Academic journal article Social Work

Author's Reply: Response to "Social Work Researchers' Quest for Respectability." (R.M. Grinell et Al, Social Work, Vol. 39, P. 469, 1994)

Academic journal article Social Work

Author's Reply: Response to "Social Work Researchers' Quest for Respectability." (R.M. Grinell et Al, Social Work, Vol. 39, P. 469, 1994)

Article excerpt

In the July "Points and Viewpoints" (Social Work, 39 [1994], pp. 469-470), Grinnell and 41 colleagues strenuously objected to my article "A New Approach to Relevant Scientific Research for Practitioners: The Heuristic Paradigm" (Social Work, 37 [November 1992], pp. 541-556). The following is a response to their critique of the value system I advanced.

I would like to begin my reply with a note to readers who are not primarily social work educators and researchers. The contretemps I discuss below is not a tempest in a teapot; it has serious meaning for all of us as practitioners, because the professional value and dignity we attach to our vocation of helping those in need is at stake. In my 1992 article I asserted that without justification many social work researchers have been telling social work practitioners that for practice knowledge to be scientific, practitioners should have their knowledge tested using the methods deemed most "scientific" under the positivist approach to research, which social work researchers (represented by the Social Work Research Group) adopted in the 1950s. As used here the terms "positivist" and "positivism" are methodologically focused, unjustifiably restrictive beliefs about scientific knowledge derived from the philosophy of science termed "logical positivism" (Hanfling, 1981; Passmore, 1967). The tenets of logical positivism and how they were adopted by social work researchers are summarized in Heineman (1981) and Tyson (1992, 1994).

For example, many researchers have labeled practitioner knowledge "practice wisdom," implying that such wisdom is inherently less scientific than the knowledge generated by researchers. Practitioners often were misinformed that to contribute scientific research about their practice they needed to conform to such prescriptions as operationalizing problems and setting up control or comparison groups, even if those prescriptions conflicted with their professional values or treatment models. The fact that the positivist paradigm has had the effect of devaluing practitioner knowledge is also important because most social work practitioners are women, and women's intellectual contributions are all too often ignored or deprecated in our society.

My article summarized that erroneously prescriptive approach to social work research and discussed some of its most unfortunate consequences for the field. More important, it offered guidelines for implementing an alternative, practitioner-relevant approach to scientific research. This approach has been advanced by Heineman Pieper, who has built on the most up-to-date scholarship in many fields (1981, 1989, 1994). For interested readers who would like more detail about this critically important topic, a book I edited, New Foundations for Scientific Social and Behavioral Research: The Heuristic Paradigm, elaborates this new approach to research, its historical context in the field of social work, and its support from numerous scholars from other disciplines. The book offers guidelines that allow practitioners who want to contribute scientific knowledge to do so without having to constrict the problems they want to study or the methods they want to use to conform to the unwarranted demands of positivist ideology.

In addition, there are other examples of research that have been generated using the heuristic paradigm, most notably the new psychology intrapsychic humanism (Pieper & Pieper, 1990). This psychology has already yielded promising responses to diverse clinical problems including teenage acting-out (Pieper & Pieper, 1994), burn-out (Pieper & Pieper, 1991), and childhood hyperactivity (Tyson, 1991). Practitioners and researchers familiar with postpositivist standards of evidence respond very favorably to such studies (Fenby, 1992; Miller, 1993; Steinberg, 1993).

Some authors have claimed that the ongoing debate about the optimal approach to social work research is a product of artificial dichotomies, "bringing coals to Newcastle," or "beating a dead horse" (Atherton, 1993; Berlin, 1990; Geismar, 1982). …

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