Scope of Social Action

The scope of any method emanates from the way the profession shapes itself, its aims and goals, its commitments and how it defines its subject matter. Another set of conditions that determine the scope of any profession and its methods are the context in which it locates itself – that is the socio-economic and cultural (including its political context and the constitutional obligations that the state finds itself in.

Kenneth L M Pray in articulating the relation between social work and social action ponders over the basic question : does social work as a profession bear any specific responsibility to apply its knowledge and skill to the goal of adjusting social institutions and arrangements to the needs of human beings or is its responsibility limited to helping people find the utmost of satisfaction and achievement within the social circumstances that surround them, whatever those circumstances may be? The answers to these questions set the tone for understanding what a profession ought to set its goals for.

Scope of social action depends on how its aims are formulated. Its aim is dependent on the aim of social work profession. If social work profession is concerned with providing wholesome, rich and abundant life for everyone, then it is logical for social workers to try to probe beyond end results, to uncover causes and to seek prevention rather than that of merely cure or treatment. It also depends on how the causative factors for human problems are understood. Also if the aim of social action is modification of earlier legislation, bringing in new legislation or the bringing about a revolution, then the social action centers on these activities. However if the liberal tradition informs the democratic systems, and there is focus on generating more economic growth and develop more social services to meet those problems – then social action will focus on the inadequacy of social services, social legislation and other similar issues. But if there are questions regarding whether growth is justified at the cost of equality, or whether it is required at all, and whether there are alternatives available to the development model proposed, then the scope of social action is linked to these questions and seeking solutions for these. Then it also goes beyond existing legal norms as the concept of legality in itself is a relative concept. The desirability of elitist and western led social goals and other questions related to who decides that these goals as desirable, legal and required by people and by what
means become the focus of social action.

Constitutional and Welfare Provisions

Thus the scope of the method has to be seen in the light of the constitutional and other welfare provisions of the state as also the existing disparities and social concerns, emanating from the social context. These may include such areas as poverty, unemployment and livelihood issues – the NREGP and the social auditing of such programme, watershed management and public health, ecological disasters, displacement and relocation issues of both rural and urban population, SEZ issues and land acquisition issues, equity in  educational provisions the right to development and the right to livelihood and the reduced space for the marginalized in the increasingly favorable climate for privatization of resources and services, demanding equity and access in energy resources are all areas which call for a mass, intermediate and micro level social action. There is a need to demand not only what is due but also prevent what is threatened in terms of loss of livelihoods, in the light of increasing spending on mega infrastructure projects, which may take away land of the poor and the marginalized in the urban fringes. Expansion and development of urbanization with Master Plans favoring the rich and the resourceful which at the same time reduce urban livelihood options for the self-employed such as vendors. Such issues are fertile grounds for social action. There are many Nandigrams and Singurs in the making in the light of India’s urbanizing spree and the spiraling economic growth rates.

The right to information act that was the result of social action has to be carefully protected because of many attempts to dilute it by vested interests. The use of such instruments for ensuring satisfactory and quality service provision, ensuring transparency in governance issues and decision making and empowering communities in its use is something that can fall in the genre of social action. Ecological struggles by various people’s groups in India’s developmental history are another example of social action. For example the people of Dakshin Kannada have successfully stalled the setting up of thermal power projects which would  spell a doom to the otherwise ecologically sensitive area of the Western Ghats. Such struggles have seen coalitions between academicians, elected
representatives of people, affected people and others.

Discrimination by state and other vested interests, showing outright prejudice towards certain sections of population such as the religious minorities or the politically marginalized are yet another area for social action to alleviate distress and injustice. Questions of breach of civil, Political and social rights, and many other areas which impinge on the interface between ethics and human beings and their rights for rightful living are all areas that have considerable scope for social action. Issues of farmers’ plight and their concerns, plant and seed patents and farmer’s rights, access to water and power, WTO implications for agriculture are areas worthy of social action. Thus matters related to systems, institutions, policy, practices, procedures could become by and large the focus of social action.