Introduction: Purpose of the Study

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Introduction: Purpose of the Study

The goal of this thesis is to explore the gendered and classed nature of social work and social welfare in Russia to show how social policy can be a part of and reinforce marginalization. In particular, the thesis aims to analyse how class and gender are produced, redefined and experienced by different social actors in changing institutional and ideological frames of welfare policies and social work.

The overall research question is in what ways class and gender are constructed in Russian social work practice and welfare rhetoric through Soviet legacies and contemporary challenges? In addition, which actors contribute to the constitution of social work values and how this value system affects the agency of the clients? By focusing on contradictory ideologies that are shaped in discursive formations of social policy, social work training and practice, this study provides a review of Soviet legacies and contemporary challenges.

It is mainly a qualitative study looking at these questions from three different yet interrelated analytical perspectives: policy and institutions, culture and discourse, actors and identity. First, it considers the roles welfare policy and social services play in defining the classed and gendered dimensions of citizenship thus contributing to the social differentiation of society. In particular, it examines the labelling effects of social classifications made by institutions of welfare and social work practice as well as the consequences they engender. This analysis presents a critical review of socio historical dynamics in classed and gendered processes of welfare policy and social work practice.

Second, this thesis analyses symbolic representations of social order in welfare rhetoric and social work education. The focus is on concepts of normality in definitions of a good citizen, family, women and children, which are produced under specific socio historic circumstances. It traces Soviet legacies of suspicion towards families in the early socialist period which was later replaced by the reappraisal of traditionalist views on marriage and reproduction mixed with modernist emphases on women’s mobilization for (industrial) production as well as a neo-traditionalist turn in post-Soviet era. Peculiarities of the public legitimacy of social work and its value system are studied through the prism of its classed and gendered professional ideology inflated and used at different levels by various carrier groups.

Third, the thesis examines a lived experience of social workers and service users who make sense of their positions in social hierarchy in relation to the welfare state and each other. The transition from a socialist to a market economy has been a rather fast and painful process causing major changes in the structure of the society and the understanding of social differentiation. Social work practitioners in Russia today build their identities in the context of increased individualism and social inequalities, pathologisation of single mothers, multi-child families, the disabled and the poor, as well as a restoration of traditionalist views on gender. This context contains a mixture of stereotypes concerning the normative family model, inherited from Soviet times and influenced by neoliberal ideology. The study at hand investigates how this ideology affects perceptions of families and the lives of single mothers and other marginalised groups.

The study presented here starts with a conceptual overview of some of the ways in which class and gender are understood as theoretical concepts embedded in visions of welfare policy. In the discussion that follows, I first consider the peculiarities of ideology and arrangements of Soviet welfare policy in order to dig out the roots of contemporary values that are gendered and classed. In particular, to understand how the ‘good citizen’ was constructed, the policy of institutionalised child care under socialism is further discussed. What were the means through which state control policies were implemented, while taking care of those in need?

Such forms of control inherit some features of the past. Much of today’s ideology and forms of the family and child welfare system were developed in Soviet times. Women, children and family were the primary focus of welfare policy under socialism that sought to reinforce the power subordination in both public and private life.

The attempts of the welfare policies to govern the population, to shape good citizens according to the cultural norms of a socialist society, to institutionalise motherhood and childhood, to create new men and women suitable for the needs of the state, are traced throughout the history of Soviet welfare and in the current situation. In order to underpin the issue of normality, welfare ideology and social work values are discussed in relation to the upbringing of children left without parental care and raising children with disabilities.

As social change in Russia gets underway, it is important to examine the implications of these changes for children and their families within social contexts of time and space, gender and class, and the availability of services and networks. The legal and civil rights of persons with disabilities are now implemented on a broader scale than before. However, discriminatory stereotypes are not easy to change. This practice of exclusion and its critique is central in the analysis of mothering as a socially constructed phenomenon. Families of single mothers with children who have disabilities carry a colossal workload and face nearly insurmountable obstacles in obtaining basic services to meet just a few of their needs.

