Social Work and the Politics of the Family at the Crossroads of Welfare Reform in Turkey

Berna Yazıcı
New York University Anthroploghy
Graduation Date: 
Social Work and the Politics of the Family at the Crossroads of Welfare Reform in Turkey

This dissertation is a study of the field of social work in Turkey. I examine how the state policies and institutional practices of social work intervene in familial relations of the client population--the socially and economically disadvantaged, who, in the case of Turkish social work often correspond to the urban poor. The study builds on the research I conducted in Turkey between 2003 and 2005. The research involved ethnographic fieldwork at the Ankara and Istanbul offices of the Turkish state social work agency, interviews with policy makers, academics, social workers and clients; analysis of social policy texts, legislations, reform proposals and social work case reports; as well as participation in social policy meetings and social work conferences in Ankara.

Utilizing a range of research sites, methods and materials, I examine social work intervention in familial relations through four levels: (1) state social policy, (2) academic social work discourse generated through the single leading school of social work in Turkey, (3) social workers' professional views and their role in mediating sites, actors and institutional practices that constitute the field of social work and point to the continuities and disjunctures that occur as social policies and social work paradigms are translated into practice.

As I seek to show, the field of social work in Turkey is reconfigured in relation to broader political dynamics. Among these, the global restructuring in welfare, Turkish government's neoliberal politics and the process associated with Turkey's prospective integration with the European Union stand out. I argue that the principle of protecting the integrity of the family shapes state social work policy and practice. I trace the specific interpretations of this principle and its manifestations in social practice. This dissertation concludes that for many clients, the transformation in welfare corresponds to the social work system's exclusion of their needs and to the reinforcement of social and economic disadvantages, including systems of domination by gender and age in domestic relations, which constrain already precarious lives.