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International Social Work: Overview

Abstract and Keywords

This article presents an overview of definitions of international social work, relevant theories, the history of the field, and current practice roles. Definitional debates and critiques of international social work are discussed, as the term international social work has been a contested one. Scholars have defined international social work variously as a specialized area of practice, as the integrated global profession, as the exchange of people and ideas across borders, and as a more general perspective or worldview. The concluding section highlights some of the current challenges facing the field: developing relevant career tracks in international social work, strengthening representation of the profession at the global level, specifying the universal elements of social work, and continuing to clarify the concept of international social work.

Keywords: international social work, globalization, international history, United Nations, International Federation of Social Workers, International Association of Schools of Social Work


International social work is now recognized as a specialized area of practice as well as a more general perspective on the impact of global developments on the profession. However, international social work remains a contested concept, although the term has been in use since at least 1928. At the first major international conference of social work in 1928, a paper on international social work, by Eglantyne Jebb of England, was presented. In it, she called for increased international exchange to further the development of the profession, signaling that cross-fertilization is essential for a true profession (Jebb, 1929). The social work profession has been involved in international exchanges and projects throughout its history. More recently, globalization and its impacts on social and environmental conditions have brought increased attention to international social work and now there is a significant literature on the subject. This article provides an overview of the many definitions of international social work, relevant theories, a brief history, and current practice roles.


The definition of international social work has been discussed extensively in the literature. At times viewed as a perspective, international social work is increasingly defined as an area of social work practice. Authors differ as to how broadly the arena of practice should be drawn. Some have argued that it should be relatively open: “international social work means those social work activities and concerns that transcend national and cultural boundaries” (Sanders & Pederson, 1984, p. xiv); others have advocated a narrow definition as reflected in the conclusion reached by a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) committee in the 1950s, that international social work should be restricted to the international work of the United Nations and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) (Stein, 1957).

In the predecessor to the Encyclopedia, the Social Work Yearbook, Warren (1939) provided a clear but complex definition. He wrote that international social work included four dimensions: international social casework (case situations involving two or more countries); international relief and assistance to suffering populations, including victims of disaster or war; international cooperation through organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and League of Nations to address social and health problems and promote peace; and the international conferences on social work and the international exchanges they facilitated. In 1962, Goldman called for international social work to become the fourth method of social work in addition to casework, group work, and community organization. “International social work has moved one step further outward in a series of concentric circles from casework, group work and community organization in that order in seeking international solutions to international problems as the other methods seek individual, group, community (or national) solutions to problems in their respective frame of reference” (Goldman, 1962, pp. 1–2). This proposal attracted little attention.

Conceptual clarity retreated in the later decades of the 20th century. Most writers in the 1970s and 1980s discussed international social work as comparative social welfare study or as a broad worldview. Lyons (1999) summarized the definitional complexity and vagueness of international social work: international social work “is a nebulous concept, with elements of cross-national comparison and application of international perspectives to local practice, as well as participation in policy and practice activities, which are more overtly cross-national or supra-national in character” (p. 12). These diverse ideas are reflected in a 2015 article reporting the results of a three-country study of social work students’ views on international social work. Their responses ranged from working with people from other countries at home, to connecting professionals from various countries through communication technologies, “addressing worldwide social problems,” (Lyons, 1999, p. 103), and “unity of the social work global values, ethical principles and professional standards” (Lalayants, Doel, & Kachkachishvili, 2015, p. 104).

Twenty-first century scholars have developed more specificity in their definitions of the field, and their definitions have similarities to Warren’s earlier efforts. Beginning with Healy’s (2001) emphasis on professional action and responsibilities, definitions have moved beyond viewing international social work as a perspective or worldview to include practice. Healy identified four elements of the field: internationally related aspects of domestic practice and policy advocacy; international practice in relief and development; international professional exchange; and policy development and advocacy on global issues (2001/2008). She further noted that “international social work is value-driven action aimed at promoting human rights and human well-being globally” (2008, p. 16). Cox and Pawar (2006) built upon this definition and added a fifth component, that of building the profession globally. “International social work is the promotion of social work education and practice globally and locally, with the purpose of building a truly integrated international profession that reflects social work’s capacity to respond appropriately and effectively, in education and practice terms, to the various global challenges that are having a significant impact on the well-being of large sections of the world’s population” (Cox & Pawar, 2006, p. 20).

