal stratif ica tion
and conflicts, increasing gap between the rich and the poor, old-age problems, educational destitution,
street begging, youth drug abuse, increasing religious terrorism and psychological instability of the elites.
Posing these critica l questions will reveal a lot about the mind and the psychological dispositions of the
social worker in the African environment. The article seeks to reveal and expose these new questions as
the platform for the search for the new psycho-socio-philosophical and integrative methodology that will
solve the social problems of Africa in the 21st century.
Keywords: Social Worker; Mind; Social Philosophy; Human Values; Environmental Psychology; Africa
in the 21st Century and the MDGs
IntroductionEmerging from the Past of a Rich
African Herita ge of Colonial SocioCultural
In this article, Africa is not being portrayed as a dark conti-
nent. That wrong impression is the propaganda of colonialists
that started from the era of colonialism. This is an exposition of
Africa by Africans for the benefit of Africans and their social
development. An exposition of the mind of the socia l worker is
a philosophical innovation that draws from the rich repository
of wisdom found in social work and social philosophy. Bently
(2012: p. 114) opines that the social worker operates in an en-
vironment where he is compelled to use his mind and principles
of practice to alleviate human suffering and social challenges
unique to his environment. It is important to take special note
of the fact that the mind is a good reflector and mirror of the
socio-cultural and natural worlds of man (Kanu, 2010). In other
words, the mind reflects both the beauty and ugliness of man’s
environment. The philosophy of the mind is the precursor of
man’s state of mind and its contents. How the mind works,
operates and behaves are studied either to know what the mind
is (philosophy of mind) or how the mind affects or is affected
by human behavior and his environment (Pyschology). There is
a dynam ic interplay between the mind of man, his behavior, his
environment and his quest for social solutions to his social
challenges (Ejiofor, 2010: p. 20). This portends that a psycho-
socio-philosophical approach must be applied by the social
worker in Africa in studying the social problems he confronts in
his professional work. This approach is another effective int e-
grated theory of analyzing, exposing and solving emerging
man-induced, social problems in Africa such as wars, refugees,
poverty, drug addiction, internal displacement, homosexuality,
Hiv/Aids and the increasing population of un-served and desti-
tute adults, youths, children and the infirm. The mind of the
social worker in the African environment seeks to solve the
social problems of Africa through an integr ate d approach of
combining traditionalism with modernity in a unique socio-
philosophic-psychological methodology that should constitute
contemporary social work prac tice. The elements and dynamics
of that contemporary practice we will seek to explore analyze
and establish in the context of Africa’s social work problems
and environmental challenges.
The African Social Environment: Issues and
The African socia l environment today has not completed its
colonial cycl es, with the negative impact s of its colonial and
neocolonial history still affecting individual as well as group
development and growth. The European invasion (1844 Berlin
wall sharing process) of the 1800s came with the wrong im-
pression created by its colonialists that “Africa was a dark con-
tinent to be explored and exploited, having no relevant history
or culture” (Kreizer, 2012; Hegel, 1956; Kuykendall, 1993; Pa-
kenham, 1999). Correcting this deliberate and contrived error of
history and culture a re the following conclusions by Kreizer
which chal lenges these errors and explains its dangers to the
emergence of new scholarship and research by Africans in ex-
plaining and solving the social problems of Africans through
indigenous knowledge systems and research sourced from data
mined within the African environment:
The African continent has a rich and ancient history of which
much has been forgotten and rema ins unacknowledged by the
world today. With the expansion of European civilization into
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Africa came the assumption that Africa has no relevant history
and culture. However, it is clear Africa had a long involved,
complex and cultured history with immense diversity of ethnic
groups living on a continent, complete with social, economic
and political infrastructures. In terms of governance, Africa was
probably more democratic than most other parts of the world,
including Europe (Tandon, 1996: p. 296).
In situating the context of historical and cultural denial and
affirmation of the authentic African personality and culture,
Kreizer (2012: p. xviii) maintained that through thes e customs,
laws, traditions and values, constitution and norms were de-
rived and used to sustain stable African societies, using the
example of Ghana pre-colonial society of West Africa wherein
the “centre of the social syste m in precolonial West Africa was
the kinship defined as the patterns of behavior associated with
relatives in a society, together with the principles of governing
these behaviors” (Nukuya, 1992: p. 11). According to Kreizer
(2012), within the kinship system were religious and chief-
taincy systems to adm i nister the Division, look after the spiri-
tual, physical, and emotional welfare of the people, maintain
law and order, consult with elders, lead the a rmy into battle,
and ac t as mediator between ancestors and clans (Busia, 1951).
