The Role of Theory in Social Work Research: A Further Contribution to the Debate

By Munro, Eileen | Journal of Social Work Education, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Role of Theory in Social Work Research: A Further Contribution to the Debate


Munro, Eileen, Journal of Social Work Education


THE DEBATE BETWEEN Bruce Thyer and Tomi Gomory in the Winter 2001 issue of this journal provided a stimulating example of scholarly argument, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to make a further contribution. Their articles brought out a number of significant issues relating to improving the knowledge base of social work practice. I want to pick up on two themes that emerged: the role of theory in evaluative research and the way evidence tests a theory. In this journal, it is hardly necessary to reiterate the case for evidence-based practice but both of these themes seem to me to be fundamental to its development and to the profession moving away from a predominant reliance on personal skills and intuitive knowledge. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with both Thyer and Gomory to some extent and my concern is to propose a third, modified position on the issues. It is difficult in the space of an article to deal with complex philosophical arguments so my aim is to reference the major philosophy texts and to focus on drawing out more of the practical implications for social work of these somewhat abstruse philosophical matters. A more detailed account of my own position can be found in Munro (1998).

Both authors agree on the need for more research evaluating the effectiveness of social work interventions in order to improve services to users. Thyer points out that this need has been recognized for decades, yet we are still far from developing a strong evaluative tradition. Without such studies, the drive towards making practice more evidence-based is inevitably undermined. How can we exhort practitioners to base their decisions on evidence when there are such big gaps in our knowledge? Thyer raises a very pertinent question in asking why it is proving so difficult to do evaluative research when it seems so widely accepted that it should be done. His answer is that researchers have the wrong priority and are preoccupied with testing theories at the expense of appraising practice. In support of this claim, he quotes an analysis of the content of articles published in thirteen major social work journals (Thyer, 2001b, p. 12). This categorized 47% as empirical research and, of those, 49% were explanatory studies (testing a theory aimed at explaining a phenomenon). Only 3% reported credible outcome studies of the results of social work practice. Thyer (2001b) also criticizes PhD programs for requiring students to formulate a theoretical framework for their study even when the study has not been guided by any explicit theory:

 
   An otherwise sound piece of clinical or program evaluation may be forced to 
   rest uneasily on a Procrustean bed of theory-testing research, sometimes 
   being distorted beyond recognition. (p. 14) 

The comments on how students artificially add theory onto their work resonate with my experience in the United Kingdom. Student social workers are required to do detailed case studies of their practice, making explicit the theories that guided their assessment and intervention. For many, if not most, the theoretical exposition is fabricated after the work has been done and merely to satisfy course requirements. The teaching of formal theories in college is often so cursory that, unless the practice supervisor uses a clear theoretical framework, the student is unable to apply any one theory in an explicit and systematic manner in their direct work with clients. Their academic tutors and practice supervisors often know about and collude with this cynical use of theory. This is pernicious because it promotes a culture that encourages social workers to see theories as irrelevant to their practice and as merely some kind of game played by academics. This anti-intellectual stance has coexisted with the drive to develop a scientific base throughout social work's history and is possibly the greatest obstacle to widespread adoption of evidence-based practice. …

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 Role of Theory in Social Work Research: A Further Contribution to the Debate
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.