Relation between Social Action and other Methods of Social Work

Social problems and conflicts have remained an integral part of society from time immemorial. For providing relief and solutions to these problems, social work and social welfare have also remained a part of human society. Professional social work utilises specific methods of working with people to empower them to solve their problems. Among the forms of social work, social action is a new introduction in the professional social work practice.

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As a method of social work, social action mobilises the general population to bring about structural changes in the social system. Also, the relation of social action with other social work methods is significant to understand. The social action process heavily rests on other social work methods like group work and community organisation. In fact, social action comes into the picture when people's needs and problems remain unmet and unsettled through other modes of social work. Social action seems to be a step forward for a community organisation. Social work research helps in perceiving the social problem objectively. Group work and casework are the foundation of social action where people are mobilised to confront authorities. Social welfare administration gives the ground to social workers to prepare the community for social action. Social workers make use of the skills and experiences gained through other social work methods in the process of social action.

Read: Social Action in Social Work

Read: Strategies, Principles and Models in Social Action


Social Action: A Method of Social Work

Every profession has a tested body of knowledge, which includes principles, techniques, methods, procedures, tools, and terminology. The same is valid with professional social work. Social work has six methods of working with people (casework, group work, community organisation, social action, social welfare administration and social work research). These methods are the techniques of enabling people to better social functioning. As a method of professional social work practice, social action is an organised effort to change or improve social and economic institutions through the organisation and mobilisation of the community people.

Unlike other social work methods, social action emphasises essential long-term changes in established social institutions. The social action covers social, religious and political reform movements, social legislation, racial and social justice, human rights, freedom and civil liberty. Previously, social action was considered a tool within a community organisation. Still, now it has been considered a separate social work technique and, as such, a fourth process (see Siddiqui, 1984).


Why social action is considered a method of professional social work? A method of professional social work is a technique or approach having characteristics like an established process with easily recognisable stages, based on the philosophy of social work, having principles or guidelines or theories, skills of working with people which are learned and refined through professional guidance.

Social action within these parameters - More or less, the social action process passes through the recognisable and systematic stages. First of all, scientific analysis or research on the social problem affecting the community people is carried out. Then, awareness is generated regarding various aspects of the problem, and people are encouraged to take collective and collaborative action to solve the problem. The third stage is centred on organising people for coordinated and directed intervention, whereas in further steps, suitable strategies are developed to achieve the goals, and lastly, action is taken. Every social action process passes through these stages, and professional social workers or actionists are well-equipped with the knowledge and skills required in different settings.


As a method of social work, social action adheres to the philosophy of professional social work. It does not blame people for the deficiency or problem. It firmly believes in the worth and dignity of human beings. Social action rejects the doctrine of laissez-faire and survival of the fittest. The unfit person has the same fundamental rights as the more fit, and the rich or powerful is not necessarily fit, and a poor or weak is indeed inappropriate. It adopts a commitment to the capacity of all the people to take action to improve their life circumstances. It grounds this action on a process of open participation in which people, preferably collectively, explore the underlying social issues of their life situations as the foundation for action. Practitioners do not lead, but through a non-elitist, highly skilled process, they facilitate members in making choices and taking action for themselves.

Like any other method of professional social work, social action does have certain principles, details of which are given in the previous unit. Very briefly, these principles are mentioned here. Firstly, the community must have faith and confidence in the social worker (principle of credibility building). The social actionist or social worker should make the people believe that their actions to achieve the set goals are legitimate (principle of legitimisation). Specific strategies adopted like dharna, morcha, slogans, emotional, powerful speeches, and rallies create dramatic effects in social action (principle of dramatisation).

Social action does not depend on a single strategy. Instead, it adopts many different ways and means to achieve the goal (principle of multiple strategies). Social action must not rest only on conflictual activities with authorities. It should also concentrate on constructive developmental activities and confrontation (principle of dual approach). Social action does not confine itself to a single aspect of the social issue. Instead, it emphasises programmes having multi-prong aspects like social, economic, cultural, etc. (principle of manifold programmes).


Social workers or actionists, during social action, make use of these principles for achieving the overall goal of social justice. Social action has a definite set of goals and objectives. The goal of social action is redistribution with regard to resources and power to provide social justice to all. Its objective is to shape and develop a socio-cultural environment in which a more prosperous and fuller life may be possible for all citizens.

Social action aims to prevent needs, solve mass problems, improve mass conditions, influence institutions, policies and practices, introduce new mechanisms or programmes, redistribute power resources (human, material and moral), and improve health, education, and welfare.