Of particular note from this elucidation of traditional chieftain-
cy in Africa is the role played by the queen mother in the tradi-
tional social welfare scheme in Ghana.
With variations, such critica l role of t he traditional social
worker, played by the queen mother in Ghana, for example,
was given to different individuals and institutions in different
parts of Africa: each king had a queen mother who watched the
king’s behavior, gave advice and counsel to him, and was in-
volved in marriage considerations (Obeng, 1988). In this role,
Rattray (1988) sees the role of the queen mother as that of
whisper behind the stool; as the second most important person;
her many roles within the communit y included com munity
social wellbeing worker, distributor of local and governmental
resources, liaison officer betw een people and the community
support services, role model and care-giver for women and
children, educationalist, guidance counselor, and supervisor of
puberty rites, to name but a few (Boateng, 1982). It is unfortu-
nate that this traditional system for social development and
welfare established before the coming of European colonization
was broken down with the colonization of Africa as observed
by Kreizer (2012: p. xiv):
Colonization is relationship between people, groups, or
countries where there is a domination and oppression of one
particular relationship over the other resulting in what Freire
(1997) calls the “culture of silence in which a culture is so
oppressed by another culture, they no longer have a voice in the
society or the world and are therefore of no importance. The
effect of this invasion on Africa was a loss of identity and cul-
ture that greatly affected the psyche of the people of Africa;
through modernization, colonization favored western expertise
and attempted to civilize Africa at the expense of its own
knowledge and cultural practices…The hegemony of western
knowledge influences all aspects of African life. There is strong
desire to promote western knowledge, and to compete in a
global world of universities that are on par with western uni-
versity systems…This process promoted a dependency upon
western mate r ial and often undermined local knowledge and
expertise (Kreizer , 2012: p. xv).
Kreizer (2012) has gone further to trace the social problems
of Africa today to this suppression of local knowledge and op-
pression of African indigenous communities who supplied the
raw materials and human resources for the development of the
western socie ti es that gave rise to globalization’s cultural and
economic superiority over Africa.
Traditionalism and Modernity: Inclusion and
Integration in Social Work Practice in Africa
Africa is assailed with a lot of human suffering made en-
demic by poverty and other man-made variables such as bad
governance, bad institutions, corruption and human greed. The
overshadowing negative influence of colonialism and neo-
colonialism in creating the negative hegemonic environment
and scholarship that gave rise to the underdeveloped minds et
that produced vicious underdevelopment in the African st ate
has been examined earlier in this article. The understanding of
philosophy and social work constitute a good foundation for
building the psychology and professional disposition of the
African social worker towards contributing to the elevation of
the standards of living and changing the lives of the poor and
afflicted on the continent.
Philosophy and Social Work: The Nexus
Philosophy is concerned with the art of making meaning and
sense of ourselves, our world and our social environment with
its complexities. It compels the social worker to pose questions
concerning Africa’s social challenges such as why so much
suffering, how can the suffering be changed and what are the
best principles of social work that could be applied to transform
lives in Africa. Asking these questions are necessary and re le-
vant not only in revealing the social situation in Africa but also
in exposing, on a daily basis, the assumptions which underlie
the entire spectrum of theories that underlie the practice of so-
cial work in Africa. In social work, meaning is made of the
human condition and the mind of the professional social worker
applied in using that meaning to solve problems under social
reality. Social work is a practical job, for according to Renga-
samy (2012: p. 1):
As a practical job, it is about protecting people and changing
lives, not about giving theoretical explanations of why they got
into difficulties…social work is about soci al change at the ind i-
vidual as well as at community level. Change is complex, di-
versified and r isk prone. To understand it the social worker
needs knowledge, imagination, comprehensions and creativi-
ty… in short, a radical shift in understanding “knowledge as a
process” as opposed to knowledge as product is needed”.
Accordingly, only a paradigm shift in social work knowledge,
understanding process and applications, in a unique and rele-
vant dynamic approach, is what could solve Africa’s complex
emerging social reality and problems. The philosophical chal-
lenge is to juxtapose these definitional frameworks in the con-
text of traditionalism and modernity while doing the needful to
sift the wheat from the chaffs. Philosophy of social work should
question these frameworks since it enables us to have the ca-
pacity to appreciate alternative perspectives in a variety of
problematic and tiring of issues facing the social worker in
Africa. A number of philosophical ideas and maxims stand the
chance of influencing the different approaches to social work
practice in Africa.
African Philosophy , Personality and Human Values
African philosophy has come to stay and be recognized as
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the indigenous philosophy reflecting the cosmology and ontol-
ogy of the Afr ica n personality (Okolo, 2001; Dukor, 2013: p.
