Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Bridging the Gap between Micro and Macro Practice: Large Scale Change and a Unified Model of Narrative-Deconstructive Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Bridging the Gap between Micro and Macro Practice: Large Scale Change and a Unified Model of Narrative-Deconstructive Practice

Article excerpt

RECENT INNOVATIONS in social work practice and social work education have been attributed to a postmodern paradigm (Deitz, 2000; Laird, 1993; Witkin, 1999). Postmodernism suggests that truth, meaning, or structure are not fixed or inherent in a definitive external reality but constructed through evolving dialogues and discourses characterized by a finite history and a socio-cultural identity. A basic element of postmodernism "has been the challenging of assumptions about truth and reality" (Witkin, 1999, p. 5). It has been suggested that this element of postmodernism may be useful in exploring issues of culture, power, oppression, social justice, policy-making, and other issues congruent with social work values (Chambon, 1994; Kelley, 1995; Lowe, 1991; Swenson, 1998). Others have used elements of postmodern theory in combination with additional theoretical perspectives in an attempt to unite clinical practice with social action (Sachs & Newdom, 1999). It is clear that in order to adequately pursue social justice and deal with issues of power and oppression in a clinical context, the bifurcated structure of social work, commonly known as micro-macro or clinical and social action, must somehow be unified.

In sociology, this relationship between individual human problems and societal issues was considered the only proper subject (Mills, 1959). Turner (1991) notes that the reconciliation of the "micro/macro question" (p. 626) is crucial if a unified understanding of human agency and collective activity is to be achieved. However, the dilemma of uniting an understanding of individuals and human interaction with an understanding of social structures and institutions has led to a longstanding tension between micro and macro theorizing in sociology (Marshall, 1998). Some contend that an over-reliance on either the macro or micro pole generates inadequate and fragmented positions (Merton, 1949; Mills, 1959). The macro position may be prone to unverifiable abstraction while an exclusively micro orientation might consist of a multiplicity of empirical generalizations lacking any abstraction (Merton, 1949; Mills, 1959). Wiley (1988) has suggested that major elements in this split are attributable to insufficient conceptualizations of the self on the part of macro theorists and scant attention to macro structures on the part of micro theorists. He proposes that a problem with both micro and macro levels of analysis is their reification. This characterization may also apply to social work and social work education.

Conversely, postmodern philosophy suggests that concepts such as micro and macro are constructed "binary oppositions" (Best & Kellner, 1991, p. 21), positing artificial boundaries and hierarchies. If this is the case, such distinctions should not limit a postmodern practice or define an educational emphasis. However, practice and education informed by postmodernism appear to have been underutilized in focusing on so-called macro issues. Instead, the primary focus has been at what is commonly considered the micro level. This emphasis has led to challenging the assumptions constituting the problem narratives of individual clients and families in clinical practice. Unless we are able to adequately connect the problems of clients in oppressed groups to the roots of their oppression and the clients to each other, fundamental change will not occur (VanVoorhis, 1998). Such a reconciliation must also occur in the classroom.

It is our contention that a narrative-deconstructive form of postmodern practice (Kelley, 1995; Lowe, 1991), embodied in the work of Michael White and David Epston (1990), is a self-contained practice model of which the basic goal can be the pursuance of social justice. Particular elements of the methods, contained within, may provide a scaffold for the attainment of social justice comparable to the approaches of the radical educator and activist, Paulo Freire. …

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