Hugman’s (2010) definition emphasized border crossing as a significant feature of international social work: “’international social work’ refers to practice and policy concerning situations in which professionals, those who benefit from their services or the causes of the problems that bring these two actors together, have travelled in some way across the borders between nations” (p. 20). These and other writers identify a strong emphasis on human rights and social justice as integral to international social work (Ahmadi, 2003; Lyons, Manion, & Carlsen, 2006).

Definitional Debates

Although many scholars build upon each other’s work, there are areas of disagreement. Nagy and Falk (2000) argued that practice with refugees and immigrants should not be included in the definition of international social work, as it is inter- or multicultural, but not international; others disagree and emphasize both the importance of international knowledge and the new emphasis on transnationalism as the rationale for including work with international populations as part of international social work practice (Cox & Pawar, 2006; Healy, 2008; Hugman, 2010; Lyons et al., 2006; Xu, 2006).

Hugman’s concept of border crossing has also been questioned. When a practitioner moves to another country and takes on a social work task or position, can this automatically be called international social work? If the position and tasks are the same as those performed by a resident of the country, it is reasonable to question whether the country of origin of the practitioner makes this practice international in character. Recognition of border crossing as international practice has usually been reserved for the movement of social workers from the Global North to developing countries. Professionals from the Global South who migrate to accept social work positions in Europe or North America are simply considered migrants, not international social workers. This further complicates the understanding of border crossing as international social work.

At a more philosophical level, scholars, including some of those who are defining international social work, indicate that it would be preferable to consider the international as simply part of social work and relevant to all practitioners. As Lorenz wrote several decades ago, “all social work is enmeshed in global processes of change” (1997, p, 2). Separating the international from other aspects of social work may inadvertently suggest that it is a field of knowledge reserved for specialists.

In summary, as defined today, international social work is a multifaceted concept. At a minimum, it involves practice and policy beyond the level of the nation, or practice that requires international knowledge for competence, as is the case in serving immigrants and refugees. It is sometimes global in scope. Although the terms international and global are often used interchangeably, global connotes a worldwide scope when differentiated.

Relevant Theories

There is no widely accepted theory of international social work. A review of recent publications on the topic suggests that theories are emerging. Two major reference works on international social work indicate agreement that the concepts of globalization, human rights, development, and migration/transnationalism are essential to international social work (Healy & Link, 2012; Lyons, Hokenstad, Pawar, Huegler, & Hall, 2012). International social work also builds upon the core knowledge of social work. The person-in-environment framework underscores the importance of culture and can be extended to include the impact of the global context. Emphases of social work on social justice and cultural competence are also highly relevant in international work.

The intensification of the forces of globalization since the early 1990s has been a driving force in increased attention to international social work. Globalization is defined as “a package of transnational flows of people, production, investment, information, ideas, and authority” (Brysk, 2002, p. 1) or “a shared awareness of the world as a single place” (Midgley, 1997, p. 21). As expressed by Payne and Askeland (2008, p. 154), “globalization influences and creates the social issues we deal with, it creates the context of our practice and education through its impact on the political and cultural landscape within which we practice, educate, and learn.” Knowledge of theories of globalization and its economic, social, security, cultural, and environmental impacts are essential (Dominelli, 2010; Midgley, 2014; Tan & Rowlands, 2004). The counterbalancing concept of indigenization—the effort to adapt and innovate theory and practice to be locally specific—is also important and can be understood both as a critique of internationalism and as a companion concept.