43). Theistic humanism has come to be seen as the conceptual
framework which confers global authenticity to the human
values of truth, righteousness, peace, (non-violence) compas-
sion and love that define the essential nature and personality of
the African mind. God is seen as a factor that guides the Afri-
can in all aspects of his life and relationship with others. These
human values were deified and globalized by Sathya Sai Baba
(1954: p. 104) in the ground breaking “educ ation in human
values” (EHV) concept in educational curriculum, content and
new educational school models that led to the foundation of the
African Institute for Education in human values (TAISSE, 2005)
and equally informed the backbone of its educational philoso-
phy and practice. A social work practice from an African per-
sonality is operated by an Af rican mind that is permeated with a
theistic and humanistic human values, ethics and principles.
Accordingly, Pai ne (1997) argues that social work theory suc-
ceeds best when it contains all three elements of perspective,
theory and model with a steady stream of culture defined hu-
man values since the way of perceiving the world flows from a
value (of the social worker). If one wants to know about the
values cherished and honored by the social worker, we should
make effort to know what the social worker does, in brief. Have
you ever wondered what social workers do? The answer to this
question gives us some insight into social work practice and the
theory which informs the practice. It also enables us to be in-
troduced to the four components to good pract ice and appre-
ciate the importance of the following approaches to social work
practice and how to relate to human values and social needs:
The social context of social work
Responding to children’s needs
Empowerment and advocacy in social work
Social work purpose, roles, codes and standards
While these five may constitute only few of the many ap-
proaches that define the content of social work, they are con-
tained within the philosophical consideration of new knowledge
that could be generated from the four components. This philo-
sophical exposure gives us a flavor of what social work is about
and encourage you to explore further so as to summarize the
four components of good practice to enable us to have better
insight into what constitutes human value and the extent soc i et-
al values play in influencing the mind of the soc i al worker,
especially when it comes to his cultural environment of practic e.
Every good practice of social work is always informed and
guided by human values in a cultural context (Banks S., 2001).
The four components of good practice are introduced here and
we find references to them throughout the career of a social
worker as he learns, practices and researches on best practices
that could solve the complex social problems troubling the
African society . The four components are:
Values and Ethics
The Social Work Process
It is critic al t ha t we appreciate the fact that each of the unit
draws upon and illustrates the application of the four compo-
nents of good practice in a mutually inclusive manner. Let us
take the knowledge component, for example. Four main pers-
pectives inform this second edition. First , the vi ew that in order
to be effective, social work practitioners must work from a
sound knowledge base, t hat is, one that is relevant and identifi-
able. A second perspective sees social work as essentially a
capacity building” activity: a perspective that emphasizes the
important role that social workers can play in terms of enhanc-
ing individual, family, group and environmental capacities. A
third perspective recognizes that social work is very much
about relating: about the benefits and limitations that people ex-
perience in their relationships with others. The importance of
the capacity to relate can be seen in the way that people relate
to themselves, others and to society. It is here that people some-
times turn to social work, and to other professions, for help to
address the difficulties they are experiencing. The capacity to
relate can be identified most visibly in the way people commu-
nicate, which leads to the fourth perspective on the importance
of com munication skills within social work. Although these
perspectives are described under separate headings, they over-
lap and interweave in ways that are multifaceted and intricate
but which together provide a basis for a more coherent practice
The Importance of a Sound Knowledge Base
In order to acquire and to perf ect a “toolbox” or “basket” of
practice skills and interventions, we need to have a sound
knowledge base from which to begin to understand people and
their situations and to formulate plans of action appropriate to
the circumstances encountered. This involves understanding
how experience are perceived, understood and communicated
by people, and how this impacts on behaviour and life situa-
tions, always be incomplete and uneven because, in the re al m
of human experience, life is unpredictable and some uncertainty
is inevitable (Marris, 1996a). This complexity is acknowledged
by the General Social Care Council (GSCC) and the National
Occupational Standards (NOS) and by other influential bodies
within social work:
Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple,
complex transactions between people and their environments.
Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential,
enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional soc i al
work is focused on problem-solving and change. As such, so-
cial workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the
individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work
is an interrelated system of values, theory and practice (IASSW/
IFSW, 2001).
