The Right to Effective Treatment and the Effective Treatment of Rights: Rhetorical Empiricism and the Politics of Research

By Witkin, Stanley L. | Social Work, January 1998 | Go to article overview

The Right to Effective Treatment and the Effective Treatment of Rights: Rhetorical Empiricism and the Politics of Research


Witkin, Stanley L., Social Work


Progress is the "grand narrative" of Modernism (for example, Gergen, 1991). According to one version of its story, systematic, empirical investigations and technological advances - the representative expressions of Western science - will lead to increasingly more effective ways to solve problems and a better life for all. Despite the dramatic failures of Modernism's Elysian vision, including how it has created rather than solved problems (Chambon & Irving, 1994), its believers abound.

Within contemporary social work, modernist sensibilities find expression in the scientist-practitioner movement and among methodological behaviorists and with advocates of logical empiricism and positivism. Each of these camps expresses the modernist refrain that the social work profession is woefully lacking in research knowledge, skills, and productivity and that reversing this situation is the key to the profession's success (and even survival).

A recent spin-off of this empiricist dirge has it that not only is the scientific dimension of social work sadly lacking but that social workers are unethical to the extent that their activities are not guided by data from empirical research. This is the theme of a recent article by Myers and Thyer (1997), who go beyond simply asserting that empirical research on social work practice is a good idea to arguing that we now have at our disposal an array of methods that have been demonstrated to resolve particular problems of social work clients and that clients have a "right" to receive these "effective" methods. If true (or even convincing), their arguments have important implications for the profession. They advance the modernist project by supporting the notion that, in fact, social work is developing more effective technologies. And if one buys that argument, on what basis can one refute their contention of clients' rights to effective treatment, and by implication, social workers' responsibility to provide such treatments? Finally, the charge of unethical actions goes to the heart of social work, a profession that proudly wears its values on its collective sleeves. Therefore, a careful analysis of Myers and Thyer's arguments is warranted.

Rhetorical Empiricism: An Oxymoron?

Given Myers and Thyer's orientation, readers might expect an impressive display of empirical data supporting their arguments. Surprisingly, however, they rely not on data but on a variety of rhetorical tactics including misuse of analogy, oversimplification, false consensus, appeals to authority, and the use of testimonials and misrepresentation.

Misuse of Analogy and Oversimplification

Myers and Thyer begin their article by presenting medical practice as analogous to social work practice. Although there are similarities between social work and medicine, the differences are significant. For example, medicine is based on a disease model that much of social work rejects. Also, social work practice tends to be more holistic in its approach to individuals - seeing them within the context of family, community, and culture.

Even if the analogy were appropriate, medicine rarely conforms to Myers and Thyer's portrayal as the simple application of technology. For example, before embarking on a course of treatment, even in cases of identifiable ailments, physicians must consider factors such as an individual's life history, current state of health, past and current treatments, lifestyle issues, and level of social supports. Thus, the analogy works only if the reader is willing to reduce social work practice to something analogous to a caricature of medicine, a model of practice most social workers would reject.

False Consensus, or the Ivory Soap Argument: 99 44/100 Percent Pure

Myers and Thyer write about empirical methods as if they were unproblematic. Mostly, they have chosen to ignore the voluminous critiques that pepper the social work and social science literature (Gergen, 1994; Heinemann, 1981; Tyson, 1995). …

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 ...
Default project is now your active project.
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

The Right to Effective Treatment and the Effective Treatment of Rights: Rhetorical Empiricism and the Politics of Research
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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

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.