Contested Values of Social Work in Time and Place. Exploring ‘Origins of Social Care and Social Work’

Social Work History Network

Contested values of social work in time and place. Exploring ‘origins of social care and social work’

This international webinar explores ‘The Origins of Social Care and Social Work’ (Policy Press, 2022) in which Professor Mark Henrickson (Auckland, New Zealand) argues that European and North American notions of helping – or managing – poor and marginalised people have deep roots in religious texts and traditions which continue to influence contemporary social work.

Two presentations by Mark will be followed by a live panel discussion with Prospera Tedam (Dublin), Linda Harms-Smith (Pretoria) and Sarah Banks (Durham) who will focus especially on the ethical challenges for social work in a diverse, post-colonial world.


  • 08:30 Welcome & introductions
  • 08:40 The origins of social care: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’

In this high-level survey of the origins of social care Mark will argue that contemporary neoliberal social welfare policies are firmly rooted in Calvinist theology. We will briefly consider the origins of social care in the ancient near east, consider Constantine’s commission to the early Christian Church, stop by the Great Plague, and consider the influence of Calvinist notions of work as the glory of God and wealth as a sign of God’s blessing. This theology was exported throughout the world through European missionisation and colonisation and dominates contemporary discourses.

  • 09:00 Panel discussion with Q&A
  • 09:20 Refreshment break
  • 09:30 Creating an ethical global future

Statist expectations that social work will maintain social order and the emancipatory aspirations and ethics of contemporary social work is, Mark will argue, the fundamental tension in social work as a global discipline. By understanding its history, an independent discipline of social work can avoid reproducing colonialism, Calvinist political theologies, and liberal humanist values and worldviews. Any conversations about a global future of social work and its ethics must take place with humility, open minds, and open hearts.

  • 09:50 Panel discussion with Q&A
  • 10:10 Conclusion
  • 10:15 CLOSE