Since the 19th century, social movements have provided U.S. social work with its intellectual and theoretical foundations and and furnished many of its leaders. Social workers were among the founders of the Progressive movement and have played important roles in the labor, feminist, civil rights, welfare rights, and peace movements for over a century. More recently, social workers have been active in New Social Movements (NSMs), that have focused on issues of identity, self-esteem, critical consciousness, and human rights, and in transnational movements, such as the Occupy movement, which have emerged in response to the consequences of economic globalization, environmental degradation, and major population shifts, including mass immigration.
Kirk A. Foster and Victoria A. Charles
Social networks are structures composed of relational patterns of interactions among a set of actors. These actors may be individuals, families, groups, or organizations connected through expressed ties that allow information and resources to flow through the network. Considering a social network approach in research and practice shifts the focus from the attributes of actors within the network to the relations between them. In understanding how the relational ties influence issues of concern, we may better understand phenomena and devise targeted interventions effectively and efficiently. In this article we discuss the types of social networks, provide an overview of social network analysis, use social capital to contextualize the effects of networks, and provide implications of social networks for social work research and practice.
Jon Simon Sager
Social planning emphasizes the application of rational problem-solving techniques and data-driven approaches to identify, determine, and help coordinate services for target populations. Social planning is carried out by a myriad of organizations—from federal agencies to community organizations—attempting to solve problems ranging from child welfare to aging. The advantages and disadvantages of this empirically objective data-driven approach, including different forms, will be discussed along with past, current, and future trends within the field of social work.
Sandra K. Danziger and Karen M. Staller
Societies greatly vary in how social ills or conditions are framed and addressed. What is socially problematic and why specific societal responses are developed depends on competing social values in social, political, and historic context. Social constructionists examine how some social behaviors and conditions come to be publicly viewed as social problems and how these views shape policy and practice. Recent studies document two contemporary trends—the medicalizing and criminalizing of behavior for labeling problems and subjecting them to institutions of social control. Analyses of the social problems process (Best, 2013; Staller, 2009) allow social workers to consider how power, politics, fears, prejudices, and values “create” what is problematic about a variety of social conditions.
Elizabeth D. Hutchison
This entry provides a brief history of social work's changing knowledge base about human behavior and identifies the current knowledge base as multidimensional, multispherical, multicultural, multidirectional, multidisciplinary, and multitheoretical. It provides an overview of eight broad theoretical perspectives currently used in social work: systems, conflict, rational choice, social constructionist, psychodynamic, developmental, social behavioral, and humanistic perspectives. Each perspective is analyzed in terms of its central ideas, practice implications, and empirical evidence. The entry ends with a brief discussion of trends and directions.
This essay broadly examines theory, practice, and the role of theory in practice. Theory has an abstract and philosophical side and a concrete, empirical, or practice side. Theories need practitioners to activate their power, which is to name the attributes, qualities, limits, and potentials of client and social work realities. No theory is so powerful it knows or explains everything, thus practitioners must use their in vivo perceptual skills to fit the best theory to the level of practice reality that confronts them. This essay broadly examines the role of theory in social work practice. To do so, one must answer three related questions: what is theory?, what is practice?, and, what is the role of theory in practice? In answering the first question, it is useful to examine the etymology of the word theory, identify its various meanings, and specify which meanings are relevant to a discussion of the role of theory in practice, and second, it is useful to understand the philosophical assumptions that inevitably influence the process of theory building and application.
David R. Hodge
This entry addresses the topic of spirituality in the social work profession, with an emphasis on the American context. Toward that end, the history of the relationship between the profession and spirituality is traced from the profession’s origins, through secularization, to the present reemergence of spirituality as a legitimate subject in social work discourse. The diverse ways in which spirituality and religion are conceptualized are reviewed along with rationales that are advanced to support the inclusion of spirituality in social work. The topics of spiritual assessment and intervention are discussed and guidelines for using spiritual interventions in practice settings are presented with a brief review of the research on spiritual interventions from an evidenced-based perspective. Some of the organizations that help support and nurture spirituality in social work are delineated. The entry concludes with a summary of proscriptions for advancing spirituality to the next stage in its professional development.
Sandra Edmonds Crewe and Julie Guyot-Diangone
This article provides an overview of the phenomenon of labeling and stigma. Research studies are used to illuminate the many ways devalued or discredited identities negatively affect the health and well-being of stigmatized groups and additionally burden the socially and economically marginalized. In addition to conveying an understanding of the social process by which a stigma is developed and the role that culture plays in defining and determining any given stigma, this article offers ways in which social work professionals may counter stigma through education/awareness campaigns and in routine client interactions. Anti-stigma work is presented from social justice and ethical perspectives. Stigma as a social construct is discussed, along with its link to discrimination and prejudice. The article helps to unpack the meaning of stigma, including descriptions of the various forms, levels, and dimensions it may take, affecting all spheres of life, including the social, psychological, spiritual, and physical.
Paula S. Nurius and Charles P. Hoy-Ellis
Evolving understandings of stress have literally transformed how we think about health as contextualized within complex and multilevel transactions between individuals and their environment. We present core concepts of stress through the lens of life-course and life-span perspectives, emphasizing appraisal-based and biobehavioral models of stress response systems. We describe theories of allostatic load, embodiment, epigenetics, weathering processes, and accelerated aging that operationalize mechanisms through which stress affects health and contributes to health disparities. In addition to social determinant and life-span developmental perspectives on stress and health, we emphasize the value of health-promotive factors that can serve to buffer stress effects. Social work has important roles in targeting health-erosive stress from “neurons to neighborhoods”.
M. J. Gilbert
In this entry, transgender is defined in the context of ethnomethodology and social construction of gender. A history of the role of transgender people in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights movement is presented, including tensions concerning the role of transgender people in this movement. Issues regarding social work practice related to transgender issues on the micro, mezzo, macro, and meta levels are discussed.