Along with globalization, theories of human rights, development, and transnationalism are relevant. Driven by the initiatives of the major international intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank Group, human rights and development are the two dominant foci. Knowledge of human rights philosophy and principles and of the expression of those principles in international laws are fundamental to all aspects of international social work (Ife, 2012; Reichert, 2011; UN Centre for Human Rights, 1994; Wronka, 2008). Promotion of human rights is emphasized in all policy documents of the social work international professional organizations. Development theories that explore and explain the causes of poverty and strategies for poverty alleviation are essential for social work in international relief, development, or disaster response (Isbister, 2003; Midgley, 2014). Social work practice with international populations requires familiarity with migration theories, including the contemporary emphasis on transnationalism (Drachman & Paulino, 2004). For the profession of social work, the global movement of people is a particularly relevant aspect of globalization. Migration now affects all parts of the world and intensifies practice challenges related to cultural adaptations, international family law, and basic human needs. There are additional useful concepts such as sustainability, social exclusion, and human security that can be adapted from international work to social work practice in all contexts. The United Nations focus on the environment and sustainability in the Post-2015 Development Agenda suggests that these concepts will grow in their importance to international social work (United Nations, 2015).

History of International Social Work

The history of international social work practice and action reflects all the elements of the definitions outlined earlier and is instructive in thinking about the future. As noted earlier in the article, the use of the term international social work dates back to at least 1928. From its inception, the founders of social work believed that the international exchange of ideas was necessary to shape the profession. Manon Luttichau, credited with founding social work in Denmark, traveled widely in Europe and visited the United States to gather knowledge about the profession in order to adapt it to the Danish context (Healy, 2008). She was just one example among the early social workers who participated in this kind of exchange. Kendall’s research indicates that American social work education was based heavily on adaptation of ideas borrowed from Europe by Addams and other pioneers (Kendall, 2000). Wieler (1995) documented the impact of migration on social work theory, arguing that what is viewed as American theory was largely the work of émigrés from Nazi occupied Europe. International exchange has been essential to development of social work as a profession.

Social workers had been internationally active early in the 20th century in movements for women's rights, world peace, and improved labor conditions. Founding social work leaders Jane Addams and Alice Salomon (first president of the International Committee of Schools of Social Work and founder of social work in Germany), for example, met at a meeting of the International Council of Women in 1909 and were among the founders of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. They continued to work together for several decades to advance peace and social work. Eglantyne Jebb, a Charity Organization Society worker in England, founded the Save the Children Fund and wrote a Children's Charter adopted by the League of Nations in 1924; this Charter was the precursor to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although the United States did not join the League of Nations, Grace Abbott was named the chair of the League's Committee on the Traffic in Women and Children; Sophonisba Breckinridge was treasurer of the Women's Peace Party and participated in many international meetings on child welfare and corrections (Abbott, 1947; Branscombe, 1948). Among others, these social work leaders were practitioners of international social work in the beginning decades of the profession.

Professional organizations play an important role in defining a profession. In 1928, the First International Conference of Social Work was held in Paris, drawing more than 2000 delegates. It led to the founding of the three international social work organizations, the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), the International Council of Social Welfare (ICSW), and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW). The profession soon became involved on an organizational level with the League of Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO, for example, established a documentation center on social work education in collaboration with the IASSW. Later, the IASSW would become one of the earliest organizations to acquire consultative status with the United Nations in 1947. IASSW, ICSW, and IFSW have consultative status with the United Nations and maintain teams of representatives in New York and selected other UN locations. The three organizations collaborated in launching the journal, International Social Work, in 1957. Now in its sixth decade, it is published by Sage and is still linked to the sponsoring professional organizations.

Internationally related practice also has a long history. International Social Service is an example of an organization providing direct social work services to families whose problems are international. This organization was founded by seven countries in 1924, as the International Migration Services, to address the growing movement of migrants within Europe and between Europe and North America; it assisted families and children with issues related to movement across borders, including family separation. Later renamed International Social Service, it is currently active in 100 countries. It is credited with developing the model of intercountry casework to address social and legal dimensions of family problems (Northcott, Rosicky, Elvin, Ayoub, & Lambert, 2012) such as inter-country placements; child abduction; trafficking; and unaccompanied minors. Social workers were also involved in other early international organizations, including the YWCA and Save the Children.

