Academic journal article Social Work

A Metatheoretical Framework for Social Work Practice

Academic journal article Social Work

A Metatheoretical Framework for Social Work Practice

Article excerpt

Numerous attempts have been made over the years to define the nature of social work practice. Previous conceptualizations of practice were used as foundations for the social work practice framework presented in this article: Bartlett's (1958) working definition and Gordon's (1962) critique of it, Siporin's (1975) model, and Alexander's (1977) notion of a social work practice system. Using Hearn's (1958) theory-building process, concepts contained in prior conceptualizations were reconstituted and elevated to the level of constructs, resulting in a system of social work practice constructs that specifies relationships between and among them. Moreover, the social work practice system is an open system, subject to the vagaries and exigencies of its environment. The professional system's environment is the society in which it exists and from which it draws energy to maintain its existence. That environment is the profession's societal suprasystem. As part of a larger system, social work is in constant interaction with dynamic social forces that influence professional perspectives, purpose, knowledge, and practice methods. This article conceptualizes those forces as suprasystemic societal factors that directly influence the constructual components of the social work practice system. This social work practice system comprises a number of constructual subsystems, with the system and its subsystems imbedded in a societal suprasystem itself comprised of its own dynamic components. This framework is metatheoretical in the sense that it is comprehensive enough to accommodate divergent and specific theoretical orientations relative to each of the components of the practice system. The constructual components of the social work practice system are presented as the profession's ideology, teleology, epistemology, and technology. The societal, or suprasystemic, forces that directly influence the constructual components of the practice system are, for the purposes of this article, designated as metaphysical, dialectical, empirical, and ecological. Social Work Practice System Although recent efforts to define social work practice acknowledge complexities and uncertainties not addressed in Bartlett's (1958) working definition, they nevertheless continue to rely on the original constellation of value, purpose, knowledge, sanction, and method as a way to conceptualize the basic elements of the profession (Alexander, 1977). Most efforts, however, fail to fully acknowledge Gordon's (1962) modifications to and improvement of Bartlett's work. For example, whereas the working definition did not specify how the components of the constellation relate to each other, Gordon suggested an interactive system of practice elements, thereby positing a nascent theoretical framework. Moreover, his reconceptualization of the constellation removes "sanction" from the configuration of practice elements on the basis that societal legitimization is related but not essential to the inherent definition of a profession. Gordon divided "method" into "techniques" and "intervention," with intervention constituting the nexus of the practice framework. Gordon's reworking of the definition therefore suggests the paradigm in Figure 1. Within this reconceptualization, values determine purpose, and techniques are derived from a professional knowledge base. In Gordon's (1962) words, When the profession can make explicit its shared values and specific purposes ... and its knowledge and techniques, it has defined its practice. When interventive action is controlled by this constellation it is professional practice. Action not controlled by the definitive constellation of value, knowledge, purpose, and techniques of the profession may be interventive but it is not professional practice. Within the framework presented here, the concepts of Gordon's refined definition have been enlarged into constructs, and intervention, or the actual application of professional practice, has been relegated to a suprasystemic component, the ecological supra-subsystem. …

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