Central to this purpose is the development of skills and in-
terventions that are capable of influencing “people and their
environments”. This can be a formidable tas k and an area
where no profession or practice approach can claim complete
success, a point emphasized in discussion document from the
Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit at the Cabinet Office, entitled
Personal Responsibility and Changing Behaviour: The state of
Knowledge and its Implications for Public Policy:
This paper has set out a body of theories, evidence and poss-
ible policy applications. The field remains relatively underde-
veloped. Many more policy makers are familiar with economic
principles or law than with psychology. There have been few
attempt s to pull together the knowledge base in a systemat i c
way, and policie s to influence behavior are often ad ho c…
Looking to the future there is an evident need to strengthen our
theoretical and empirica l understanding of what drives behavior
and behavioral change… Policy should not simply proclaim
personal responsibility or blame, but needs to be shaped around
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the ways in which people actually think and feel, and the soci al
and psychological forces that influence behavior. (Halpern &
Bates, 2004: p. 67).
We can continue to extend our knowledge through research
but we still need to be able topull together” and use what we
know. It is interesting to note that this discussion document
covers a wide range of social problems and includes several
professional groups, such as teachers, nurses and doctors. How-
ever, social work and social workers are not mentioned and this
is happening more and more in relation to documents of this
kind. Yet perhaps more than any other profession, social work
has a long history and a great deal of experience in the area of
helping people with limited resources to change their lives, and
has an extensive library on this subject. Social work’s particular
contribution in the field of social welfare and soc ial change lies
in the f act that practitioners work with people from some of the
most deprived and disadvantaged sectors of the population and,
as a result, we have developed specific knowledge, skills and
understanding from the concentrated work we continue to per-
form in this area. A further contribution lie s in the way t ha t our
values shape our work—a perspective that embraces the im-
portance of social justice.
This value perspective is most evident in the way that we
communicate with service users, career s and others, as well as
in theattitudes, methods and practices of practitioners and
their agencies” (Clark, 2000: p. 360). According to the status
that certain groups hold within soci ety, the right to social jus-
tice can be threatened and lead to prejudice and discrimination.
These injustices can be based on an individual’s class, r ace,
gender, age, disabilities, sexual orientation, religious/spiritual
beliefs, culture, health and geographic location (such as the
divisions that exist between the north and south of England), or
simply on the fact that some people are poor and behave in
ways that reveal their lack of life chances and social exclusion.
Social work is not unique in its values perspective, but other
professions may not have given this issue the same importance,
although the picture is changing. For example, in recent yea r s
there has been considerable coverage on the impact of poverty
and deprivation in relation to health in the British Medical
Journal (Watt, 2001: pp. 175-6) and Lancet (Horton, 2002: p.
For any knowledge to be valuable in soci al work, it has to be
relevant and applicable to the issues regularly encountered in
practice. On the other hand, practice also needs to inform
knowledge—and in an ongoing way—through conceptualizing
what we do in ways that revise existing theories where they are
at odds with the experiences of practice. However, too often the
knowledge generated from practice is not written up and pub-
lished, which means it is not available for other practitioners,
and other professionals, to use and to develop further. The vi ew
held by a number of practitioners and academics is that the
world of theorizing and writing, “belongs” to the realm of aca-
demics. Although not intended, the introduction of an evidence
based perspective in social work has had the effect of eroding
some practitioners’ confidence in relation to the knowledge and
theory base of social work practice. This is a worrying devel-
opment and one that needs to be addressed.
Knowledge is colored by values and ethics; knowledge dee-
pens skills and hones the process of delivery while good prac-
tice comes only from an integration of the whole in a culturally
relevant and human value context.
However, in the context of the special tasks we have as-
signed to our research in this paper, we are further compelled to
pose the question: What are social work values?
