Social work activism – A comparative study of Romania and the UK

  • Ionut Cioarta

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Activism, as a concept, refers to an action or a set of actions aiming at social change. In contemporary times, it is also often associated with aspects of social justice, human rights, or challenging the status quo. Although not often associated with social work, in practice or academic discourses, it can be argued that, inherently, activism designates an essential component of the profession due to its commitment to the principles mentioned above (IFSW, 2014, 2018). Scholars such as Abramovitz (1998) and Bent-Goodley (2015) claim that activism represents, in fact, the means through which social work can reach its ethical standards and pledge to a just world. After an increased preoccupation with social work activism in the 1970s, this topic has only recently received further academic attention, especially in English-speaking countries (e.g., Australia, Canada, USA), and it is viewed as a veritable alternative to the traditional social work informed by the Neoliberal paradigm. Yet, the topic remains underresearched in the British context and unexplored in Romania.Given the relative infancy of social work as a profession in Romania, a study that compares activism among social workers here with a more well-established situation in the UK offers an opportunity for significant learning around individual and collective factors experienced by social workers and the impact social work activism might have on the profession in both contexts. Considering the global challenges around austerity, bureaucratisation, privatisation of social services, and capitalisation of human problems, this study seems particularly timely. In order to have a more in-depth understanding of the studied phenomenon, the main purpose of this thesis is to explore the understanding and practice of social work activism in the two European jurisdictions – the UK (as a representative of the Western context) and Romania (as a representative of the Eastern context). As this type of exploratory work is scarce in the existing studies, this investigation has the merit of illustrating how different historical, cultural, social, and political contexts might influence the personal and collective interpretation and engagement in social work activism in the two countries, and further, to support the possible reinforcement of the social work profession in society.Underpinned by a critical realist framework, the present study proposes an original methodological approach aiming to unpack and explain the multiple mechanisms shaping social work activism in both jurisdictions. Using a mixed research method, online surveys and interviews, the findings capture aspects related to conceptualisation and the experience of social workers with activism in practice, emphasising the individual and structural challenges, enabling factors, and personal or collective outcomes. By comparing the two settings, this study has shown that social work activism can have different interpretations and practical implementations, shaped by values, identities and roles undertaken by social workers. It also emphasises the role of Neoliberalism, institutional settings, and lack of resources as restricting factors to social work activism, as well as the enabling impact reinforced by allies, professional networks, or personal motivations. Nevertheless, this investigation invites professionals and scholars to reflect and engage more meaningfully with the essence of social work as a profession.
Date of Award16 Feb 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorBeth Weaver (Supervisor) & Gillian MacIntyre (Supervisor)

Cite this