Social action employs specific strategies and tactics to attain its goals, which makes it different from other social work methods. They are negotiation, persuasion, competition, disruption, collaboration, bargain, strikes, boycotts, fasts, tax-refusal, sit-ins, picketing, marches, fraternisation, haunting, leafleting, reversal strike, obstruction, renouncing honours, etc. It may be stressed again that violence and blood-shedding are not included in strategies used to confront the authorities.

Social workers who practice social action are well-versed with specific skills developed through teaching-learning and training. They have the skills of rapport building, objective analysis of the social situation and problems, knowledge and ability to use other social work methods like casework, group work, and social welfare administration adequately and appropriately. The social worker does have the ability to use his relationship with clients and the community constructively.


This relationship is characterised by objectivity and confidentiality on the one hand and sensitivity and warmth on the other. Social workers have the techniques of programme planning, organisation, coordination, and administrative and managerial skills in their command. Social action is a method of social work, which is, used for/with/by any unit of a society larger than a sociologically defined community.

It is an organised effort to change or improve social and economic institutions, as distinguished from other social work methods, which do not characteristically cover essential changes in established institutions through confrontation with the authorities. It may be described as an organised group effort to solve mass problems or further socially desirable objectives by influencing or changing primary social and economic conditions or practices. It always involves public pressure in one form or the other. However, it does not approve of physical coercion or violence. Another aim of social action, which has been mentioned by many social work scholars, is the formulation of or change in existing social legislation. Once the legislation comes into force, its implementation at the ground level is another salient task of social actionists or social workers. Thus we see that social action, as a method of the social work profession, is a powerful tool for bringing about positive changes in the social system for the betterment of the masses.


Social Action and Case Work

Social Action does utilise other social work methods to attain its goal of community empowerment. And social casework is a social work method to help individuals cope more effectively with their social problems. The client's psycho-social problem(s) is dealt with mainly in a one-to-one relationship between the client and the caseworker.

The relation of social action with casework can be understood because individuals and society are interdependent. Most of the problems, which affect an individual, have connections with or repercussions to their interpersonal relations. These inter-personal relations could be within the family and/or with various institutions in the community, say, educational institutions, workplace, legal, neighbourhood, friends, etc. So, the casework process may involve interventions at the family level and at the institutions in the larger community.

The client may be having the same social problem, which the social worker is addressing, at the macro-level through social action. In such a situation, the caseworker needs to build confidence and faith among the client and prepare them to be a part of the social action process.


Apparently, there appears no connection between the two methods of social work. However, during the initial process of credibility building in the community, the social worker uses casework to deal with those members of the clientele group. They face some adjustment problems and require therapeutic help for harmonious social functioning. To exemplify, if the social worker finds a member showing problematic behaviour in the group sessions, which affects the group's working and integrity, they take up separate casework sessions with that member.

After making the social investigation (psycho-social study), an adequate social diagnosis is made. Once the member having problematic behaviour starts showing better social functioning, the group also becomes cohesive. It may be noted that casework is required not only in the initial stages of social action but may also be needed when the community is organised to take appropriate action against the authorities. At that time, any member of the core group may start showing deviant behaviour and require counselling from the social worker.

Added to this, the skills a social worker uses for social investigation and diagnosis during the casework process, learning human behaviour, psycho-social problems, using the caseworker-client relationship for building confidence and courage in the client for solving his problems become pretty handy in the process of social action when the social worker has to deal with not only one individual but many types of personalities simultaneously and keep them integrated for the targeted social goals.


Social Action and Group Work

The importance of social group work can be understood because a man is considered a group animal. Group experiences are the essential needs of human beings. A human turns from a biological being to a social being through group life. Attention may now be paid to social group work, which is a method through which individuals develop the ability to establish constructive relationships with each other through group activities. Social group work acts as a building block in social action. Group members learn organisation, cooperation and coordination. They know interdependence and democratic values. In the group work process, while participating in the group's activities, the group members learn to live and work together to attain some specific goals.

Social group work solves adjustment problems and enhances positive interpersonal relations. It prepares the individuals to learn and share responsibility in working together. All these factors contribute to the success of social action taken up for a social cause influencing a large segment of the population. During the social group work process, the group members learn to respect each other's views and take criticisms positively. They learn emotional control and tolerance, empathy and sympathy, breaking down prejudices and enhancing problem-solving capacity.


It teaches the individuals to keep their personal likes-dislikes, aspirations, perceptions, ego hassles aside and work towards the goals planned by the group as a whole. Such a learning opportunity prepares the individuals for a social change, and the chances of failure of a movement due to internal conflicts are substantially minimised. Social group work also explores leadership qualities among its members.

