ERIS Conference in Łódź, Poland

Participatory Social Work: Approaches, Barriers, Critique, Łódź 29–30th September, 2016.

The 10th annual ERIS conference took place on 29-30 September 2016 in Łodź, Poland and was organized by the Department of Social Pedagogy of the University of Łódź. The conference venue was the University’s Faculty of Educational Sciences, Pomorska 46/48, Łódź, Poland.

The conference theme was “Participatory Social Work: Approaches, Barriers, Critique”.

This idea was elaborated in the conference call for papers:

“Contemporary social work is challenged on the one hand by increasing and multidimensional social diversity, and on the other hand by a growing emphasis on building a civil society based on activity, equality and participation. The result of these phenomena is the growing expectation of the democratization of the social services system, expressed in a greater appreciation for the importance of the activity of service users, both in academic discourse and in daily practice. Adopting the assumption that service users know best the reality in which they live has undermined the dyadic frames of social work demonstrated in the divisions: theory/practice, researcher/those researched, professionals who ‘know best’/recipients of social welfare, etc., and has given rise to participatory social work (…) Participatory social work raises anew the issues of the credibility of knowledge, the processes of its creation and use, the purpose of social work, its relationship to politics, and - above all - the role and competences of a social worker (co-)constructing social change in partnership "with" and not just "for" the service users.”

These general assumptions were developed in the course of debates focusing on the following issues:

  • Theoretical approaches to participatory social work
  • Participatory research strategies
  • Participatory social work as a praxis/in practice
  • Barriers to implementation of participatory social work
  • Critical perspectives on participatory social work

The conference gathered together over 100 academics, social work practitioners and students (at doctoral, Master’s and Bachelor’s levels) from a range of countries: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, France, India, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom.

The opening speech of the conference was given by Tomasz Trela, First Deputy Mayor of Łódź. He introduced the guests not only to the historical background of Łodź but also to the implications of participatory practices for the process of revitalization underway in Łódź city centre. The Dean of the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Prof. Danuta Urabaniak-Zając, presented the Faculty of Educational Sciences. Welcome speeches were given by Prof. Oldřich Chytil, President of ERIS (University of Ostrava) and Prof. Ewa Marynowicz-Hetka, Chair of the Department of Social Pedagogy (University of Łódź).

There were four engaging keynote papers from Prof. Peter Beresford (London Brunel University, UK), Prof. Jean-Marie Barbier (Chaire Unesco Formation et Pratiques Professionnnelles du Cnam, Paris, FR), Prof. Marek Czyżewski (University of Łódź, PL) and Prof. Ewa Marynowicz-Hetka (University of Łódź, PL). In addition, participants presented 35 papers and 12 posters during the course of the conference. For full programme details please see the attached pdf document.

One of the key elements of the conference plenary sessions was a three-sided video conference featuring Prof. Katherine Tyson, accompanied by her students Dakari Quimby, Darrick Scott, Victoria Smith-Ellison, Kevin Miller, Cordelia Grimes, Amzie Moore and Jordan Howard-Wilson (Loyola University Chicago, USA), and Prof. Jonas Ruškus (Social Work Department at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania; Member of the Committee on the Rights of Person with Disabilities of United Nations). The theme of this virtual encounter was “Participatory Action Research Processes and Pedagogy: An International Conversation”. Amongst the issues raised by its participants were: participatory action research (PAR) as a method of transformative social work practice for the implementation of human rights within the context of disability issues; bilateral international on-line courses in participatory social work co-run by the Kaunas and Chicago teams; and the Cross-Age Mentoring Project with Youth in Deep Poverty run by American students to advance youth human rights (“A Bond as Strong as a Lock and Chain”). The range of topics covered by the project was highly impressive, and the involvement of students was inspirational.

The conference was accompanied by a number of events (either concurrently or scheduled for before or after the conference):

  • CERTS seminar (28 September)
  • Reception at the Biedermann Palace in Łódź and “The Scream”– Social Artistic Performance (the “Second of All” Foundation together with service users)
  • Visit to a social work project: “Foundation Activation” Centre for Education and Vocational Development of People with Disabilities in Łódź, (28 September)
  • Visit to a social work project: “Kłos” (“Ear of Grain”) Training Centre in Jedlicze.

The conference was a highly stimulating and fruitful scholarly and social event both from the local and international perspectives. The proceedings of the conference debate will be documented; we would like to invite you to participate in a book we are preparing on issues of participatory social work and its further development.