This is a strategic book and an important book. It makes an intervention in the long-running debate about the role and tasks of social work as a global profession. It does this in a conscious fashion, as the introduction by the editors James Midgley and Amy Conley makes clear:
Although there has been a growing awareness and interest in the relevance of social development ideas to professional social work … many still believe that (it) is primarily applicable to the developing countries in the Global South and of limited use in the West. By showing how social investment strategies can be applied in conventional fields of practice in the United States, the book hopes to demonstrate the universal relevance of the developmental approach (p. xvii).
Midgley and Conley call attention to ‘developmental social work’ as a coherent camp in the social work field of debate. They link it to the social work tradition of community organising and social action stretching back to Jane Adams and the settlement movement at the turn of the nineteenth century. At the same time, the editors insist on its contemporary relevance—resonating with debates about social investment, ecological perspectives and strengths-based practice. They also draw attention to the enriching of the community social work tradition by the experience of social work as part of post-colonial social development within the Global South. The social work envisioned for post-apartheid South Africa was explicitly developmental social work and continues to be despite the difficulties to date in turning the theory into practice (September and Pinkerton, 2008; Patel and Hochfeld, 2012). In the Global South, developmental social work has an essential role to play in ensuring that as much concern is given to social well-being as to economic development. That same need to keep social welfare in the equation has become increasingly pressing in the Global North. As the international economic crisis of 2008 plays itself out, the goal of returning to economic growth is squeezing out commitment to social welfare. Whilst that commitment is at the core of developmental social work, Midgley and Conlon stress that this approach to social work also holds as a core principle that ‘economic participation is a major source of empowerment’ (p. 21).
The three-part format of the book is appropriate and effective in addressing the editors' goal of demonstrating that ‘the principles and practice interventions used in developmental social work can be applied in mainstream social work practice with the clients who have traditionally been served by social workers’ (p. xv). A brief eight-page introduction sets out the aim, rationale and structure of the book. That is followed by a substantial twenty-five-page Chapter One on ‘The theory and practice of developmental social work’.