New opportunities for social work arose after World War II. War devastation generated a huge need for international relief and reconstruction work, including refugee resettlement, family reunification, work with orphaned and separated children, and the reconstruction of social services throughout Europe and East Asia. As Kendall noted, “For social work and social welfare, the restoration period following World War II can be described as a rich cornucopia filled with international programs, projects, and opportunities” (Kendall, 1978, p. 178). Much was done under the auspices of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), an agency that gave many social workers an opportunity for international work throughout Europe and China. Howard (1946) estimated that at least 100 American social workers provided general relief, work relief projects, and services in child welfare, work with the aged, and refugees in China alone. These experiences stimulated a life-long career interest in international social work in many who were involved.

Other postwar developments also created opportunities in international social work. The United Nations took an interest in social work training as an essential element of capacity building in developing countries. From 1950 to 1971, the United Nations conducted and published five major surveys of social work education around the world (Healy, 1995). In 1959, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) requested the UN Secretary General to “do everything possible to obtain the participation of social workers in the preparation and application of programs for underdeveloped countries” (Garigue, 1961, p. 21). Efforts expanded international exchanges of students and scholars, as well as provision of technical assistance for development of both services and training programs throughout Asia and Africa. A new wave of founders of social work emerged from these programs. An example is the career of Sattareh Farman Farmaian. Born in Iran, she came to the United States and earned a social work degree in the late 1940s. She then worked internationally with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the Middle East as a social welfare consultant in Iraq and Lebanon. After returning to Iran in 1958, she began a school of social work and is credited with founding the profession in Iran (Rotabi, 2015). She was also actively involved in the IASSW and was vice-president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. There are many similar cases, and it is undeniable that these efforts launched social work education in many parts of the world. Like Farman-Farmaian, those who benefitted from international exchange and education often remained involved internationally in the profession. Later, scholars began to question the impact of Western-acquired knowledge and consultation on the shape of social work in Africa and Asia. These debates continue to affect the field of international social work and the drive to promote indigenous models.

A unique but short-lived experiment in international social work was the placement of social welfare attachés in the U.S. embassies in France and India in 1948, and again in Brazil and India in 1960s. The intent was to bring expertise in social welfare matters into the work of the embassies. Although the contributions of social workers to the work of the State Department were valued, the positions fell victim to budget cutting.

The role of social work inside the United Nations diminished after the 1970s, as the organization turned away from its specific interest in social welfare. The profession was seemingly unable to define a clear role in the new focus on development (Healy, 2001; Kendall, 1978). Disenchantment with Western influence and anti-Americanism externally and isolationism internally, as a result of the Vietnam War, contributed to distrust of international social work within the profession. However, international action did not cease. Individual social workers played significant roles in the global efforts against the HIV and AIDS epidemic. The professional organizations intensified their external influence at the United Nations through NGO activities and collaborated with the UN Centre for Human Rights in publishing a manual, Human Rights and Social Work (UN Centre for Human Rights, 1994).

The dissolution of the Soviet empire created new opportunities for the global expansion of social work education and international consultation. The expansion of social work education in China has been even more rapid, with the opening of several hundred programs since 1988 (Yuen-Tsang, Ku, & Wang, 2014). These developments created more roles in international consultation and teaching, resulting in expanded cross-national collaborations. Concerns grew once again about the possibilities of inappropriate transfer of British and American models to countries newly establishing social work. Another significant trend is the growth in international migration during the 1990s and early 21st century, which increased the international populations of historically multicultural countries and changed the make-up of previously homogeneous nations, creating additional opportunities for an international focus.

