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Transforming the “Working Definition of Social Work” into the 21st Century

 
R. Ramsay
Draft of Paper
Published as:
Transforming the “Working Definition of Social Work” into the 21st Century.
Research and Social Work Practice, 13(3), 324-338, 2003.

Katherine Kendall, honorary president of the International Association of Schools of Social Work, connects the professional beginnings of social work with Octavia Hall in the United Kingdom and the founding of the first Charity Organization Society (COS) in 1869 (Kendall, 2000). By the early part of the twentieth century, Charles Loch, who for almost forty years had served as “secretary and guiding spirit of the COS” (p. 32), saw the need to develop a more disciplined approach to social work’s “spirit of philanthropy” (p. 38) foundations and “looked to science to help direct it more effectively” (p. 38). Adding science from his perspective would help the profession articulate a definite social purpose, recognize common principles, adopt a common method, appreciate the importance of self-discipline and introduce higher education training. Almost one hundred years after its professional beginnings, Harriet Bartlett, who had earlier chaired the committee responsible for the NASW Working Definition (NASW,1958), was concerned that the profession had yet to articulate “adequate words, terms, concepts to represent the important facets and components of the profession’s practice as a whole” (Bartlett, 1970: 46).

As one of ten presenters at the 2001 Kentucky Conference1 on Reworking the Working Definition, I argued there was insufficient information in the original Working Definition (WD) statement to appreciate why the five components (Value, Purpose, Sanction, Knowledge and Method) were selected and articulated as they were (Ramsay, 2001). Also the Working Definition statement did not show or describe how, as it claimed, the five components could be networked into an interconnected constellation depicting the whole of social work practice. The statement suggests the possibility that two quite different ontological views of “what reality is” had been used to underpin the development of the Working Definition. The Purpose component, referred to “disequilibrium” (NASW, 1958: 6) as an obstacle to self-realization, suggesting that its content would fit with the mechanical and orderly worldview of modern science that was dominant between the 16th and 20th centuries. The statement “knowledge of man is never final or absolute” (p. 7) in the Knowledge component suggested a fit with the beginnings of postmodern science discoveries in the early decades of the 20th century that were to pave the way for an organic and complexity worldview of human social functioning to emerge. From these conflicting content observations, I concluded that important ontological issues may not have been sufficiently discussed in the lead up to the published statement.

The Kentucky paper discussed how the tenets of a mid-century conceptual framework, articulated by Bartlett (1970) as a three component (triangular) “common base of social work,” could be transformed to a four-component (tetrahedral) “common whole of social work” framework. I concluded with a list of traditional issues based on my presentation, my responder’s paper (Evans, 2001) and papers of other core presenters (Albers, 2001; Greene, 2001; Weick, 2001; Wakefield, 2001). In this article these issues are compared with a list of transformational concepts which need to underpin a reworked definition statement that would bring it line with and complementary to a comprehensive common whole conception of social work. The adoption of these concepts should also lead to a reworked definition statement that will complement the recently updated International Definition of Social Work (IFSW, 2000) that was approved by the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) in 2000 and endorsed by the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) in 2001 (Appendix I). The objective of this article is to further the critical discourse on words, terms, and concepts to represent the whole of social work in a definition statement. As the 21st century unfolds we are reminded that this discourse began as far back as the Milford Conferences in the third decade of the last century. These meetings on the common method of social casework were followed by several milestone meetings, including NASW meetings culminating in the Working Definition, and two Conceptual Framework Meetings, one in 1976 in Madison, Wisconsin (NASW, 1977) and the other in 1979 at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport (NASW, 1981).  Continued discourses of this kind were minimal until their rejuvenation at the Kentucky Conference in 2001. The lists are presented in Table 1 and discussed in the body of the article.
 
