Mirja Satka's book details the history of social intervention in Finland, from the emergence of Finland as a Grand Duchy within the Russian empire, through the Finnish civil war into the post Second World War era. Hence, the history of Finnish social intervention is divided into the three distinct periods commonly acknowledged and used in modern histories of Finland. She explains the different approaches, goals and understandings the various types of interveners had in each of these eras. Satka recognises three macro projects conducted by the state in the eighty years covered by her study. These projects of the state were also influenced by social class struggle and "struggles over the prevailing gender order."
The first project, which Satka refers to as the 'making of the Finnish nation and its citizens', involved the educated elites trying to educate the masses in the ways of being proper members of the Finnish nation and worthwhile citizens of the state. As such this development coincides with the growth of Finnish national awareness and nationalism and the first signs of a developing civil society that would come to replace Finland's older rural, feudal/estates based society. The main practitioners of social intervention, which was specifically poor relief at this time, were individual volunteers, the emerging civic groups with nation building ideals and the local municipalities.
The second 'macro project' followed the declaration of independence and the bloody civil war, which divided the nation along the line of right wing 'White' bourgeoisie and left wing 'Red' proletariat. National social intervention came to be organised along the lines of "national integration and prevention of further upheavals and deviant behaviour". Both White and Red victims of the civil war, such as widows and orphans, came to receive help, but a big distinction was made between Reds and Whites. The victorious Whites considered the Reds as treacherous and laid the blame of the war at their feet. As such Reds were subjected to more hostile observation and control.
The third project aimed at "governing people through standards and norms for everyday life". This meant the state extended its interests into the private lives of its citizens and tried to ensure greater conformity of individuals and families to its models of the happy well adjusted individual and nuclear family. The post Second World War era saw the growing professionalisation of social intervention, which went hand in hand with the strengthening legal-rational practices of an increasingly bureaucratised practice of welfare relief. The accepted knowledge of social intervention became more and more abstract, theoretical and reliant on text and less so on the practical day to day reality a social worker may encounter.
This period also saw the growing tension between advocates of the social case work method and the adherents of the group of welfare workers working in an through the state's welfare departments. This conflict was as much about practice as it was about the diverging theories informing these practices.
The book is more than just a narrative history, recounting events and developments. Several sociological issues are dealt with as well. Issues such as gender, class, relations of ruling and modernisation are discussed. The previously mentioned macro-periods are illustrative of changing and growing relations of ruling. The central state's power increased at the expense of local municipalities and the scopes of what the state considered worthwhile and legitimate areas for its concern, including the private, familial realm, increased. The central government often furthered its role in social intervention by the introduction of laws demanding adherence to rules and regulations that were more generalised and less reliant on local circumstances. Proper form and procedure became as important as the actual effective relief of social problems.
The process of the profesionalisation of social intervention practices is another major issue in the book. Profesionalisation meant a move away from the traditional local body of knowledge and practices often followed by volunteers, which was necessarily situation bound and subjective and as such hardly ever articulated as a set of principals separate from the actual practice to a body of knowledge that became more and more reliant on textual transmission, abstract, universal in application and executed in a legal-rational, bureaucratic manner.
Satka deals with the transformation of Finnish social intervention from its origins as a set of practices and not a single profession, firmly rooted in local knowledge of particular places, people and practices, to a "textually coordinated and internationally oriented expertise", much more recognisable as a profession.
She details the importance that texts have played in shaping the reality of social work. Satka writes that, "this study aims to discover the development of prevailing conceptual practices from the first statutes of poor relief to the emergence of the Finnish professional doctrine of social work. Hence, various texts of the social sector serve as the self-evident research material."
Satka's analysis attaches great importance to texts, whether it is the legal texts structuring the state's welfare efforts and practices, or the theoretical texts of pioneers, and to the wider social and professional settings in which the texts were produced. This interest relates to Satka's interest in the tension existing between theory and practice, the inconsistencies that may exist between the two and the distinction usually drawn between the two. Satka states that "the evidently unsolvable contradictions between theory and practice in social work was one of the issues that I had in mind when planning this study". Satka's approach is to treat texts as conceptual practices.
As mentioned before, Satka covers several issues and themes in this book. This certainly makes for more interesting reading and gives a much more accurate impression of multifaceted circumstances encountered in any modern profession than one would gather from a study that solely concentrated on one issue. After all, these issues interrelate with each other and do not truly stand alone. However, paying attention to several different issues certainly increases and complicates the research effort and the portrayal of this in any book. While the author may generally be developing a single major theme or thesis throughout the course of the book, with these additional issues as supplementary and secondary, the reader may find it much easier to lose track of the author's intent and to be side tract by these additional issues. This is the major critique I would give of Mirja Satka's doubtlessly ambitious and interesting study. Having said this, the removal of any of these additional issues would have subtracted from the book's interest and meant a reduction in the insights the book offers on several issues.