[Note: Below is an excerpt from an article in the most recent issue of the journal Social Work, co-published by NASW and Oxford University Press. The article was written by Laura Nissen, PhD, MSW, professor and Presidential Futures Fellow, School of Social Work, Portland State University; and Anna Scheyett, PhD, MSW, dean and professor, School of Social Work, University of Georgia, Athens. This article is free to be read on the Oxford University Press website.]
The years 2020 and 2021 have undoubtedly been the time of the “omnicrisis,” as recently described by Vanessa Mason V. (The future of belonging [Presentation]. Social Work Health Futures Lab, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon. 2021, February 5). As a global community, we experienced climate crisis events, racialized violence and action, economic and political volatility, a flood of exponentially distributed disinformation and the rise of white nationalism, and of course, a global pandemic revealing the frailty of our social and health safety nets. Social work, as a profession, has had a clear view of the collective impact and intense human cost of these events and has had its limits both tested and expanded. These events have provoked new desires to think about the future—the future of the world and of social, technological, ecological, economic, and technological changes that are shaping what happens next. Social work’s professional values, ethics, and aspirations are to change the world to better accommodate health, well-being, and justice—and though we have responded creatively to challenges in the past, we are only beginning to imagine and understand the challenges that may be before us. The urgency to better prepare for what comes next has never been more relevant or clear, and the intersections among complex issues, never more central (Thomas & Haynes, 2020).
This special edition was developed to provide a space for social work scholars to explore ideas of the future of both the “vision for” and the “work of” social work, as well as the ways in which the lessons of this past year might best guide our thinking about what comes next. Social work, like many professions, can benefit from increasing its focus not only on what has been and is (in the shared world), but also what is emerging around the corner. How must social work, as a profession, evolve to meet the increasingly complex world that we live in? How does social work promote community-led aspiration while also addressing the evolving risk landscape that individuals, communities, and the natural world face? How can the uncertainty and instability of the times be best navigated by professionals, individuals, and communities?
The journal Social Work is a benefit of NASW membership. It is available online or, at a member’s request, in print. Children & Schools, Health & Social Work and Social Work Research are available by subscription at a discounted rate for NASW members, either online or in print. You can find out more about the journals and subscriptions at this link.