Traditionally, one of the things that distinguishes a profess-
sion is that it has a set of principles to which its members have
to be committed and must put into practice. Sarah Banks de-
fines social work values as:
A set of fundamental moral/ethical principles to which social
workers are/should be committed (Banks, 2001: p. 6). Values
and ethics empower the social worker to appreciate the follow-
ing professional engagement morals and keep his mind we ll
focused upon delivery and alleviation of human suffering (Tre-
vithick, 2010: p. 292):
a) Awareness of your own values, prejudices, ethic al dilem-
mas and conflicts of interest and their implications on your
b) Respect for, and the promotion of:
Each person as an individual
Independence and quality of life for individuals, whilst
protecting them from harm
Dignity and privacy of individuals, fami l ies, ca r eer s , groups
and communi t ies
c) Recognize and facilitate each person’s use of language and
form of communication of their choice
d) Value, recognize and respect the diversity, expertise and
experience of individuals, familie s, careers, groups and com-
e) Maintain the trust and confidence of individuals, families,
careers, groups and community by communicating in an open,
accurate and understandable way
f) Understand and ma ke use of str ategies to challenge dis-
crimination, disadvantage and other forms of inequality and
The British Association of Social Workers issued a revised
Code of Ethics for Social Work in April 2002. Thi s emphasises
that social work is committed to five basic values:
Human dignity and worth
Social justice
Service to humanity
(BASW, 2002: p. 2)
The Code discusses each value and derives from them prin-
ciples that should guide a social worker's conduct, wherein the
code emphasizes the value personality, ide ntity and social jus-
tice in a cultural context which mixes the human values found
in the practitioner and clients environment with the professional
David Howe (1999) advises that values are important be-
cause they help to guide action. However, they are not without
their difficulties, because, he suggests, values spell debate and
trouble. He outlines two types of values: “intrinsic values”,
which are good in themselves (for example, personal w el l-
being); and “instrumental values”, whi ch are linked to ends (for
example, laws which uphold rights). Soci al workers bring their
individual values but al so recognize institutional and profes-
sional values. These can potentially be in conflict but must be
resolved. We are acutely aware that we cannot “teach” the val-
ues required by the Social Work Degree framework documents
without looking at the context in whic h you work, and the
changes that are taking pl ace in social work. The establishment
of new ways of delivering social services, particularly the “pur-
chaser-provider” split, and the increasing privatization of ser-
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vices, are as much a part of this context of work as those as-
pects that represent continuity in social work, for example the
social work relationship” with the service user, or seeing so-
cial work ser vices as there to “help” people. If we have to ge-
neralize, then it is probably true to say that the fundamental
value we promote is one of s ocial justice, backed up by respect
for each person’s “identity”. At the same time we have to take
account of the world in which we live, and the changes that
impinge on the delivery of services to people. If the human
“values” of social work are to mean anything, then we should
spell out what we think they mean in practice. Wha t kind of
values should permeate the mind of the Africa social worker
and duly inform his knowledge and prac t ice in a cultural con-
text? Should he just re-echo global western values of social
work or innovatively strive to be relevant in a culturally c r ea-
tive and theoretical manner?
To my mind, what the values mean in practice should be in-
terpreted in the context of the socio-cultural, psychological and
philosophical context of the African social worker. In essence,
the African personality of the social worker is influenced by the
human values of African philosophy to analyze, understand,
sympat hize and help the condition of his fellows towards achi-
eving personal and community transformation and betterment
of lives. The profession has been influenced by these factors,
with a dependency on western social work education and prac-
tice. The challenge started back in the 1970s with the ASWEA
conferences, to critically think through what social work educa-
tion means in an African context and this was just the begin-
ning. This issue continues today and is more relevant than ever.
This book is written mainly for African social workers and
academics in hopes that, through reading his book, a spark of
revolutionary thinking is ignited as to what kind of social work
education and practice would be most useful and practical for
Africa in the twenty-fi rst century. Mobilizing relevant people in
order to go through this process of examining assumptions,
critiquing and building cultural relevant social work curriculum
is both difficult and creative. To remove one’s self from west-
ern knowledge that has been deemed “t he best”, and held in
high esteem, is to ask a culture to remove itself from its parent
and start a new life on its own. Taking the best of the western
theory and practice and practice and balancing it with African
indigenous knowledge and traditions is an important step in this
process. This is the only way that African social work can be a
creative and revolutionary force in Africa and in social work
worldwide (ASWEA, 1974c: p. 32).
In supporting this need for a culturally relevant social work
principle and practice in Africa in the context of our new
framework, the project relishes the apt observations of K reiberk
why the search for certainty in social work theory and practice
remain conclusive:
Why has it been so difficult to cut the umbilica l cord of
western soci al work training and practice for a more cultural
relevant social work education program for Africans? Whey,
after sixty years of social work in many countries in Africa is
the profession still struggling and still on the periphery?
The African s oc i al worker, to succeed in his career of trans-
forming lives, must imbue and embed his professional pra ctice
with the communal values of the African philosophy and per-
sonality to have a mind and psychology of environmental and
social transformation and betterment of human suffering. This
enables him to scientifically isolate some theories of social
work and adopt new ones tha t reflect African human values.
The essential peculiarity of these African values empowers the
content of the social worker’s creative approach, perspective
and theory t hat will define the ne w model proposed as an inno-
vative social work practice that responds and understands the
problems and mindset of the victims of social injustice in Afri-
Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative
One of the most potent Western philosophical principles that
could positively influence socia l work practice through the
mind of the social worker in Africa is Immanuel Kant’s cate-
gorical imperative. Through his classical work entitled, “ground-
work for the metaphysics of morals”, he came up with his hu-
manity or end in itself formulations. Therein, Kant observed
thus: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity,
whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never
simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end”
(Kant: compilations: p. 223).