 

Table 1: Working Definition: Traditional to Transformational Concepts/Foundations

Traditional Concepts

Transformational Concepts

Individual 
Individual-Collective
Divided whole worldview
Undivided whole worldview
Equilibrium functioning
Far-From-Equilibrium functioning
Self-determination
Codetermination/Self-organization 
Linear causes
Non-linear patterns
Dichotomous opposites 
Complementarity principle
Dual purpose
Unifying purpose 
Person-in-environment (PIE) domain
Person-environment-network (PEN) domain
Entity-centered change focus
Relationship-centered change focus
No common organizing framework
Common organizing framework
Common base of social work
Common whole of social work


 

Individual – Collective Primacy

The Value component in the Working Definition identifies the individual as the “primary concern of this society” (p. 5). Since there is no qualifier in the Working Definition statement it is assumed that “society” meant society in a global sense. This would imply that all social workers in the world have a common value base that is individual-centered. Interdependence between individuals was acknowledged, but there was no hint that interdependence should be the primary concern of society that would give the profession a common relationship-centered value. Instead, individuals were seen to be “essentially unique and different from others”(p. 5) and society had an obligation to help individuals overcome or prevent obstacles that got in the way of this (unique and different) “self-realization”(p. 6). Apart from being a value that is not universal across all subsets of global society, having a primary concern for the individual does not acknowledge the deep and reciprocal interconnectedness between “individual freedom and collective need” (Briggs and Peat, 1989: 165). This suggests that social work should transform its primary concern from the individual to the individual-collective unit. Complexity sciences have discovered the cosmic nature of coevolution “where both large and small scales emerge as aspects of one totally interconnected system” (p.164). The significance of this for social work is the awareness that the more we give primacy to the individual, the more we have to pay attention to the individual and his/her relationship to the environment (i.e. the collective). Lynn Margulis, who was an early proponent of deep interconnectedness with her controversial, but now accepted, theory of symbiosis continues to support the growing awareness that “all life is directly or indirectly connected with all other life” (Margulis and Sagan, 1997:xxii). This challenge to our view of individuality as an independent entity and fundamental reality continues to open the door for social work to understand individuality at its roots to be “a cooperative venture” taking us to a new kind of holism that “will resolve the apparent conflict between individual freedom and collective need” (Briggs and Peat:165).
 

Divided - Undivided Whole Worldviews

An extension of the Working Definition value that each individual is “essentially unique and different from others” (NASW: p. 5) is the worldview that all entities exist independently in space and time. This view is deeply rooted in modern science and the assumption of clockwork Universe. It provided the foundation for the science of objectivity, known as positivism and empiricism, that “requires an absolute separation between the observing subject and the observed object” (Frattaroli, 2001: 168). The Medical Model that social workers are fond of criticizing is grounded to this view, yet there is much about social work that is guided by the same divided whole worldview. This identification with a divided worldview is quite understandable knowing that the context of its beginnings was rooted to the Cartesian paradigm and its mechanistic metaphor as the exemplar for discovering truth. Truth proof (often described as a known reality) was equated only with the observable and measurable. David Bohm’s work on wholeness provides an understanding of just how pervasive the divided whole view has been in the Western world (Bohm, 1983). Beginning with the atomic theory of Democritus over two thousand years ago, this view was gradually transformed to mean “the whole of reality is actually constituted of nothing but ‘atomic building blocks’, all working together more or less mechanically" (p. 8). From this came the notion that a whole could be analyzed and understood as the additive sum of its separate parts, scientifically known as reductionism; "the whole weight of science was eventually put behind this analytical and fragmentary approach to reality" (p.9). The divided whole view fostered the widespread practice of dividing the arts, sciences, professions, and most other forms of human work into specialties, each considered separate and different from the others. Fragmentation reflected the way society in general had developed by being  "broken up into separate nations and different religious, political, economic, racial groups" (p. 1). The fragmentary view also reflected the way individuals were divided into separate parts based on different aims, ambitions, loyalties, and so on. These often-conflicting divisions and judgmental categorizations made it easy for some groups to actively exploit others. The legacy of this view is still prevalent, witnessed by widespread and exclusionary distinctions between people (race, nation, family, profession, and so on) that often precludes members of these groups from working together for the common good. The problem associated with the divided whole view is not so much the worldview itself but the pervasive domination that it has acquired regarding our understandings of what is reality. Dividing is convenient and useful in practical, technical and functional activities. It is problematic when it becomes the dominant worldview, making reality appear to consist of separately existent fragments that are described as if they are dichotomous opposites. Bohm’s concept of “undivided wholeness” reflecting a deeply interconnected Universe represents the kind of worldview transformation that social work needs to make if it wants a re-worked definition free from a fragmentary and dichotomous opposites notion of reality. Transforming to this worldview would help the profession adopt a “synergetic” perspective, known as an “exploratory approach of starting with the whole, based on a generalized principle of synergy that the behaviors of whole systems are unpredicted by the behavior of their parts taken separately” (Fuller, 1975: 13).
 