In 2012, the IASSW, IFSW, and ICSW adopted an ambitious plan linking global, national, and local actions around four priority themes. This Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development focuses on inequalities within and between countries; dignity and worth of the person; environmental sustainability; and the importance of human relationships (IASSW, ICSW, IFSW, 2012). It has helped to raise the profile of social work internationally, and it also gave new emphasis to the work of the IFSW, IASSW, and ICSW at the United Nations. The IFSW has also launched a World Social Work Day and expanded communication among countries on ways to celebrate and advance social work.

These developments, combined with the impact of accelerating globalization, contributed to the recent rise in attention to international social work. In response, some social work educational programs have initiated specializations in international or global social work. These programs exist in a number of countries, among them Norway, Denmark, Israel, Canada, and the United States. Other schools have introduced global content into required curriculum for all students.

Practice Roles in International Social Work

In spite of the fact that a relatively small proportion of social workers specialize in international practice, there are diverse arenas for specialists. Currently, social workers take on many roles as international social workers. The major ones are as follows:

  1. 1. Relief and disaster intervention (micro and macro).

  2. 2. Development (macro).

  3. 3. International adoption and cross-country casework (micro).

  4. 4. Work with immigrants and refugees (micro and macro).

  5. 5. Representation of the profession and policy work on global problems.

  6. 6. Building the global profession through the professional organizations.

These roles fall into three major groups. The first group comprises roles in international practice providing relief and development assistance to developing and transition countries. Most such work is macro practice in planning, evaluating, and managing, although there are community-level project-organizing roles. Some direct service opportunities exist in situations of disaster relief and recovery, and work with internally displaced populations in emergencies. Although development practitioners are drawn from many fields, social workers bring useful knowledge of participatory strategies and people-focused approaches to needs assessment that often enhance success. For example, the World Bank hired a social worker to assist when its projects on disability failed to engage people with disabilities.

The second group of roles is largely practiced domestically; these roles focus on international populations and require knowledge of diverse cultures, migration theory, international law, and laws of multiple countries (Drachman & Paolino, 2004). These international social workers practice in international adoption, refugee resettlement, services to immigrant populations, and cross-border work on cases or service planning. Such areas of practice have become increasingly international in nature; transnational families (families with constant interactions between several countries) are now the norm among immigrants, and international adoption agencies are expanding into efforts to improve child welfare services in source countries (Stiles, Dhamaraksa, dela Rosa, Goldner, & Kalyanvala, 2001). Thus, practice demands more sophisticated global knowledge and cross-cultural communications and practice skills. Work with victims of cross-border conflict and war may also be considered a form of international social work practice. Veterans returning from international conflicts, including those from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, are best served by social workers and other professionals who make an effort to understand their experiences (Harris, 2012). This requires an appreciation of international knowledge.

The final group of international social work roles focuses on action by and for the organized profession. These roles include international policy development and advocacy, representation of the profession on the global level, and work to build the profession globally. They can be performed on either a voluntary or paid basis, and they include representing social work at the United Nations and with other intergovernmental agencies; developing global standards for the profession through the IFSW and IASSW; and working on global problems at the policy level. Some also consider the processes of international knowledge sharing that takes place through exchanges, international professional conferences, and technology transfer efforts to be components of international social work practice. Cross-national research informs all areas of international social work.

Skills Required for International Social Work

The skills required for international work include many of the skills taught in social work programs. A survey by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) (NASW, 2003) found that agencies of the United Nations and international NGOs hire staff with planning, management, and community organization skills; strong interpersonal skills and demonstrated ability to live in developing country situations are also highly valued. The range of issues that make up the substance of international social work include HIV and AIDS, poverty, ethnic conflict, natural disaster, women's status, street children, adoption, human trafficking, child labor, orphans, family violence, and trauma. Substantive expertise in areas such as HIV prevention, poverty alleviation strategies, disaster response, or programming for orphans and vulnerable children is valuable for international work and is held by many social workers. Advocacy roles require knowledge of international organizations and international law, knowledge of the profession as it is operationalized around the world, and skills in representing and negotiating.

