What Do We Know about the Professional Socialization of Our Students?

By Barretti, Marietta | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

What Do We Know about the Professional Socialization of Our Students?


Barretti, Marietta, Journal of Social Work Education


ONE OF THE PURPOSES of social work education is to "prepare competent and effective professionals" (Council on Social Work Education, 2001, p. 5). To that end, educational professionals must follow prescribed guidelines for infusing the requisite knowledge, values, and skills of the profession into the student. In spite of educators' endeavors to follow guided curricula, relatively little is known about how social work students become professionals (Judah, 1979).

Professional socialization in social work education is an area of investigation and study that has not captured the interest of most social work educators and practitioners. What accounts for this state of affairs is not fully clear because the literature does not reflect such levels of inquiry (Schreiber, 1989, p. 33)

Schreiber (1989) also comments

   A look at the issues of the Journal of
   Social Work Education, and conferences
   and institutes sponsored by the Council
   on Social Work Education during the past
   fifteen years, does come up with a few
   articles but no discussion of professionals
   coming together to consider either the
   nature of professional socialization, or its
   implications for social work education.
   (p. 41, f.n. 2)

A recent review of the related literature in social work reflects Schreiber's (1989) contention that in social work today professional socialization research remains relatively underdeveloped. The 19th edition of the Encyclopedia of Social Work (Edwards, 1995) and its Supplement (Edwards, 1997) contain no entries concerning professional socialization in any form and no articles specifically concerning the educational processes of social work students, nor any references to these subject areas in the index. A search conducted of the entire Social Work Abstracts Database (SWAB) during the early part of 2002 yielded only 14 abstracts classified by the keywords "professional socialization." On the other hand, a comparable search in the Sociological Abstracts Database (SA) yielded 394 abstracts classified by these same keywords. The articles in SWAB spanned the period only from 1977 to 2002, while the articles in SA spanned the period from 1963 to 2001.

Although the 14 articles in SWAB were all classified by the term "professional socialization," it is questionable whether they refer to the same phenomenon as the sociological studies. The professional socialization studies abstracted in SA mainly included articles relating to how students negotiated and internalized their professional roles, cultures, and identities as a result of significant interactions in educational and professional contexts. Alternately, examination of the SWAB abstracts and their corresponding articles revealed that most of the 14 articles were not related to how social work students became professionals at all. Oftentimes, the article made no mention of or presented no definition of professional socialization. Only I of the 14 articles indexed in SWAB explored an aspect of the professional socialization process as it was experienced by social work students (Schreiber, 1989). One dissertation focused on the relationship between moral thought and humanistic attitudes (Howard, 1981). One book contained a longitudinal study on the professional socialization process of professional students in various disciplines, but did not include social work students (Bucher & Stelling, 1978). Four articles concerned social work values, ethics, and ethical judgment (Hancock & Wilk, 1988; Joseph, 1991; Judah, 1979; Landau, 1999), while another article compared social work students in 1- and 2-year graduate social work programs (O'Neil, 1980). The remaining, less-related six articles included two that were practice-related (Homonoff, 1988; King & Hahn, 1981); one that concerned the educational orientations of graduate social work faculty (Pearson, 1998); one special issue of a journal that discussed the professional recruitment of students for a discipline other than social work (Haiman, 1990); and two that concerned the design and quality of social work programs (Dane, 1981; Leuenberger, Gullerud, Patchner, & Hartman, 1984).

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