Equilibrium - Far-From-Equilibrium Functioning

The Working Definition is explicit about disequilibrium as an undesirable social functioning state and its unstated corollary that equilibrium is the desired state. The Purpose component states that the purpose of social work is to “identify and resolve or minimize problems arising out of disequilibrium between themselves and their environment” and to “identify potential areas of disequilibrium... to prevent the occurrence of disequilibrium” (p. 6). The idea of balance and stability as the desired marker of healthy social functioning is rooted to a mechanical worldview that sees novelty, robustness, flexibility, and loss of control as something to be avoided. Maintaining this view of equilibrium will trap social work into a continued way of thinking about living systems that was refuted by postmodern science at the turn of the 20th century. Even though a new understanding of equilibrium dynamics was known at the time of the Working Definition, a full appreciation of this knowledge has only become apparent in the past forty years with advances in chaos theory and other complexity sciences. Margaret Wheatley from the aspect of leadership and new science provides a good sense of how equilibrium should be understood in social work: “Equilibrium is neither the goal nor the fate of living systems, simply because as open systems they are partners with their environment” (Wheatley, 1999: 78). Much of this new understanding of equilibrium dynamics comes from the Nobel laureate Ilya Prigogine and his discoveries of how “chaos gives birth to order” (Briggs and Peat, 1989: 134-135). Prigogine discovered that far-from-equilibrium states best represent the conditions of health and well being. Near and close-to-equilibrium states are obstacles to self-realization in the Working Definition sense or to self-organization in a complexity science sense. Self-organization within a far-from-equilibrium context shows that “systems don’t just breakdown, new systems emerge” (p. 136). Transforming to this understanding of equilibrium dynamics will allow the development of a Working Definition that recognizes the constant of change in healthy systems so that they can actively exchange with their environments, “using what is there for their own renewal” (Wheatley, 1999: 78).
 

Self-determination - Codetermination/self-organization

Although self-determination is not specifically addressed in the Working Definition, it is a longstanding instrumental value of the profession that is grounded to the core value of the individual being the primary concern of society. With little or no critical reflection social workers are generally outspoken advocates of the right of individuals to “express their own opinions and to act upon them . . .” (Zastrow, 1999: 40). Client self-determination is said to flow from the logic of the profession’s primary value and belief in the inherent dignity of each individual. The logic of self-determination also comes from the mechanical worldview that all things/individuals exist independently in space and time. This would support the literal interpretation of an individual’s independent right to express an opinion and to act upon it, irrespective of how it might harm or benefit others. However the literal interpretation of self-determination is seldom if ever the complete explanation of the principle. The rest of the explanation is usually something along the line of  “. . . as long as by doing so clients do not infringe on the rights of others” (p. 40) or something like “they should be permitted to determine their own lifestyles as far as possible” (p. 40). These caveats also signal that social work does not stand as firmly on the self-determination value as it has claimed for more than a century. The acknowledgment of interconnectedness with others is inherent in the way we qualify our belief in absolute self-determination. However, even in the use of qualifying caveats we are still inclined to support the notion that the facilitation of self-determination leads to desired social functioning states of “self-sufficiency” and “self-reliance.” A divided whole worldview grounded to an assumption of independent entities and the promotion of independence is difficult to purge even with the principle that “social work is a cooperative endeavor between clients and workers (client participation)” (p. 40). The challenge is made no less difficult with a Method component emphasis in the Working Definition that says “the practitioner facilitates interaction between the individual and his social environment with a continuing awareness of the reciprocal effects of one upon the other” (NASW: 8). Any effort to transform self-determination to a concept that reflects the reciprocal effects between self and other(s) must involve a worldview transformation as well – divided whole to undivided whole and the assumption of interdependence between all entities. My “quick fix” to the self-determination dilemma is to replace “self” with the prefix “co” to make it codetermination. By adopting the term codetermination as one of its core instrumental values, social work would have to shift its primary concern from the individual to the interdependence of individuals in society. This in turn would allow the profession to embrace the importance of individuals being able to make their own choices and decisions with full awareness of this same right for others so that both behave in ways that won’t infringe on the rights of the other. The profession could go further with a more advanced understanding of the evolutionary process that would see the almost sacred instrumental value of self-determination replaced with a new value of self-organization or self-making as these concepts are understood from the work of Maturana and Varela and their concept of “autopoiesis” (Capra, 1996: 97). “Auto” means “self” referring to the autonomy of self-organizing systems and “poiesis” means “making” referring to the continual making of new relationships within an interactive network. Transformation to the self-organizing concept would evolve the profession to the inherent nature of nonlinear interconnectedness of all components in social systems. Social workers would be able to actively facilitate self-organizing emergence in the direction of far from equilibrium social functioning and advocate for individuals and the societies they live in to jointly assume their collective responsibilities to all citizens.
 

