Global Social Work

A Global View

As social problems become more globally interconnected, SSA implemented a strategic international social welfare program agenda. Our program integrates cross-national and comparative content into our curriculum, including study-abroad and internship placement opportunities for students, lectures by international scholars visiting Chicago, and scholarly and student exchanges in partnership with peer institutions. One outgrowth of our growing visibility on the global stage is an acceleration of our international student enrollment.

With support from the University’s Provost’s Office, SSA has expanded its faculty ranks, bringing in faculty with explicit expertise in global and international social welfare. Our first of several faculty hires in this emerging domain joined us in July 2012; since then, SSA has hired additional faculty members, allowing the School to forge a defining role in the globalization of social welfare concerns and problems. Our faculty examine social welfare policy and practice across Asia, Central/Latin America, the former Soviet Union, and Africa, which also complements work in Europe. SSA faculty also serve on the Steering Committee of the University’s Center in Delhi, the University’s Beijing Governance Committee, and the international advisory board of the Indian Journal of Social Work. We are completing our sixth year of a concentration in international social work, which builds out field experiences in India, China, and Hong Kong, and through the University’s Human Rights program. In addition, this year, we welcomed a second cohort of students to the global social policy and practice certificate.

We run an annual, intensive, one-month study-abroad program on urban poverty and community practice for our master’s students in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai, India, the oldest established school of social work in that country. This program combines classroom instruction, field experience (pairing SSA with TISS students in a small set of community placements), seminar discussion, and informal engagement with students and faculty from both schools. The program includes a reciprocal exchange in Chicago, in which TISS students engage in a parallel program to the one in India, strengthening comparative learning across institutions and countries and building meaningful peer relationships. This work has also begun to generate research collaboration among faculty at both institutions.

In China, SSA has established a relationship with colleagues at Peking University (PKU), the home to mainland China’s oldest and most well-established social work program. We have hosted PKU faculty at Chicago on two separate occasions and have visited PKU to share insights and orientations to social work curriculum and field education as well as to explore common research interests. We are also partnering with PKU as part of the China Collaborative, an effort jointly sponsored by the Council of Social Work Education in the United States, China Association of Social Work Educators in China, and the International Association of Schools of Social Work to foster the advancement of social work education and the professionalization of social work in China during a time of rapid development. In addition to co-organizing with PKU two workshops in Beijing, SSA hosted, in fall 2014, a delegation of faculty from some of China’s leading social work programs, introducing them to a week-long immersion in SSA’s robust educational fieldwork-classroom integration.

We established, in 2013, an intensive Institute in China in partnership with Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) that focuses on responses to social exclusion in Hong Kong, mainland China, and the United States. The annual program allows students from SSA and PolyU to learn from and gain perspectives from each other. The intensive institutes have included local site visits in Hong Kong and Mainland China, where students have examined local social welfare issues facing migrants, asylum seekers, and tenant farmers, including housing shortages, health inequality, and economic development policies. As with the TISS program, this exchange is designed to maximize interaction and learning between students from Hong Kong, China, the U.S., and elsewhere, through a range of formal curricular, field-oriented, and informal interactions, and to leverage the comparative perspective such an exchange might provide to think critically about social work practice and social welfare.

SSA, with our counterparts at Peking University, co-sponsored and hosted a series of scholarly seminars and strategic planning workshops with support from the University of Chicago’s recently established Beijing Center. Over the past few years, SSA hosted a series of symposia and workshops, in collaboration with colleagues at Peking University, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and Seoul National University, focused on the challenges of globalization and urbanization. These symposia explored international perspectives on social policy and urban problems, bringing together scholars from China, the United States, India, and South Korea to explore knowledge about, policy responses to, and enduring questions focused on urbanization and globalization across particular substantive themes—education, health, children and youth, and poverty and development—as they are playing out across these four national contexts. The symposia provided a foundation for collaborative research exploring the theme of inequality and social exclusion and how it is generated, reproduced, and responded to cross-nationally in the context of globalization. An edited volume based on this work, Social Exclusion in Cross-National Perspective: Actors, Actions, and Impacts from Above and Below, is now available from Oxford University Press.   

Further galvanizing our efforts is the Tripartite Collaboration for Advancing Social Work in China, launched in 2016, which establishes an endowed joint social work educational exchange program in partnership with PKU and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Working together, the three universities seek to promote the development of graduate social work education and research in China; facilitate international collaborative graduate education and research among the participating universities; and improve the quality of social work education in China, promoting a rigorously professionalized, effective, and ethical social work workforce and service system. In 2017, the Collaboration launched the Enduring Foundation project, an on-the-ground effort to address the needs of migrant families affected by rapid urbanization. This community-based project seeks to promote the positive development and mental health of rural children and adolescents through parenting training workshops, mentoring programs, and community programs. In addition to these developing relationships, the presence of the University of Chicago’s Beijing and Paris Centers and the recent opening of the University’s Centers in Delhi and Hong Kong offer exciting opportunities for cross-national exchanges, seminars, and conferences, including hosting students and scholars from China, India, the United States, and other countries for varying periods of time.