In relation to social work, this Kantian concept could be ap-
plied in the context of any new child protection legislation,
policy or practice in any African country. In the light of emerg-
ing and increasing marital conflicts, divorces, separations be-
tween husbands and wives the social worker is heavily pres-
sured by both sides to take decisions from the selfish interests
of e ither of the two parties at the detriment of the child or
children. In the context of the Kantian positive influence on the
mind of the social worker, even though he should not view or
treat the parents as means to meeting their children’s ends, the
social worker reflects on how best to achieve the welfare, pro-
tection and future of the children. This means that extant child
protection legislation and policies in Africa should think first of
the welfare of the child as paramount consideration when the
objectives of these social work legislations and policies are
drawn up by the managers of the social welfare programs in
Africa. When equally, the African social worker is called upon
to decide such cases involving children and t heir feuding par-
ents, he is required to make decisions regarding children’s edu-
cation, upbringing, training, protection and psychological sta-
bility-this means that the social worker is required to be child-
value sensitive in an African cultural manner. A mean should
be drawn between the end of achieving the children’s welfare
and the requests of the divorcee parents. Thus the Kantian im-
perative is a social value that mirrors the African social value of
putting the interests of others before self’ reflected in commu-
nalism which goes further to see the child as a community
wealth and property which must be protected just as the future
of the community is well protected by a social practice of hu-
man values.
Traditionalism and Social Work
The traditional definition of social work known to scholars in
the Western world and neo-colonial Africa sees it as a profes-
sional calling and activity that helps, assists and enables people
in changing their lives by helping themselves. The impression
given here is that social work is a faultless, peaceful, and non-
contradictory process without challenges per se (PD Mishra,
1994). This fails to capture the complexities and transforma-
tions which social work has undergone throughout the world of
its practice and, ce r tainly, the tumultuous social, political, cul-
tural and ec ono mi c environment faced by the social worker in
Africa. It also fails to underpin the cultural and philosophical
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transformation going through the mind of the social worker as
he grapples with the challenges thrown up by his environment
in the 21st century as Africa seeks to build a new framework
for social work practice after colonialism and neocolonialism.
Under this western conception we could give a traditional view
defined in the manner that captures the practice perspectives of
Pamela Trevithick:
The le gal, social, economic and ecological context of so-
cial work come mainly from:
g) Country, UK, EU legislation, statutory codes, standards,
frameworks and guidance relevant to social work prac t ice and
related fields, including multi-disciplinary and multi-organiza-
tional practice, data protection and confidentiality of informa-
h) Social policy, including policy on social care, criminal
justice, education, health, housing, income support
i) Demographic and social trends
j) Theories of poverty, unemployment, health, impairment
and other source of discrimination and disadvantage and their
impact on social exclusion
k) Policies on diversity, discrimination and promoting inde-
pendence/autonomy of adults, children, families , groups and
communities, and research on their effectiveness
The context of social work practice for this area of work for
this article shall concentrate and work upon:
l) Historical perspectives of social work and social welfare
m) International law and social policy, in broad terms, for the
purpose of comparison
n) Contemporary issues and trends in social work
o) Understanding of why people use social work and social
care services
p) Psychological and sociological explanation of:
Human growth and development and the factors that impact
on it
Mental health and well being
Social interactions and relationships
Discrimination and oppression
Human behaviour
q) Knowledge of the range of local resources and services
r) Theories about how systems work
s) Organizational structures, policies and procedures for re-
t) Policies, procedures and legal requirements for the secur ity
and confidentiality of information
u) How to access and use information and communications
technology (ICT) and other electronic systems that may help in
the collection of information
As we can see there is an existing tension between view and
the African emerging view sought by this article. The environ-
ment of poverty and the persistence of suffering by the poor,
despite the application of Western concepts of social work and
poverty alleviation means that something new must come that
is unique to the African social environment, mirrored by po-
verty in Nigeria (Onokola, 2003). This is the dilemma of tradi-
tionalism and modernity in Africa. It is the jinx of continuing
an old palliative to seek an end to a social problem when that
situation calls for a new cultural mix that truly captures the
reality of the social challenge. This dilemma is well enunciated
by Rengasamy (2012: p. 6) in the following lucid philosophical
What is the need of social work or why social work? Which
definitions work today? How is social work car r ied out? To
whom is soci al work going to save or what are the characteris-
tics of its clients. To answer these questions one need to know
why people are suffering. What are our responsibilities towards
follow human beings? How we gain knowledge about the hu-
man problems? What makes us perceive the human problems in
a particular way? Why we subscribe to certain methods of
solving problems… Social workers need to answer these ques-
tions before addressing others’ problems. Theories and pers-
pectives of social work may provide some answers to these
Modern Social Work Phi l os ophi es and Theories
A philosophy is a world view , theory or assumption that
seeks to explain reality or a situation. A social work philosophy
or theory is in a class of its own as it seeks to explain why,
what, when, where and how of a social or individual challeng-
ing problem. Not all social work theories would pass this mus-
ter in the African context since most are based upon an Euro-
pean would view or assumption of how societies should be
organized. Thus si nc e the re exists uncertainty about s om e of
such theories, the explanation by Cotted (2081) that sees theory
as a set of ideas that helps to explain why something happens or
happened in a particular way, and to predict likely outcomes in
the future… but not yet conclusively proved’ may give us fur-
ther support of the incongruity between European and African
theories of social work.