Linear causes – Nonlinear patterns

Social work has had a long and uneasy affiliation with linear cause-and-effect methods. These methods are generally associated with positivist and empiricist science and an emphasis on using evidence-based research to guide our understanding of human development and social dynamics, and implementation of practice interventions. Linear relationships are usually assumed to be proportional between cause and effect. For example, minimal/large study input will result in minimal/large passing grades. Huge efforts by a social worker will result in huge improvements in social functioning and so on. The Working Definition was not aligned with this understanding of cause-and-effect. The Knowledge component section states “knowledge of man is never final or absolute . . . and [a social worker] is aware and ready to deal with the spontaneous and unpredictable in human behavior” (NASW: 7). This suggests an alignment with postmodern science and a need for social workers to be guided by nonlinear pattern dynamics where “a small change in one variable can have a disproportional, even catastrophic impact on other variables” (Briggs and Peat: 24).
 

Dichotomous opposites – Complementarity principle

It is noteworthy that the Working Definition developers did not evolve the Method component statement from a dual purpose/focus perspective, which was common in social work during the first half of the 20th century. Although the concept of method was defined in a footnote as “an orderly systematic mode or procedure” (p.8), social work method was more elaborately defined as a social worker’s conscious use of self in relationship with others to facilitate interaction(s) and change with their social environment(s). Change in this facilitated process had three dimensions: “within the individual in relation to his social environment, of the social environment in its effect upon the individual, and of both the individual and the social environment in their interaction”(p.8). Had this component been grounded to the dual focus perspective, the statement would have focused on facilitating change to the person or the environment and compatible with the divided whole view, which is grounded to a binary, dichotomous opposites (either-or) view of reality. It would also have reflected a world view that the three-dimensional nature of the space we occupy is objectively separated from the observer that occupies a place in the same space. Such a view would also have directed social workers to accept that scientific observers can objectively measure, compare, control and ultimately understand everything according to mathematical laws without observer interference or bias. These views are generally associated with Rene Descartes’ mechanistic "truth" of mind-body separation in which skepticism concerning everything but the objective observers applied. The legacy of this dichotomous opposite perspective is evident in social work from its earliest conflicts between “settlement” work and “social” work (Kendall, 2000). A closer look at the Method component suggests the developers either explicitly or intuitively understood Neils Bohr’s Principle of Complementarity (Bohr, 1963), and wrote the component to help social work shift from the dichotomous opposite bias of a binary approach to a perspective that embraces the interactive complementarity of opposites. In essence, Bohr’s principle states “every scientific observation is really a participant-observation – an interaction between the observer and the observed that changes the state of the observed in the very act of observing it” (Frattaroli, 2001: 146). Fuller brought the intellectual understanding of the complementarity principle to a practical level (Applewhite, 1977). Since we know that what is observed (three-dimensional space) cannot be independent of the observer, the observer represents an additional dimension making all observed realities minimally four-dimensional and always influenced by the observer.

