Professor Jonathan Parker was invited to present a lecture on the paradoxical relationship between concepts of civil society and state-sponsored social work, calling for a radical departure from current neoliberal iterations and performances of social work across European societies, especially England, and mimicked elsewhere in the world.
Professor Nol Reverda from the University of Maastricht also presented a lecture concerning the need for critical and analytic thinking in contemporary welfare in the Netherlands as a means of count ring the uncritical acceptance of neoliberal agendas in Europe.
Professor Parker addressed a packed lecture theatre of academics from University of Leuven, University College Leuven-Limburg, student groups and workers from Belgian NGOs. He introduced the concept of the ‘Big Society’ as promoted by the Conservative Party prior to the 2010 election and quietly laid to rest in policy terms following the entrenchment of austerity methods within the Coalition Government. Rescuing some of the core concepts of civil and communitarian action from misguided ideas of ‘Big Society’, Professor Parker contrasted these with the increased surveillance, monitoring and control of social work in England underpinned by a restrictive and stultifying curriculum. He called for a reflexive criticality in which socially-minded academics, social workers and NGOs challenge the power structures that have led to disillusionment, a focus on social policing and a barren dehumanised approach that increasingly pervades European State social work.
The lecture added impetus to the development of a critical and radical challenge to social work education and practice in Belgium, and Professor Parker has ben invited to contribute to the development of analytic and critical thinking on social issues and civil society over future years.