Social work theories, models and methods for working with
individuals, families, ca r ee r s , groups and communities embody
the following schema of operational practice:
a) Principles, theories and methods of social work pract i ce
b) Theories about the impact of authority and power in the
social work role
c) Theories about the impact of discrimination, and methods
of working with diversity
d) Theories and methods about working with the main
groups of people using service. These include childcare, mental
health, learning difficulties, older people, minority and ethnic
groups, drug and alcohol use, disability and impairment
e) Principles about balancing the rights of individuals, fami-
lies, careers, groups and communities with the interests of so-
ciety and the requirements of practice
f) Lessons learned from both serious failure of service and
practice, and from successful interventions
v) Approaches to evidence and knowledge based practice
w) Theories of organizations, group behaviour and organiza-
tional change
x) Theories and methods of promoting personal, s ocial and
emotional well being (NOS, 2004: p. 20)
When one zeros in on the theories of social work, the neces-
sity of benchmarking a theory of social work on its successful
practice, for example, in Africa, comes to mind with the defini-
tion of theory give n by Bachet (1995): a set of ideas or prin-
ciples used to guide practice which are sufficiently coherent
that they could if necessary be made explicit in a form which
was open to challenge!!
Thus theories as philosophies, should have the power to ex-
plain issues, events, circumstances and challenges unique to a
particular society’s cultural environment such that marries the
theories of individual/group behavior with the values of perso-
nalities, professional models, views or theories of social work
in its successful alchemical mix. With a good dialectical and
chemical marriage, social work practice in Africa should serve
Open Access
and achieve the objectives of socio-cultural and economic
transformation and empowerment of individual and community
lives on the continent. Secondly, they should make provision
for new theoretical inputs to the social work knowledge-base,
research and practice in Africa. Thirdly, they should embody
the values and principles drawn from African philosophy and
the African mind of the socia l worker engaged in daily practice.
When structured in that culturally dialectical and alchemical
process, African soc ial work theories will serve the profession
of soc ial work and solve the problems in the African environ-
ment in accordance with the classical objectives elucidated by
Regasamy (2013: p. 4), who opined that sound social workers
though use theory to understand and explain three main aspects
of social working:
a) The task and purpose of social work—the role of social
work in society
b) Pr actice theories: sometimes called social work approach-
es or methods—how to go about doing social work
c) The world of service users, including the internal (Psy-
chological) world and the external (social) world
Thus we can see that good theories of social work focus on
the profession, its purpose, domain and character in particular
societies. In this context, they should explain human behavior,
the soc ial environment, the cultural values and why change
happens in that environment. Managing change in unique so-
cio-cultural environments such as in Africa can be well ex-
plained and facilitated by the African social worker who has
used his African mind to study, analyze and understand the
human values peculiar to the African social environment.
Through these values as guiding pillars to his social work prac-
tice, he will not fail to come up with orientational, explanatory
or practical theories that embody the integration of the old and
new in a dynamic problem-solving manner. This calls for and
justifies this article’s research objective of working towards the
deconstruction, reconstruction and construction of a new social
work cultural principle within the context of the socio-philo-
sophic-psychological framework.
The socio-philosophic-psychological methodology designs a
new t emplate for social work practice and framework that takes
note of the African value perspective with an eye of generating
innovative systems that combines the new and old of the best-
lowing historical and environmental peculiarities of Africa:
1) The mind and personality of the African social worker,
agitated by global social problems, is more concerned with the
endemic social problems of human suffering in the continent;
2) The mind of the African social worker structured with
evolving new integrated dynamic practica l approaches/theories
that seeks to solve these identified problems in a sustainable
and multi-disciplinary manner;
3) The mind of the soci al worker is committed to evolving as
well a new social scholarship through new research that chal-
lenges the limited strictures of the old colonial scholarship of
social work whic h is out of congruence with the challenging
social realities in Africa and fails to encode Africa’s cultural
values and cosmology as workable s ocial work principles as
school curriculum and professional practice;
4) This new social work scholarship, research and practices
that embeds Africa’s human v alues combines traditionalism
and modernity in its best traditions in an inclusive and inte-
grated approach that seeks to manage Africa’s environmental
and social challenges in the context of the Millennium devel-
opment Goals(MDGs).