Critiques of International Social Work

A strong critique of international social work was written by Webb in 2003. He stated that the profession “has no clearly identified or legitimate mandate in relation to globalization” (p. 193). His description of global social work as “a practical impossibility” was based on his understanding of social work as deeply embedded in the local context and local culture. His view has some resonance when applied to examples of visiting psychotherapists who attempted to provide short term western therapy to victims of major disasters (Bragin, 2012). Most critiques of the field, however, although based on concerns about possible imperialism and Western dominance, do not dismiss the possibility of international or global action.

Concerns over unequal partnerships and impediments to indigenous models of social work caused by an export model of international social work consultation continue to influence dialogue on international social work. These are not new concerns, but their relevance has been reinvigorated by efforts to strengthen the universal aspects of social work. Gray and Fook (2004) refer to these developments as a “quest for universalism in social work” (p. 625). They note that this universalism is contested by debates on globalization vs. localization, westernization vs. indigenization, as well as the capacity of universalism to accommodate and facilitate the needed diversity in the profession. Payne and Askeland (2008) express concern over the “linguistic and cultural dominance of the global North and the hegemony of neo-liberalism in economics” (p. 150) but call for social work to be responsive to globalization, although with a critical perspective. To address these concerns, Deepak (2012) recommends that those interested in international social work focus more on global power relationships and structural inequalities; she also notes that oppression and inequalities occur in indigenous settings as well as in international structures and relationships. An emphasis on true partnership and mutuality is recommended as a way forward. Ahmadi (2003) urged international social work to be recast as “a project of partnership between diverse social actors” (p. 14).

A final critique may be the idea of international social work itself. By identifying a field of international social work as separate from the field as a whole, social work is reinforcing a dichotomy between what is international and what is national or local. “The tendency to define international social work by wedging dialectical binaries between national and international social work is paradoxical and, from a political and economic standpoint, an oxymoronic concept” (Mukherjee & Chowdhury, 2014, p. 586). “Glocalization” has been coined as a term to bridge the global and local (Hong & Song, 2010). It emphasizes the necessity of global knowledge and perspectives in addressing local issues while validating the importance of indigenous knowledge. It can be extended to efforts to bring voices and experiences from the grassroots local level into global policy debates.

Future Challenges and Trends

There are many current and future challenges for international social work. They include identifying and promoting relevant career tracks for social workers, strengthening the profession globally, expanding social work representation in the global arena, additional attention to identifying what is universal and to addressing the legacies of the export model that led to uncritical transfer of Western theory and practice, and ongoing work to specify the nature of international social work.

Identifying clear career tracks for international social work is essential to support the growing interest among professionals. NASW examined job requirements and responsibilities for 55 positions in international development and concluded that “social workers are qualified to carry out most of the responsibilities of the development jobs that were reviewed” (2003, p. 2). However, few international organizations advertise specifically for social work training and may not recognize its relevance for international work. Further, another study revealed weak engagement in international aspects of practice by agencies in one highly diverse community in the United States (Xu, 2006). Both suggest the need to more clearly explicate the contributions of social work to international practice.

There are many global social problems that intersect with social work expertise. The IASSW and IFSW are making efforts to strengthen their representation of social work at the United Nations through their consultative status as NGOs. NASW is now a member of Interaction, a coalition of more than 150 U.S.-based development agencies that engage in advocacy on global issues. Expanding representation of the profession and enhancing the contribution of social work knowledge to addressing global problems are important areas for further work. As discussed earlier, the launch of the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development has introduced an action component to the collaborations and global activities of the three professional bodies. The Global Agenda calls for more engagement of social workers with the priorities of major global bodies, such as the United Nations. Specific areas mentioned include the Post-2015 UN Agenda, environmental policies and the efforts for sustainable development, and the drive for universal ratification and implementation of human rights treaties.