Frattaroli refers to another aspect of Bohr’s Principle that “science has precisely two particular ways of looking – analytical and synthetic – that produce two very different types of [four-dimensional] observation” (Frattaroli: 152). The analytical observer divides problems into their constituent parts to provide understanding of their discrete contributions to the whole problem. The synthetic observer recognizes complex interactive patterns of constituent parts with the whole to always be greater than the sum of the behaviors of its parts. These apparently mutually exclusive views however are complementary and coexist. Thus Bohr’s principle permits a better understanding of the misleading messages embedded in declarations that social work has a dual purpose or dual focus, or in statements that describe dichotomous methods, such as micro and macro, to be mutually exclusive and separate from each other in their applications.
 

Dual purpose – Unifying purpose

At the turn of the twentieth century social work had a dual-purpose identity calling for specialized attention to social reform and the provision of personal social services. The complementarity of these dual specializations as suggested by Bohr’s discovery was never fully explored in the context of social work’s person-in-environment domain of practice. Instead the assumed mutual exclusivity nature of these dichotomous methods led to the establishment of separated specializations that dominated most of the twentieth century. Although it is refreshing that the Purpose component is silent on the dual-purpose question (suggesting that the developers had moved beyond the legacy of Cartesian dualities), this silence did little to advance the unified nature of social work purpose. Had the developers been aware of plurality of oneness, a minimum of two (Fuller, 1975), they could have articulated the unified purpose of social work as two complementarity elements: one addressing social reform and the other the need for personal social services.
 

Person-in-environment – Person-environment-network domains

Although the Working Definition does not address the general domain of social work, American pioneers such as Mary Richmond and Jane Addams were advocates of a person-environment interface context for social work and also experienced conflicts over the priority target of intervention: person or environment. I credit Harriet Bartlett (1970) in her now classic Common Base of Social Work for the clearest declaration of social work’s domain of practice in which three key concepts (Person-Interaction-Environment) were configured into the widely known phrase – person-in-environment (PIE). The central focus of social work practice was the interaction between person-environment situations but she did not declare the uniqueness of social work to be this relationship-centered focus. The simplicity of the triangular PIE constellation understates the number and complexity of the dynamics involved in social functioning. If this construct were critically examined within the context of postmodern science, social workers would discover that networks and relationship patterns provide a more holistic description of social functioning. With this in mind, it may therefore be of great value for social workers to critically explore a new construct using the concepts of Person-Environments-Networks (PEN). The PEN domain as a four-dimensional converging and diverging system would provide a holistic context to depict the complementarity of entity-centered and relationship-centered activities in social work.
 

Entity-centered – Relationship-centered focus

The mechanical worldview contributed a “building block” approach to social functioning consisting of discrete entities. Everything therefore became “something-centered” and social work followed the trend as revealed by entity-centered methods: client-centered (Rogers, 1951); task-centered (Reid & Epstein, 1977); family-centered (Hartman and Laird, 1983); people-centered (Cox, 1998) and so on. Yet the new science has found that there are no building blocks or discrete units; there are only relationships. Fuller (1975) conceptualized it nicely; the existence of self and otherness entities depends on their relationship to one another. Social work claims to be relationship-centered with its domain focus on interactions and a strong allegiance to coempowerment attributes of the professional-client relationship, but it is weak in having a clearly demonstrated model to implement this claim. With the aid of a holistic model, social workers can learn how to focus on the intangible (relationship-centered interactions) and work through the tangible (entity-centered person and environment targets). For social work to fully transform to a relationship-centered profession, however social workers would need to become more familiar with the relationship discoveries in quantum science and their links to four-dimensional system constellations. Instead of remaining tied to the entity-centered legacy of a mechanical 'building block" view, a new view will be fostered that is more akin to a web of "dancing relationships" between the constituent elements of a unified whole (Capra, 1996).
 

