Trends in Social Work, 1874-1956: A History Based on the Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Work

By Frank J. Bruno | Go to book overview

35 · SOCIAL REFORM, 1924-46

DURING THE third quarter of a century of the transactions of the Conference, social reform was incorporated into the body of social work, and named "social action." This change of status was not accompanied by any defense of the effort to control behavior by law in the interest of the common welfare. Almost habitually, social workers had used the power of government to rectify evils since the first statutes regulating child labor were passed in England in the early part of the last century. Although there were occasional voices raised against dependence on law to control behavior, they were heard, for the most part, outside the ranks of social work. Theoretically, social workers recognized that there were other ways of controlling mass behavior: propaganda and the influence of personal service, such as that furnished by settlement workers and by the so-called "friendly visitors" of the past generation. But in the main, social workers relied upon the enactment of law to rectify the evils of exploitation and neglect--much as Edward T. Devine had counseled in 1905.

A philosophical evaluation on the place of law as a means of social progress was given in 1976 by Judge Marvin B. Rosenberry, of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He quoted Lord Moulton as dividing human action into three domains: first, actions defined by law; second, free actions; and third, actions controlled by custom. It is Lord Moulton's third "domain" that includes the scope of what social work calls "social action."

European observers have often noted how much of behavior

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