This study aims to contribute to the nurturing of an academic atmosphere of social work that encourages diverse views and respects differences. A philosophical vision named sunyata-wu (void) is developed to promote the development of alternative philosophical perspectives and to balance the domination of the modernist perspective in understanding social work. There are two lines of argument for the need for alternatives. Firstly, it is argued that the modernist perspective with its static ontological view, which regards the nature of entities and phenomena as stable and definite, fails to explain the fluid-like nature of social work. Such a view is also incapable of shedding light on the contemporary social work issues concerning changes in the 21st century. Secondly, the single truth epistemological view of the modernist perspective is criticised as encouraging and legitimating the domination of orthodox views over marginal voices.
The philosophical vision sunyata-wu (void), provides a markedly different perspective from that of modernism, one which is processual rather than static, and is developed from the philosophies of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. 'Wu' is the core concept of Taoism - it denotes the undifferentiated ontological source of everything - while the notion of 'sunyata' is central to Mahayana Buddhism - it describes the transient and mutually arising nature of entities and phenomena. Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism are chosen as the conceptual source of the vision for their comprehensive body of theories. It is recognised that some western originated schools of thought, which include Bohm's notion of undivided wholeness, existentialism and post-modernism, also have developed more fluid perspectives from which to perceive social work.
The vision has four inter-connected dimensions - ontology, ethics, epistemology and practice, which are used to comprehend the ontological nature of social work, examine the nature of social work knowledge, and suggest a practice stance for social work. The ontological dimension of this vision is developed on the shared ontological implications of the concepts 'wu' and 'sunyata', both of which see the phenomenal world as a dynamic and undifferentiated process, which is transitory, multi-faceted and uncertain. In the vision's ontological view, the phenomenal world is similar to a moving process with four inter-weaving dimensions - content, relationship, context and time. The ontological nature of social work is no longer an independent and autonomous entity but a group of multi-faceted phenomena in a variety of contexts in different times. The ethical position that is embedded in the vision's ontological view is the valuing of differences, the equality among different entities and a positive attitude towards change and uncertainty.
The epistemological view of the vision is generated from the shared views of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism in the domain of knowing, which see knowing as a process of value-laden and context-bound linguistic conceptualisation. Under this epistemological view, knowing in social work is regarded a dynamic process with four inter-connected components - participants, means of knowing, the 'time' and the 'context' in which knowing takes place. The features of knowing are participatory, manifold, context-bound and transitory, which imply both that knowledge should be seen as reference case and autobiography rather than as a universal framework and that different types of social work knowledge (for example, academic theory, client's story) are of equal worth. A social worker could be an active developer of knowledge and develop their knowledge for practice in the practice context. Moreover, a client could be engaged in the knowledge development process so that social workers and clients work as partners.
A non-attachment stance - an attitude of openness to differences, the readiness to let go and step into the unknown, is proposed for social work practice. The stance is built on the notion of 'non-attachment' in Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. The stance consists of two methods – the method of shifting among perspectives and the method of emptying. The former helps social workers to appreciate different perspectives through engaging with and shifting among them. The latter aims to help social workers remove the barriers that prevent them from developing an open attitude towards differences in practice. This is a practice with non-possessive purpose, non-categorised knowing and thinking, and non-interfering and non-scheduled interventions.
As a piece of knowledge located in the 21st century, the vision sunyata-wu indicates one of the possible futures of social work, which is markedly different from the current trend that emphases quantified output and effectiveness. This thesis is an action that aims to contribute to the creation of a different future for social work.