These leaders, in turn, take up the responsibility of mass mobilisation and targeted activities in the social action process. Added to this, social group work also helps social worker to refine their skills in dealing with different personalities to work for common goals. The social worker resolves various intra-group conflicts and personality clashes. These skills and experiences become handy while dealing with conflicting situations between different groups during the process of social action. The group worker makes use of programme media in social group work. It contributes to programme planning and management better while dealing with many groups during the social action process. Experiences of social group work with one group help manage many groups when the whole community is mobilised for a common social cause.

In addition, the social worker, during the initial stage of group formation and during the group work process, establishes rapport with the community people and gains knowledge about various structural and functional aspects of the community, a precursor to studying a social problem, which is affecting a large section of the community and undertaking mass movement and social action for remedies. The social worker gains credibility in the community during the group work process, which is one of the main requirements of social action. So, social group work acts as a slapping stone in the process of social action.


Social Action and Community Organisation

Social action shares many similarities with a community organisation. Sometimes, there is a debate about whether social action is a part of a community organisation or a completely different entity. Some believe that it is a part of community organisation. Social Action as a problem of confusing social action with community organisation arises mainly because of a lack of agreement as to what the term community stands for in social work.

While community organisation is meant for a limited geographical area – the 'community', social action has a larger context. It signifies the society, say, nation-state. Social action definitely has a larger scope and impact. Some of the techniques used by both methods (social action and community organisation) may be common, but they differ in their approach.

Community organisation is a process of effective coordination of different agencies within a particular area and involves cooperative planning and implementation of social policy relating to the area. However, social action as a process is used for tackling issues, which are of a much wider nature than issues affecting a particular area. Community organisation is an integral part of social action. It is the precursor or pre-requirement to social action. In fact, many social work professionals consider social action as an extension of community organisation.

Community organisation, as defined by Ross (1955), is a process by which a community identifies its needs or objectives, orders or ranks these needs or objectives, develops the confidence and will to work at those needs or objectives, finds the resources (internal and/or external) to deal with these needs or objectives, takes action in respect of them, and in doing so extends and develops cooperative and collaborative attitudes and practices in the community.

Social action is a conflictual process of varying intensity to bring about or prevent changes in the social system through the process of making people aware of the socio-political and economic realities conditioning their lives and by mobilising them to organise themselves for bringing about the desired change or to prevent the change that adversely affects them, through the use of whatever strategies they may find workable, except for violence.


Thus we see that 'organising people or community or target population' is the common thread between a community organisation and social change. In both social work methods, people are helped to realise their needs or problems and find out the solution to their felt needs. People organise themselves, collaborate, and work together for a commonly accepted goal. In both the processes, that is, community organisation and social action, need or problem identification is the first step. It is followed by making the people aware of their pressing needs or problems and prioritising the issues. An environment is created in which the community people feel confident and gain faith that together they would be able to solve their pressing issues or meet their needs. Both processes are inherent in the emotional impulse to meet the need and take required action quickly.

However, a change of authority and the power structure is involved in social action, which invariably requires some conflictual process. It is the redistribution of resources and power. So, we see that social action is a community organisation to bring about or prevent long-lasting social change where confrontation with the existing authority is involved.

The strategies and tactics involved in social action like propaganda, picketing, strike, boycott, sit-in, fast, etc., make social action different from a community organisation. When just by integrating the community to work together and mobilising the available resources, the development is not sufficient for achieving the set goals because of accumulation of power and resources is in the hands of a few people who are not ready to work for the community development, social action comes into play.

The goal of social action is to redistribute power and resources so that all the sections of the community get equitable share and opportunities for optimum growth and development. Once this objective is achieved, people's participation is used for constructive activities in the community. People's participation is a crucial term common in community organisation and social action. Social action is, thus, one step further to a community organisation.


Social Action and Social Welfare Administration

Social Welfare Administration is the process by which we apply a professional approach to specific goals and transform social policy into social action. It is a process of planning, implementing, directing, monitoring, organising, coordinating, and evaluating services rendered for the welfare and development of the people. Social welfare administration is mainly concerned with providing social welfare services like activities related to child care, women's development, etc., in an organisational set-up and thus translating the social mandates into operational policies. The organisation delivering these social services does have a definite set of goals, staffing patterns and adequate administrative and managerial skills.

An example in order to understand the social action in relation to social welfare administration. An NGO working with children in a slum area provides night shelter, mid-day meals, non-formal education and other developmental and recreational activities. Soon, the social workers realise that just providing these services is not providing any relief to the working children.

