F A B I O F O L G H E R A I T E R
I teach social work and coordinate both bachelor’s and master degree courses in an Italian University, in Milan. I am currently involved in planning education and training activities in academic and fieldwork settings for social workers and social services managers. I have been engaged in community social work, mainly in mutual/self-help groups for people with alcohol addiction. In doing this, I met many social workers and volunteers, as well as service users and carers, deeply involved in their new social movements and empowering initiatives. I am co-founder and co-manager of an Italian publishing house – Edizioni Erickson, Trento – focused on special education, inclusive education, welfare policies, and social work.
I chose Round table (of several chairs in a circle) because …
… I remembered that ancient Greeks and, in the Dark Ages, mythical King Arthur and his knights, knew very well that “sitting in a circle is the best ritual for a meeting.” In my view, helping people to come together freely so that they can build solutions to their life problems through dialogue is the essential core of all the social professions. Planning meetings is one of the most important social work activities. Sitting in a circle is important, too. No one sits at the head of a round table. Everyone can look at others in the eyes and can be seen by everyone else at the same time. People are all at the same level, including the social worker.
Meeting at a round-shaped table means respecting mutuality, parity, and equality of voice. Every time a social worker tries to help people reflect on and agree on shared aims, those people should feel free to talk at the same level as all the others, though from a variety of positions, roles and personal perspectives. No social work intervention should be a manipulation by an expert, but rather help given in order to do things together. This is true both with regard to multi-professional team meetings and with regard to networking meetings where social workers leave their offices to work with service users, their caregivers, volunteers and so on in their local communities.
The circle shape conveys a principle of parity which, in turn, evokes empowerment – the idea that people should have the power to take decisions for their own lives and to act in their own best interest. Obviously, this power is never an absolute one, but it is a good enough one. Therefore, social workers can trust people in need and take for granted, until proved otherwise, that they have thoughts, words and feelings capable of producing desired changes.
When social workers gather people together, they should avoid have them sit at the usual angular, sharp-edged table. Social workers should always think according to the democratic round table.