Recommendations on Charting a New Social
Work Practice
As analyzed in this article, the unique socio-philosophio-
psychological approach to successful social work practice re-
cognizes the three core influential frameworks for practic e.
They take into consideration the uniqueness of Africa’s eco-
system, Africa’s internal coping strategic strengths and the con-
tinent communal and cultural competence. These three perspec-
tives made lucid by both S. Rengasmy (2013) and Army (1991:
p. 74) could be quoted below as reflectors of the emerging
African inclusive theories of social work practice:
The Ecosystem Perspective
This perspective focuses on t he interpl ay between the person
and his environment. To understand the functioning of the indi-
vidual, we must understand his or her environmental context.
1) Families exist within communities and neighbour hood s;
2) Individiuals, families, and nei ghbou r hoods exist in a
political, economic and cultural environment;
3) The environment impacts the actions, beliefs, and choices
of the individual.
The Strengths Perspective
This perspective is built on the assumption that every indi-
vidual, fa mi ly, group and community has strengths and focus-
ing on these thoughts leads to growth and overcoming of diffi-
culties. Under this perspective, clients are generally the best
experts about what types of helping strategies will be effective
or ineffective.
The Cultural Competence Perspective
This perspective is the understanding and approval of cultur-
al distinctions, taking into account the beliefs, values, act ivities
and customs of distinctive population groups. Many cultures
have prescribed ways of talking about healt h and the human
body and these factors impact a person’s reaction and accep-
tance of health services.
These perspectives could be embodied and used as the rec-
ommended philosophical framework to establish the content of
the new and unique Africa’s philosophic—socio and psycho-
logical social work theory through the following action plans.
1) Setting a new research centre in Africa to outline the con-
tent of a new social work practice;
2) Organize and establish a new scholarship da ta base to ag-
gregate data relating to new framework and actual social work
practice in African countries;
3) Set up global cultural centers of social work that could
provide observation, description, explanation, prediction and
successful soci al work interventions in Africa, India, China,
and other cultural environments emerging or have emerged
from colonial theoretical impositions;
4) Work with United Nations/regional bodies such as UN-
ESCO to establish culture as a necessary component of social
work practi ce
Many historical and current factors have influenced how the
Open Access
profession of social work has emerged in Africa. From a conti-
nent with a long and convoluted history made up of mini-
nations (Maathai, 2009) to a continent colonized but on the
upward climb to modernize, Africa has experienced more than
its share of pol iti cal, economic, and social challenges (Yimam,
1990). Why has the re-exa mi na t ion of social work education in
Africa, compl eted through the ASWEA conferences, been slow
to take hold? Africa is re-emerging as an important force in the
world order. Social work can play an important role in this
re-identification process. However, in order to do this it first
has to cleanse its own self from past indoctrination by others.
Critical analysis of the curriculum in light of colonization and
modernization and globalization is a possible ne xt working st ep.
Through the processes, the social work profession can create
culturally relevant social work training and practice that fits its
own needs as a continent. A new and creative curriculum will
emerge when African social workers and academics question
and take charge of their own training and prac tice. The time has
come for Africans to have partner s and not masters. This calls
for a relationship of solidarity (Kreitzer & Wilson, 2010).
We have made the point that the arguments of theoretical
innovation, adaptation, change, inclusion and integration be-
tween the traditional and modern theories, philosophies and
methods of social work pr actice would succeed more in Africa
because they embody the possibility of designing unique and
relevant environment approach of solving the s oc i al challenges
confronting him in his environment. While recognizing all t he
major theories used in social work pr actice, such as systems,
psychodynamic, social, conflict feminist, problem solving task
centered, solution focused cognitive behavioral, crisis based,
narrative theories, this article has isolated the cultural strengths
and the eco-systems approaches as perspective that could help
the mind their African social worker to grapple with the emerg-
ing social challenges and empower Africans to help themselves
in a human-value sustainable manner in the 21st century.
ASWEA Conferences (ASWEA, 1974c: p.32).—Aimed at removing
one’s self from western k nowledge that has been deemed “ the best”,
and held in high esteem, is to ask a cultu re to remove itself from its
parent and start a new life o n its own. Taking the best o f the western
theory and practice and practice and balancing it with African indi-
genous knowledge and trad itions is an important step in this process.
This is the only way that African social work can be a creative and
revolutionary force in Africa and in social work worldwide.
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