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Ecology of Common Care


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​1 IntroductionEcology is usually understood as a science that has its object outside the existence of humans and their social life. Ecologically, however, it is also possible to study the life contexts in which human existence and provision of care takes place. The object is the scope of the social in the setting of its occurrence. The texture of our common and individual existence and the economy of its supply can be inspected. It is this field as a sphere of action that the ecosocial approach deals with: A theory of human services and social work is the basis for their cause, their procedure and their outcome of that context and in the household with its means and potentials.The contexts of social agency are extended in space and time. Ecology captures the connections of that agency and the human agency in general.
2 What to think of in the ecosocial conceptThe ecosocial concept reconstructs the intercorrelations in which human care and social work happen. We live, act and interact amidst our concrete (social and cultural, material and natural) surroundings and world. We are part of it, we are dependent on it and we shape it with our conduct and way of life. The ecosocial theory omits the usual juxtaposition of economy, ecology and social issues. To view something ecologically means to conceive of it comprehensively and in the entirety of the context to which it belongs. The ecosocial paradigm is a paradigm of insiderness and participation.
3 The genesis of the ecosocial paradigmHistorically, the construct of the ecological presupposes the idea of the social, but this idea is linked to an old concept of economy. The biological application to the household of nature goes back to a basic form of domestic coexistence. The ecosocial concept ties in with this connection. From Ernst Haeckel's (1866) introduction of the term and topic of ecology, the transfer to social science discourses in home economics, urban sociology, psychology and social work can be traced.
4 The scope of the theoryThe subject matter of the ecosocial approach in social work and in human services is the cohabitation and interaction of people in their shared space of life with its events and challenges, conflicts and crises. They occur in the context of physical, cultural, economic and social conditions in which there is a multiple set of factors that correlate with and influence people's behaviour in a specific way. In an ecology of situatedness of people and human community, appropriate action can be discussed.
5 The central concept of the household and the principle of householdingThe ecological character of cohabitation in a field of action is encompassed in the category of the household. The topos of the household brings together economic and social, normative, institutional, systemic and procedural aspects. They can be caught at the macro level in the political body – or at the meso level in the organisations that in the social economy provide work and benefits for members or public services for the people – or at the micro level in the dispositions for individual well-being. Three sections discuss: (1) the model of the ancient oikos; (2) resources as "stuff" of purposeful and sustainable action; and (3) householding in a caring and managing function.
6 A comprehensive field of studyAll people have a stake in the maintenance and continuation of a household. Householding includes domestic activities in the residence of persons, outside it any kind of resource use. In this respect, householding also includes enterprises and businesses of all kinds. In an ecological respect, they must be sustainable and not disturb the metabolism between humans and nature. Among the public, private, and common undertakings, agencies that provide human services have the purpose of strengthening, promoting and securing the personal and social assets (of health, knowledge, resilience, employability, etc.).
7 Differentiations are necessary: Domestic and external relationsEnvironmental concerns are, in themselves, not the subject of ecosocial theory. They do so in the milieu of social and individual living. In the scientific discourse it is necessary to distinguish the ecosocial perspective from diverse environmental science approaches. Concerned with the settings and the processes of shaping and conducting human life, the surrounding nature is perceived ecosocially to the extent that it is important in the sphere of action of individuals and political bodies. This relevance of nature is given locally and globally.
8 A multilevel constructAt home, people are with themselves, but not only in the narrower sphere of their private space. They also belong to an urban or rural locality, to a smaller or larger political body, finally to a state and ultimately to the oikoumene of the world community. Belonging is perceived subjectively and exists objectively in real relationships and settings. Intermediary there are civil, work and leisure organisations to which people belong. In such organisations there are different interpretations of what to household with. It happens in an interrelation of households. From the point of view of social care, these relationships are investigated at the micro, intermediate and macro levels.
9 An ecological orientation for human services and the social professionThe structured system of human services and social support includes the areas of health care, of housing services, of employment services, of education, of personal social services, and of social security and social protection. In each area, different contexts are important, which are beneficial or detrimental to individual welfare. Ecosocially, the respective conditions in which professional helpers and their clientele interact are sought out. The whole field of action, directed towards individual and social welfare, is examined. In this field, the social profession is ecologically referred to the range of internal and external dispositions that determine the situation and perspectives of people.
10 The ethical underpinningNormatively, the ecosocial approach is based on the question: how can we live and how do we want to live? The ecosocial focus on life circumstances does not take place in a value-judgement free research, but with the claim of a sustainable positive shaping of individual and common existence in those contexts. How we can live refers to the living conditions in the ecological contexts of our existence. In view of the changes in the contexts of life on earth, of our economy, of demography, and of the protection of nature, conclusions must be drawn for our way of life. These are ethical conclusions.
11 The turn of ecological thinking in the AnthropoceneThe human being has subjected nature and the whole sphere of life to human work and man now bears responsibility for the common life on the planet. Each level of social action and behaviour is involved in the responsibility. More and more social dispositions occur due to developments in the environment and nature. It didn't take the Corona crisis for that to happen. Social action is generally gaining an ecological profile.
12 Back to care and the social workIn the work on welfare a current care expands to a common care with regard to the life contexts of well-being. On the basis of commonality, services must be provided in the real, cultural, normative and psychosocial space in which people conduct their lives. Within this framework, their situation must be assessed and plans made with them to change and to do something for their well-being. Professional care is linked to the concern and the caring attitudes of clients, which requires a translation of the mutual understanding and clarification of interests and intentions. They are taken in consideration of and reflected in the space of common care. In it the social profession finds a new determination.
13 Working in stewardshipEcosocially, the performance of the professional in the sphere of social action can be understood as stewardship. Like the ancient oikonomos, a steward (or Wirt in German) as a “housekeeper” takes care of the needs of a household. A steward protects and develops its resources. Stewards are expected to manage economic and social sustainability. A steward is motivated to act by his responsibility for common and personal assets. With the practice of a steward, well-being is nurtured. All participants are called upon to do so in their own interests and in common interests.
14 ConclusionThe ecotheory of the “social” places it in the local and temporal reference space of the various actors, their interests and ambitions, their means and possibilities, and orientates them towards sustainability. Ecologically, social work is embedded in the household of widespread caring for the well-being of people and for the common life in our world. 

About the Author

Prof. Dr. phil. Wolf Rainer Wendt studied philosophy, psychology, and sociology and then practiced in youth welfare. Since 1978 he has been professor and Head of the Department of Social Work at the Berufsakademie Stuttgart, now the Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) Stuttgart in Germany. He was co-founder and chairman (1993 to 2009) of the German Association of Social Work (DGSA), and also was chairman (2004 to 2015) of the German Society for Care and Case Management (DGCC). In 2003 he received an honorary professorship at the University of Tübingen in Germany. He has written a number of books (in German) on the theory and history of social work, the social economy and care and case management.

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