The study then goes on to discuss the key challenges in welfare policy in post-Soviet Russia including the development of a value base of social work, its classed and gendered nature, seeking to uncover the contradictory nature of the ideology of practice and training of social services. It shows how Soviet values are reproduced and challenged by neo-liberal ideology in the contemporary practice and rhetoric of welfare.

The specific aims of the five supporting papers are as follows:

Paper I: Visual case study in the history of Russian child welfare aims to increase our understanding of what were the principles and values of socialist welfare policy, to reveal what were the means through which welfare policies were implemented while taking care of those in need and how they shaped categories of gender and class. Specifically, the purpose is to analyse the meanings of ‘a good citizen’, starting with the upbringing of children in institutions, and how these meanings were shaped in visual representations.

Paper II: “What the future will bring I do not know...” Mothering Children with Disabilities in Russia and the Politics of Exclusion is focused on the investigation of how the personal experiences of women struggling to care for their children with disabilities are affected by exclusionary policies of structural context. More specifically, the purpose is to discuss obstacles and resources for the realisation of mothers’ agency.

Paper III: “A salary is not important here…” Professionalization of Social Work in Contemporary Russia describes and analyses the main challenges and issues affecting processes of the development of social work as a new profession in post-Soviet Russia, to show contradictory ideologies that are shaped in discursive formations of social work training and practice.

Paper IV: Gendering social work in Russia: towards anti-discriminatory practices aims to critically investigate the gendered nature of social work knowledge and practice. More specifically, the analysis focuses on how stereotypes promoted by welfare policy and the wider societal context sustain inequality and reinforce marginalization in the society.

Paper V: Doing class in social welfare discourses: ‘unfortunate families’ in Russia questions the roles welfare policies, social workers and media play in the creation of the ‘unfortunate family’ identity in Russia. It analyses the way knowledge is produced and reproduced in social work practice and discusses what legacies of the Soviet past are challenged by structures and agents in contemporary Russia.

In order to grasp the diverse aspects of these developments, a broad approach to data collection and analysis was undertaken. The research is based on qualitative methodology, referring to interview material, visual images, and analysis of the Russian textbooks used in social work and social policy training. It addresses several main issues: the main changes in the ideology of welfare policy and social care throughout socialism and in contemporary Russia, with particular emphasis on women, family and childhood.

The research results presented in five supporting papers, demonstrate that modernisation of social life under socialism was concerned with the internalisation of new forms of discipline, standards of everyday life, collectivist values and beliefs in equality which impacted on public and private domains, including social services provision (Paper I), which was one of the mechanisms of social stratification.

Low income parents become the objects of governmental control, and existing forms of social policy work towards fastening them in marginalised position. Additional pressure is put on those families who raise children with disabilities and on parents who have a disability themselves. Stigma affects a parent on a deep emotional level and has social implications for her and the child. Social services may promote or hinder inclusion and the full participation of children and adults with disabilities and their families in society. Thus, the politics of exclusion at the institutional level flows to the level of personal experience and everyday practice (Paper II).

The contemporary situation in social work in Russia is characterised by under-professionalisation and therefore a low degree of professional autonomy, absence of critical reflection of social work practice, and rigidity of governance (Paper III). The structural context of social work is constituted by inequality in the social order, which is mirrored in the conditions of the labour market. Parenting is a cultural and classed experience and it is affected by liberal welfare policy, which can reinforce marginalisation through institutional structures and discourses. Discursive and narrative practices are important cultural resources used by parents to understand their personal lives and by service providers who create their own understandings of social problems. (Paper V). The problems of a client might stem from beliefs in traditional gender roles and traditional family definitions, which assume inequality and subordination of women. In addition, models of social work practice often accept such definitions and, therefore, worsen the condition of women.

Due to underprofessionalisation and lack of critical reflectivity of practitioners, social work is trapped in existing stereotypes promoted by welfare policy and the wider societal context, hence sustaining inequality in the society and reinforcing marginalisation (Paper IV). However, social workers are gradually acquiring new knowledge and skills to effect social change in a democratic egalitarian way rather than following a paternalist scheme of thought and action.

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