Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Types of Knowledge, Forms of Practice

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Types of Knowledge, Forms of Practice

Article excerpt

This study was designed to explore the way that use of theory influenced a social worker's conceptualization of a simulated case. The participant in this case study was a woman employed in child welfare, who holds an MSW. She was chosen because her response in a larger study represented a deviant case. Data analysis included both thematic analysis and an analysis of a written report based on ideas taken from institutional ethnography. The authors use this case example to illustrate the ways that one's understanding of theory may impact social work practice. Key Words: Technical-Rational Practice, Reflective Practice, Social Work Practice, and Institutional Ethnography


How do social workers reach conclusions and choose actions in practice, and does theory have anything to do with those processes? An increased understanding of the theory-practice relationship may help social work educators better prepare students for practice. In order to begin to uncover some possibilities for the relationship between theory and practice, the writers engaged in a case study in which they examined a social worker's assessment of a simulated client situation, and then interviewed the social worker about her report and impressions of the case. Using thematic analysis, and influenced by institutional ethnography, the writers found that in spite of the fact that the social worker did not believe she was using formal theory, she may have in fact done so. The manner in which she used the theory became more important to this study than the specific theory she used. The authors suggest that approaches to teaching theory may significantly influence interactions between social workers and clients, the social worker's conceptualization of practice, and the formal document produced by the social worker.

Introduction to the Study

Problem Statement

This case study is part of a larger research project. The larger project was designed to look at ways that social workers (specifically child welfare workers) use knowledge and theory to inform their practice. One of the participants stated that she did not use formal theory in her conceptualization of cases. The researchers believed that this response, which deviated from the norm, offered an opportunity to look at the particular social worker's use of knowledge and theory in greater depth than those participants who identified a theoretical orientation. The research problem for the case study became how one social worker used different types of knowledge and different views of theory to arrive at conceptualizations of cases. The phenomena being studied are types of knowledge and understanding of the meaning of theory. This includes investigation of how types of knowledge and an understanding of the nature of theory are acquired and used in social work practice.

Assumptions and Role of the Researchers

Researchers' standpoints influence their vision, and thus it is important that these are explicitly identified. The authors are interested in social work practices, and more specifically in how some practices contribute to clients being treated like objects, versus clients being treated like subjects. (1) They believe that the way clients are treated not only impacts the client, but contributes to the culture in general. Thus, they believe that there is an ethical dimension to ensuring that social work practice contributes to a world in which all people, including those who are in some kind of need, are treated like subjects. The authors believe that the over-application of one type of knowledge and one understanding of theory, combined with common approaches to report-writing in the practice of social work, leads to context-stripping. This contributes to treating clients as objects, one who is acted upon, or in many cases "fixed" by social workers, rather than working with clients as subjects, or individuals who are capable of volitional action (for further explication of this perspective, see Pozzuto, Dezendorf, & Arnd-Caddigan, (2006). …

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