Relatively late we came upon D.A. Schons’ book: The Reflective Practitioner. It gave us great joys of recognition. We agree very much with his view of the practical worker not as an "applier" or a consumer of elsewhere-developed theory, but as source of new insight himself. And also with his conviction that the careful and thorough reflection of the practitioner is the main instrument which can raise this profession (and several others) above the level of trial-and-error and of traditional rigidity.
Much earlier we admired Paulo Freire and his strong conviction that learning and changing human affairs have to be closely connected — and, especially, his encouragement that people should develop their own language for their own realities seems us to be very relevant for workers in residential and day care.
The famous philospher Hanna Arendt is not known for having much contributed to the theory of social work, but her thorough thoughts and analyses regarding basic concepts such as acting, working, labour, and judging, etc., are in our view an important help in refining and deepening our own reflection on the complicated processes going on in and between people in residential settings.
Still more philosophical and seemingly more removed from practical problems is perhaps the French philosopher Emmanuel L6vinas, but we think that his work about the encounter between human beings and the uniqueness of the fac-to-face relationship is an important counterforce against every technological approach to human realities, and also against naively accepting (and even overdoing) the asymmetry in helping relations.
More specifically with regard to residential work, we mention Fritz Redl who was one of the first to undertake the systematic analysis of what goes on in the daily life situations in a residential center, and who by the fascinating title of one of his books, Controls from Within, made every residential worker since critical and distrustful of any "control from without", which had played so big a role in the history of residential institutions.
Another publication which we consider a milestone in recent thinking on residential work is Wollins and Woszner’s Revitalizing residential settings. We share their enthusiasm for viewing very different kinds of residential work in one comprehensive perspective and also their protest against generalizing about institutions as bad places by definition. Inspiring was their attention to the specific factors and conditions which can make residential settings places with a really helping culture and high social prestige.
Last, not least we want to mention the Polish Jewish doctor Henryk Goldszmit (Janusz Korczak) who founded, led and inspired a very special orphanage in Warsaw. Not only for his far-reaching dedication and loyalty towards children, but also for his radical and innovative ideas, we consider him an outstanding pioneer of residential work and pedagogical thinking. The children’s residence as a community, and the children themselves as active, co-responsible members, was one of his basic ideas. With his open-minded attention to a thousand often seemingly tiny and trivial events of everyday life, and with his respect for the inner feelings and the contributions of the children, he was far ahead of his time.
This short and hopelessly incomplete list of people who were of great help and inspiration to us may illustrate our inclination to look eagerly outside the boundaries of professional literature, in the narrow sense of that phrase. In thinking about residential work we are confronted by the most fundamental questions of human life and of living humanely. It is, among other things, about the attitude of society towards people who are more dependent than others, or in distress. It is therefore good to look also at the social context and position of residential work in an historical perspective. Here we found the book of Abram de Swaan, In Care of the State (1988) very enlightening, giving as it does a really new perspective on the vicissitudes of residential care and social care in general.