Social work in the Pacific: The humble and unrefined views of a non-social worker


  • Steven Ratuva University of Canterbury, New Zealand



social work, interdisciplinary, Pacific, empowerment, wellbeing, community


I once worked in a university where sociology and social work were part of the same department, which I headed. I observed how social work, more than most “disciplines,” was readily responsive, quickly adaptive and empowering with the potential to be readapted and aligned to suit different socio-cultural contexts. From the vantage point of a non-social worker, this makes it resilient and relevant in a fast-changing world where conflict, wealth accumulation and the creation of expanding subaltern classes take place simultaneously. As peripheral “participants” in the process of corporate, technological and cultural globalisation, Pacific Island countries (PICs), often see themselves increasingly subaltern in the global economic and political power game as manifested in increasing poverty, social dislocation, debt, crime and other social problems.

A growing capacity for responsiveness, adaptation and empowerment requires a critical approach to understanding the complexities of social dynamics and impact on human wellbeing. Social work crosses the arbitrary boundaries between sociology, anthropology, psychology, development studies, conflict/peace studies, education and health and this trans-disciplinary approach makes it well positioned to address issues such as inequality, poverty, alienation and marginalisation which are common amongst subaltern groups, including those in the Pacific (Sherif & Sherif, 2017). Social work also has the potential to bridge the gap between theory and practice in what Marxian scholars refer to as “praxis” (Freenberg, 2014). Its strength is also in keeping human wellbeing as the central focus in its analysis.


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Ratuva, S. (2004). Reconceptualizing contemporary Pacific islands states: Towards a syncretic approach. The New Pacific Review, 2(1), 246–262.

Sherif, M., & Sherif, C. (Eds.). (2017). Interdisciplinary relationships in the social sciences. New York, NY: Routledge.




How to Cite

Ratuva, S. (2019). Social work in the Pacific: The humble and unrefined views of a non-social worker. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 30(4), 5–8.