Academic journal article Social Work

Value Differences between Social Workers and Members of the Working and Middle Classes

Academic journal article Social Work

Value Differences between Social Workers and Members of the Working and Middle Classes

Article excerpt

It is widely acknowledged that differences in value frameworks, or worldviews, between social workers and consumers can negatively affect service provision. For example, although there has been considerable discussion on the appropriate role of clinicians' values in the therapeutic process, there is wide agreement that practitioners should seek to understand their own values to avoid implicitly imposing their beliefs on consumers in clinical settings (Canda & Furman, 1999; Richards, Rector, & Tjeltveit, 1999; Sermabeikian, 1994). As social workers increase their understanding of their own value frameworks and how they differ from consumers, they can provide more effective, client-centered services (Wambach & Van Soest, 1997). Consequently, it is important for workers to enhance their awareness of their own value-based worldviews and how they may differ from those affirmed by consumers.

Although little is known about the degree of similarity between social workers' and consumers' values (Gibelman & Schervish, 1997), one of the more provocative theories for understanding this intersection is "new-class" theory. Although sociologists working in the Marxian tradition have commonly demarcated society into two classes--working and middle class--a number of observers have posited the advent of a third class, the "new class" or knowledge class, a group composed of professionals or knowledge workers (Berger, 1978; Berger, 1986; Bruce-Briggs, 1979; Ehrenreich, 1990; Frow, 1993; Gouldner, 1979; McAdams, 1987; McKnight, 1996; Schmalzbauer, 1993; Szelenyi & Martin, 1991).

The emergence of the knowledge class is traced to structural shifts in the economy, particularly since World War II, fostered by such factors as rapid technological advancement, sustained economic growth, and an increased government role in the economy. The information, financial, and government sectors that increasingly underlie Western economies have led to a sustained increase in knowledge-based occupations. Although professionals still make up a relatively small segment of the overall population, their cultural and economic influence is considerable. For example, it has been estimated that the knowledge sector accounts for nearly 37 percent to 46 percent of the nation's GNP (Frow, 1993).

As a result of these structural shifts and the rise of the postindustrial economy, the traditional two-class demarcation based on an economy predicated on the manufacture of material goods and services has increasingly lacked explanatory power in the economic, political, and cultural realms. Consequently, in keeping with the emergence of a new means of production, theorists have modified the traditional two-class structure with the addition of a relatively privileged third class, which more adequately captures current societal dynamics. In contrast to the Marxist working and middle classes, which are engaged in the production of material goods, the "new class" is engaged in the production of what Berger (1986) referred to as "symbolic knowledge," the words, symbols, images, concepts, and data manufactured by professionals. More specifically, the knowledge class comprises professionals who derive their livelihood from the construction, distribution, application, and administration of symbolic knowledge in fie lds such as academia, media, counseling, and the government regulatory sector (Hunter, 1980).

In keeping with classical Marxian tenets, "new-class" status is understood to engender a specific value-based worldview that differs from the worldviews affirmed by the working and middle classes (Gouldner, 1979). The "new class's" political and moral values are shaped by members' economic self-interests and the means of production. These two factors foster the adoption of a discrete worldview composed of what are commonly referred to as left-wing, or liberal, political, and moral values that serve to advance the knowledge class's interests against the competing interests of other classes. …

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