Parents want their children to work and earn rather than participate in the activities of NGOs. The employers of these children not only pay significantly less for their hours of tedious work but also abuse them physically, emotionally and even sexually. Many children are lured by drug peddlers, and they are used for illegal work. Added to this, an apathetic attitude of the police towards the whole situation worsens the situation. In such circumstances, the NGO realises it cannot play a substantive role in the well-being of the children just by adhering to its already set policies and programmes. No matter how well the NGO is performing its services, it cannot improve the living conditions of the children unless and until it decides to take up firm steps for bringing about structural changes in the social system. It needs to take up interventions like shaking up the conscience of the family members, police, government administration, general public, school authorities and most important the employers, change in government policies which are pro-child welfare and development and effective implementation of the same at the ground level.


So, It's clear that unless strict and firm steps like confrontation, negotiation, demonstration, etc., are done, which is social action, the services rendered by a social welfare agency remain superficial. It clearly shows the relationship between social welfare administration and social action. Social welfare agency, working in the community, provides a working ground to take up the social cause at the macro level with people's participation.

Social welfare administration does all the preliminary works needed for social action, such as rapport building, in-depth knowledge about the community and its social problems, credibility building, and the like. And then, The social worker does the planning of social goals and policies for the agency.

Planning is an intellectual and crucial activity requiring adequate knowledge and vision about the social causes. Good planning is a prerequisite for successful service delivery. This skill is of crucial importance while carrying out social action for a social cause. Secondly, organising skills have been referred to as the administrator's raw material.

Needless to mention how crucial this skill is for mobilising people for taking up social action against authorities. The social worker also requires skills in staffing. Staffing means recruitment, training, orientation and supervision. During social action, though these skills are not applied apparently and directly, experiences of working with people, training them, dealing with their aspirations, different working patterns, conflicts, etc., help the social worker manage the people participating in mass mobilisation and collective action taken during social action. In the same way, skills acquired and refined by a social worker in social welfare administration like budgeting, evaluating, reporting, and directing all become handy during social action.


Social Action and Social Work Research

Social work research is the systematic and scientific study of social problems. Its objective is to produce knowledge that can be used in planning and carrying out social work programmes and (if the need arises) social action. Social work research is a potent tool in social action. It helps in 'knowing' the social problem, its intensity and extensiveness, its causal factors, its impact on the target population, and its repercussions on the people's social life. It also gives the understanding of the factual ground realities (and not mere perceptions) of the social situations, which helps in conceptualising the pros and cons of various possible social interventions. So, a systematic study of a social problem and looking for remedies through social work intervention is a must for attaining goals through social action.

Social work research helps the social activists gain in-depth knowledge about the social problem, factors contributing to it, and its impact on the socio-cultural and economic aspects of life. The findings of the research help in formulating the goals for social change, designing the intervention and planning their strategies and tactics accordingly. Research on the problems that affect the disadvantaged and then concretise them (the public and the policymakers) can have considerable effects. Social work needs to highlight such research to a greater extent than the ordinary surveys of "social problems", which neglect the interplay of powerful social forces causing these problems.

Social work research is a careful, critical, scientific and objective way of investigating social needs or problems. It is free from biases and prejudices. It gives clarity to the social issue. The social worker needs the base of social work research to carry out social action as its absence may lead to the wrong and inadequate perception of the problem. The planning of interventions based on such inadequate data and findings would obviously be faulty. As a result, social action may fail to adhere to its basic philosophy of the goal of community well-being. Social planning and social action would be ineffective without proper research.


Social work research enables social workers to assess the community's needs satisfactorily and make their interventions and programmes practical, valuable and worthwhile. The social worker shares the findings of social work Social Action as a research with the community people through groups and then with people's participation; careful and meticulous interventions are chalked out for social action. It helps the social worker observe and record the relationship of individuals and groups in actual operating situations. Through social work research, the social worker or social actionist gets the proper perspective or picture of the social problem, which is essential for the success of social action in attaining its goal.

Social action is a method of professional social work aimed at solving social problems by redistributing power and resources. Its objective is to achieve social justice and empowerment of the community. Social action mobilises the general population to bring about structural changes in the social system. Social action depends upon other methods of social work during its process. The role of social action is visible when people's problems remain unsolved through different social work methods. Social casework and group work can be taken as the basis for social action where people are mobilised to confront authorities. Social action is considered to be a step forward for a community organisation. Social work research helps identify objectives and develop a critical perception of the social problem. Social welfare administration provides the ground for social workers to prepare the community for social action. Social workers utilise the skills of the other social work methods in the process of social action.

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