Changes in the external environment will also shape the practice of international social work. The shift of emphasis in UNICEF from child survival to child protection, for example, may create new roles for social work, as child protection is an arena identified with the profession. The United Nations is also showing a renewed interest in social services, and both UN and NGO agencies stress human rights, another window of opportunity for social work. In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Post-2015 Agenda. This broad Agenda includes seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs), with 169 targets to be met by 2030 (United Nations, 2015). It will dictate global priorities for many years. Unlike its predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the SDGs are intended to be universally applicable, involving all countries in improvements related to poverty eradication, equality, health, inclusive institutions, environmental sustainability, and more. To enhance social work’s impact on the global level, it will be essential for the profession to find avenues for linking social work practice and policy to the SDGs at the national and international levels.

In building the profession globally, there is a need for continued examination of what is universal and what is locally specific. Profession-building took significant forward steps in the early years of the 21st century as agreement was reached by the IFSW and the IASSW on a revised Global Definition of Social Work (Hare, 2004); a revised set of ethical principles (IFSW/IASSW, 2004); and Global Standards for Social Work Education and Training, a comprehensive set of guidelines for social work education around the world (IASSW/IFSW, 2004). A new definition of social work was adopted by IFSW and IASSW in 2014, reflecting on-going interest in defining the universal in social work. Trygged (2010) refers to this emphasis of international social work as a “modernity perspective, a common understanding of problems, that people are much the same, that we are all citizens of one globe, and that problems can be understood across borders” (p. 653). He recommends that international work focus on “critical modernity,” in which there is “striving towards universal principles” but with awareness of “complexities and power relations” (p. 653).

As work proceeds on these many fronts, the concept of international social work will gain additional clarity. Of particular importance is to draw more voices from the Global South into the scholarly and practice conversations about the nature and functions of international social work. The profession can draw from its extensive history in international work to reclaim early gains and to expand its contributions to address the social impacts of globalization. In the context of globalization, it can indeed be argued that all social work is international social work; at present, however, most scholars in the field believe it is imperative to advance the practice of international social work as an identifiable component of the profession in the United States and worldwide.


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                                                            Lalayants, M., Doel, M., & Kachkachishvili, I. (2015). Students’ perceptions of international social work: A comparative study in the USA, UK, and Georgia. International Social Work, 58(1), 97–110.Find this resource:

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                                                                                                              Yuen-Tsang, A. W. K., Ku, B. H. G., & Wang, S. (2014). Social work education as a catalyst for social change and social development: Case study of a Master of Social Work program in China. In C Noble, H. Strauss, & B. Littlechild (Eds.) Global social work: Crossing borders, blurring boundaries (pp. 283–298). Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                Further Reading

                                                                                                                Dominelli, L. (Ed.). (2007). Revitalising communities in a globalising world. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                  Dominelli, L. (2010). Social work in a globalising world. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                    Harrison, G., & Melville, R. (2010). Rethinking social work in a global world. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                      Healy, L. M., Asamoah, Y. A., & Hokenstad, M. C. (Eds.). (2003). Models of international collaboration in social work education. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work EducationFind this resource:

                                                                                                                        Healy, L.M., & Link, R. (Eds.). (2012). Handbook of international social work: Human rights, development, and the global profession. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                          Hokenstad, M. C., & Midgley, J. (Eds.). (2004). Lessons from abroad: Adapting international social welfare innovations. Washington, D.C.: NASW Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                            Lyons, K., Hokenstad, T., Pawar, M., Huegler, N., & Hall, N. (Eds.). (2012). The SAGE handbook of international social work. London: SAGE.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                              Noble, C., Strauss, H., & Littlechild, B. (Eds.). (2014). Global social work: Crossing borders, blurring boundaries. Sydney, Australia: Sydney University Press.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                Wagner, L., & Lutz, R. (Eds.). (2009). Internationale perspektiven sozialer arbeit. 2. Wiesbaden, Germany: VS Verlag.Find this resource:

                                                                                                                                  Weiss, I., Gal, J., & Dixon, J. (Eds.). (2003). Professional ideologies and preferences in social work: A global study. Westport, CT: Praeger.Find this resource: