Situational Approaches to Direct Practice: Origin, Decline, and Re-Emergence

By Murdach, Allison D. | Social Work, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Situational Approaches to Direct Practice: Origin, Decline, and Re-Emergence


Murdach, Allison D., Social Work


Beginning in the 1890s, major social and economic changes steadily began to affect every aspect of life in the United States. Social workers, social reformers, community activists, and social planners were caught up in waves of speculation and activity as they sought to determine the best ways to develop, restructure, and guide social programs and even society itself (Trattner, 1999). One offshoot of this tremendous burst of concern and energy was the attempt on the part of a small number of social workers and social thinkers to develop both a "scientific" as well as a "social" approach to social work direct practice. Foremost in this effort were Jane Addams, Mary Richmond, Ada Sheffield, Eduard Lindeman, and Mary Parker Follett. Either working together or under each other's influence, they pioneered efforts to forge a new "situational" approach to social work practice, a method that used evidence derived from practice experience combined with the latest findings of the social sciences to craft interventions designed to improve the lives of those needing assistance.

THE GROWTH OF SITUATIONAL THINKING

Development of the situational approach in social work was initially driven by the emergence in the late 19th century of various concepts of social reconstruction inspired by developments in the physical sciences, biology, and sociology (Franklin, 1986). One of the offshoots of these new ideas was the philosophy of pragmatism, which emphasized process and experimentation instead of fixed qualities and mechanistic explanations (Franklin; James, 1967; Thayer, 1973). A key idea in the pragmatic approach is that human situations, or "contexts in which human intelligence, purposes, and action affect what is experienced" (Thayer, p. 113), are both the starting point and basis for all human learning and development. Such ideas especially appealed to social workers, who found all their work heavily influenced by the environmental and social contexts in which their clients were engaged.

The concepts of "situation" and "situational practice" were widely used in the social work literature until the end of the 1920s, when they fell into temporary abeyance following attacks by the increasingly influential psychiatric wing of the social work profession (Siporin, 1972). Proponents of a more psychiatrically oriented approach dismissed the sociological perspective in social work direct practice as "futile" (Robinson, 1930) because they felt it failed to get "beneath the purely situational aspects of an individual's problem" (Robinson, p. 52). To achieve this they recommended instead the "accepting [of] the psychiatric point of view as the basis of all social case work" Robinson, pp. 54-55, compare Field, 1980).

Beginning in the 1960s, interest in situational thinking in social work revived, largely because of theorists and researchers such as Siporin (1972, 1975, 1978), Meyer (1976), and Germain (1984). Central to this renewed interest in situational approaches is the concept of transactional relationships--social interactions characterized by negotiation and exchange (Safran & Muran, 2000), a basic perspective also well known to the pioneers discussed here.

To better understand the emergence of the situational approach, I re-examine its beginnings and its subsequent development in social work practice. I begin by considering the work of Jane Addams.

JANE ADDAMS

Jane Addams (1860-1935) remains, by all accounts, the most famous and influential social worker this country has produced. Born in rural Illinois of well-to-do and politically prominent parents (her father was a state senator), Addams was educated privately both in this country and in Europe. After witnessing grinding poverty in Europe, she returned to this country to found Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago. Through her intense involvement in settlement work and as a champion of a wide variety of public and political causes, she became first nationally and then internationally known.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Situational Approaches to Direct Practice: Origin, Decline, and Re-Emergence
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.