Over the last three to four decades, the question of the relevance and appropriateness of Western theories and methods of social work practice in non-Western countries has become a matter of increasing debate. A parallel concern as to whether existing social work approaches are applicable to people of non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds in Western countries has also been raised.
This thesis seeks to explore issues and illuminate complexities in developing culturally appropriate social work practice in the context of Sarawak, Malaysia. Beginning with an examination of three major theoretical positions in relation to developing culturally appropriate social work practice in non-Western contexts, the thesis arrives at the following observation. Firstly, the indigenisation/culturally sensitive position remains encapsulated in the cultural assumptions and world views of Western social work practice framework. Secondly, the authentisation/culturally appropriate position does not adequately acknowledge the heterogeneity and diversity within a country or an ethnic group. Thirdly, the multicultural/international position, while promoting a view of social work practice being able to transcend cultural and national boundaries, does not offer clear suggestions as to how culturally appropriate social work practice could be developed in a non-Western context. In addition, the thesis argues that the conceptualisation of culture in much of the existing literature is narrowly focused and in danger of being perceived as a fixed, immutable entity, overlooking the interconnection between culture and research.
Working from a conceptual framework of culture-in-transaction, and defining culture as knowledge we used to guide behaviour and interpret experience, the study aims to move beyond the descriptive propositions of much of the literature to an empirical exploration of issues pertinent to the development of culturally appropriate practice. The research questions are formulated with the aims of gaining insights into the help-seeking and help giving experiences of different groups of people.
Field work was conducted in two selected regions in Sarawak, one in an urban, city area and the other in a semi-rural region. Purposeful sampling method was used to select people of different social cultural backgrounds, age groups and genders within different groups of informants. 1 3 designated helpers, 1 5 social workers and 4 client-groups were interviewed. The interviewing method, primarily in-depth, unstructured interview, sought to open up opportunities for the research part participants to shape the research processes and methods, such that issues of cultural appropriateness may unfold.
The analysis of the findings highlights the key areas of divergence between the world views of the people in this study and the world views embodied in Western social work practice theory on the one hand; and on the other hand, the diversities and the dynamism of change and continuity within the local cultures. The thesis discusses the implications of the findings and argues that the development of culturally appropriate social work practice lies in a dynamic balancing between opposing needs. It proposes a way to developing cultural appropriate practice, as well as its related research and knowledge development, through the creation of the borderland of a third culture that emerges out of this dynamic balance.
The thesis concludes with a consideration of its implications for future research, theoretical and educational development of social work practice, within and beyond the present context of study.