Throughout this book a central theme has been that of the question about whether the nature of social work, and therefore of international social work, continues to be defined by its origins in the global North. An early statement of this as an issue that has to be addressed is Midgley’s (1981) critique of the way in which social work was internationalized through the transmission of theories and practices from global North to the South, for which he coined the term ‘professional imperialism’. Drawing on the wider historical analysis of imperialism and colonialism, Midgley argues that social work is not simply a technical matter that is independent of its social context. Rather, because relationships between countries of the South and the North were defined by colonialism the spread of social work inevitably has been bound up in these relationships. Thus, international social work can only be understood through an analysis that addresses the implicit ‘imperialism’ in claims to universality. Following from the discussion of cultural relativity and universalism in the previous two chapters we can see that the question of whether professional imperialism has been transcended is one that we still need to consider. Examining this question will also direct us back to the problem of whether it makes sense to think of social work as an international profession.
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