Latin American Social Work: Decolonization and critical perspectives in Uruguay’s curriculum
The analysis of decolonization, of the Social Sciences in general and the Social Work in particular, is very recent in Uruguay. However, we understand that, beyond the specific discussion on the subject, there is an impetus to build a discipline that takes into account the characteristics of Latin America.
Thus, in this paper the educational formation of Social Work in Uruguay is analyzed, taking as the axis of analysis the bibliography of the curriculum of the Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work of the University of the Republic. It is concluded that it is an academic formation that has an emphasis on Latin American intellectuals and thinkers, as a result of the perspective of the education that is focused on critical and Latin American thoughts. This example is socialized to show a case based on Latin American theories that dialogues with other knowledge, which is the result of the discussions that started with the Reconceptualization Movement of Latin American Social Work, and the deepening discussions in the period of democratic consolidation at the end of the twentieth century. This process, developed between the 60s and 80s of the last century, was heterogeneous with respect to positions where the perspectives of critical theory are debated along with the technology flows of Social Work, but it is homogeneous with respect to the questioning of the traditional forms of intervention (inherited from the positions of the United States of America) and the need to build a Social Work that responds to the needs of Latin America.
Latin American universities throughout their history have been subject to important modifications and transformations, from the University Reform of Córdoba in 1918 to the present day. The Latin American university has been the protagonist of successive changes and transformations in which the university community has tried to put itself at the service of the society of which it belongs. Although these universities have tried, from a political - institutional perspective, to think and think themselves from the territories of which they are part, epistemologically the "Eurocentric" (Dussel, 2003) and "mono-cultural" formation has prevailed (de Sousa Santos, 2006); the Eurocentric position that invades the entire conceptual system of the social sciences, and the ways in which this is taught, learned and disseminated.
The Latin American "scientific field" (Bourdieu, 2008) is hegemonised by the European thought; at the same time, the liberal legal-political philosophy and economic liberalism occupy a preponderant place within it; from where a type of society has been naturalized: the liberal capitalist one (Argumedo, 1993; 2000).
Why is it important to try to think the Eurocentrism? The constitutions of the social sciences are consolidated in the second half of the nineteenth century; they are impregnated by the European imaginary of a "universal meta-narrative" (Lander, 2003) whose culmination is the European society, based on evolutionary thought rooted in such perspectives, which considers all other forms of thought as "backward" or "inferior", which must be westernized and incorporated into "civilization". The deeply globalized and connected 21st century finds us challenged to try to think beyond Europe and Eurocentrism; taking a set of theories that imply a break with this way of thinking that range from post-colonial thinking, through complex thinking, to cultural, feminist and decolonial studies.
In Latin America, and precisely in the Southern Cone, there already exists a tradition of breaking with the traditional intervention models in Social Work, initiated with the Reconceptualization, with an important aspect of critical Marxist approach, which seeks to deepen and modify the link with the social sciences. However, we understand that this rupture is only a step forward since, following de Sousa Santos (2006), Marxist approaches, even critics, focused on emancipation, but the idea was always an Eurocentric and, therefore, colonialist vision.
The objective of this paper is to present some aspects of how the education of Social Work professionals in the University of the Republic, Uruguay, is given. This analysis is only one possible example to walk a reflective path and build a different profession that includes the Latin American tradition and is also linked to the current debates of the social sciences and world Social Work.
Academic formation in Uruguay
In summary, we can affirm that the formation of Social Work in Uruguay goes back to two traditions: one related to the medical profession and the other related to the legal profession (Ortega and Beltran, 2014). According to Acosta (1998) the formation of Female Hygiene Promoters passed into the hands of the Ministry of Public Health in 1936, where the School of Public Health and Social Service was created for such purposes. This shows the beginning of a process of institutionalization of social work characterized in its constitution as a female profession, with a hierarchical registration and technically subordinated to other professions in the medical health field. By resolution of the Central Board of Directors, in 1954 the professional education was institutionalized at the university level: the University School of Social Service (EUSS, in Spanish) was created, where the Bachelor’s Degree on Social Work is offered.
Currently, in Uruguay, there are two institutions that train professionals: the University of the Republic and the Catholic University; the first is a state institution and the second is private and has a religious formation. The University of the Republic has the largest number of teachers, students and graduates. Since 1992, the EUSS was transformed into a Department of Social Work, which is part of the School of Social Sciences (Rivero, 2018). In 2009, the Curriculum was modified, generating an important debate about which subjects are basic for the profession and which can be elective for students to build their own profile.
The curriculum of 2009 is divided into initial cycle and advanced cycle. The advanced cycle is organized in eight modules where there are compulsory and optional subjects:
- Theoretical-Methodological Foundations of Social Work: 81 credits
- Public Policies, Planning and Management: 30 credits
- Psycho-Social Components of Professional Intervention: 14 credits
- Social Theories: 30 credits
- Investigation Methodology: 27 credits
- Introduction to Philosophical Thought: 16 credits
- Analysis of Historical Processes: 12 credits
- Final Work: 30 credits
The curricular approach accounts for the importance of educational formation in social theory and research methodology. Given the length of this work, it is not possible to deepen the qualitative analysis of the curriculum; we are only going to present an analysis of the obligatory bibliography of the subjects of the module Theoretical Methodological Foundations of the Social Work, as a beginning of a process of reflection on the characteristics of the formation. This first approach allows us to get close to the scenario of specific education of Social Work from the perspective of the authors worked on in the mandatory bibliography.
The following table shows the origin of the authors (according to residence); all chapter, book or article authors are taken into account, without making a distinction on their profession.
Table 1: Origin on the authors
This table clearly shows the use of bibliography from the Southern Cone of Latin America, which together with that of other Latin American countries represents a total of 75% of the texts worked, far from the 25% of the texts from Europe and the United States. It is important to note that residence does not necessarily define if the visions of the authors are more or less Eurocentric and decolonizing. However, it shows an advance in the production of Social Work that marks a path of Latin American thought.
The 21st century is a deeply unequal world (CICS/IED/UNESCO, 2016) that is transiting and trying to overcome and build a hegemonic "new normal" after the pandemic caused by Covid-19. In this context, social problems and the ways in which they are addressed need to be looked at in order to take account of particular realities and resources.
In this sense, from our place we are walking towards different ways of teaching and training professionals, which includes to reconsider both the social sciences, as well as the professions that intervene in the political and social area, and, in particular, the social work. We are walking through a path in order to make progress in formation processes that break with the colonial and Eurocentric logic. A relevant problem to work is the technological legacy of the Reconceptualization Movement; it is necessary to overcome the technological logics of the profession that emphasize the instrumental of intervention to advance into ethical-political approaches that take into account Latin American logics.
This work is just an outline that allows us to think about an advance in Latin American production. We do not go deeper into the authors' approach here, which requires more in-depth analysis. We have a long way to go to build a Latin American Social Work that can enter into dialogue with the Social Sciences.
Acosta, L. (1998). La génesis del Servicio Social y el Higienismo. Revista Fronteras N° 3. Departamento de Trabajo Social, FCS, Montevideo.
Alayón, N. (2005). Trabajo Social Latinoamericano. A 40 años de la Reconceptualización. Buenos Aires: Espacio.
Argumedo, A. (1993). Los Silencios y las Voces en América Latina. Notas sobre el pensamiento nacional y popular. Buenos Aires: Ediciones del Pensamiento Nacional.
Argumedo, A. (2000). El imperio del conocimiento. Encrucijadas UBA (2), 64-73.
Bourdieu, P. (2008). El Campo Científico. En P. Bourdieu, Los usos sociales de la ciencia (págs. 11-57). Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión.
Claramunt, A. (2021). La formación de los/las Trabajadores/as Sociales en la Universidad de la República: trayectorias, y desafíos al despuntar la tercera década del Siglo XXI. En A. Betancor Bossio, A. Jaurena Cruz, & G. Machado, Asociación de Asistentes Sociales del Uruguay. 40 años. Historia, trayectoria y desafíos (págs. 135-145). Montevideo: Tradinco.
De Sousa Santos, B. (2006). Renovar la teoría crítica y reinventar la emancipación social: encuentros en Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires: CLACSO.
CICS/IED/UNESCO. (2016). Informe Mundial sobre Ciencias Sociales 2016 – Afrontar el reto de las desigualdades y trazar vías hacia un mundo justo. París: Ediciones Unesco.
Dussel, E. (2003). Europa, modernidad y eurocentrismo. En E. Lander, La colonialidad del saber: eurocentrismo y ciencias sociales. Perspectivas Latinoamericanas (págs. 41-53). Buenos Aires: CLACSO.
Lander, E. (2003). Ciencias sociales: saberes coloniales y eurocéntricos. En E. Lander, La colonialidad del saber: eurocentrismo y ciencias sociales. Perspectivas Latinoamericanas (págs. 11-40). Buenos Aires: CLACSO.
Melano, M. C., & Deslauriers, J.-P. (2012). El trabajo social latinoamericano. Elementos de identidad. Buenos Aires: LUMEN-HVMANITAS.
Ortega, E., & Beltrán, M. J. (2014). La historia del Trabajo Social en Uruguay. En T. Fernández García, & R. De Lorenzo García, Trabajo Social: una historia global (págs. 365-380). Madrid: Mac Graw - Hill.
Rivero, S. (2018). La continuidad de la ruptura. La formación de profesionales en Trabajo Social en Uruguay. En V. Verbauwede, R. Zabinski, & L. Del Prado, Formación en Trabajo Social. Miradas y reflexiones sobre el proceso de enseñanza (págs. 19-34). Paraná: Fundación La Hendija.
Rivero, S., & Del Prado, L. (2018). Los “clásicos” en Trabajo Social. La formación en Uruguay. Sociedade em Debate, 24 (3), 129-140.
Universidad de la República - Facultad de Ciencias Sociales (2009). Plan de Estudios 2009. Disponible en: cienciassociales.edu.uy