No common organizing framework – Common organizing framework

The Working Definition is not grounded to a common organizing framework, even though its five components could be displayed or described holistically as a “pentahedral” constellation. The Working Definition highlights the entity nature of each component in keeping with the building block view of the world. The proposed geometrical thinking framework (Fuller, 1975) therefore offers social work the potential of a common organizing framework. It is based on discoveries that whole systems in nature are tetrahedral in dimensionality, and anything less than tetrahedral is not whole (does not have insideness and outsideness). That is, a minimum whole system framework is a constellation of four entities interconnected by six relationships representing nature's minimum "set of elements standing in interaction" that constitutes a whole system. A tetrahedral system provides a geometric way of thinking in which the basic properties of the system are invariant (do not change) when undergoing transformations. Users of this system can be taught to recognize, quantify, qualify and evaluate any discrepancies in the elements and interrelationships of a system. It must also be recognized that Fuller was able to produce geometric artifacts of the quantum discovery that there are no solids or "basic building blocks", only energy events and relationships. All energy events regardless of physical embodiment or entity identification are held together by sets of interconnected relationships. As a result of these observations, Fuller was convinced that solving humanities complex problems required that the emphasis had to be on relationships. The relationship-centered and unfolding complexity nature of a minimum whole system therefore offers social work the basis for a common organizing framework that is invariant to the influences or articulations of political variances, academic fashions and multiple theoretical perspectives.
 

Common base of social work – Common whole of social work

Bartlett (1970) developed the common base of social work to “house” the Working Definition. She identified a two-dimensional base of three components: a central focus on social functioning; a broad orientation to people being served, directly or indirectly; and a repertoire of professional interventions. She described the importance of professional use of self in practice but didn’t give it the status of a core component. By recognizing the professional use of self as a core component, the common whole of social work begins to take shape. Using a minimum whole system constellation as a common organizing framework, four proposed common components can be articulated: 1) domain of practice; 2) paradigm of the profession; 3) domain of social worker; and 4) methods of practice (Ramsay, 2001). Domain of Practice includes the social functioning focus generally described as social work’s person-in-environments area of practice. Paradigm of the Profession includes Bartlett’s broad orientation toward people being served and identifies social work as a community of like-minded people with a shared understanding of the profession and how it is practiced. Domain of Social Worker includes the social worker’s own person-in-environment system and its impact on their practice of social work. Methods of Practice identifies the professional interventions and particular modalities of practice that are informed by multiple theoretical perspectives and “evidence-based” knowledge. This constellation of interconnected components transforms Bartlett’s common base conception to the four-dimensional conception of the common whole of social work that can be unfolded to the represent the world round cultural complexity and diversity of social work.
 Transforming the Working Definition to be complementary with a new comprehensive and common conceptual framework will therefore be a giant step toward the fulfillment of Bartlett’s dream. She had hoped that graduates would one day leave schools of social work with “an initial grasp of social work’s full scope and content” (Bartlett: 83).


1. The Kentucky Conference was the first of three conferences on social work practice and education organized by a consortium of Deans at the universities of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia Commonwealth. The others to be held in 2002 and 2003 will discuss follow up issues related to the design of graduate and undergraduate curricula and the content for doctoral education respectively. They are the first meetings in the 21st century that follow in the footsteps of meetings held during the 20th century beginning with the Milford Conferences in the 1920s.
 

References

Albers, D. (2001). Why definitions are important: Reclaiming social work. Paper presented to “Reworking the Working Definition,” The Kentucky Conference on Social Work Practice and Education, Lexington, Kentucky, February 8-10, 2001.
Applewhite, E. (1977). Cosmic Fishing: An Account of writing Synergetics with Buckminster Fuller, New York: MacMillan.
Bartlett, H. (1970). Common Base of Social Work Practice.  New York: NASW.
Bohm, D. (1983). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Ark Paperbacks.
Bohr, N. (1963). Essays 1958-1962 on Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge. New York: Wiley and Sons
Briggs, J., & Peat, D. (1989). Turbulent Mirror: An Illustrated Guide to Chaos Theory and the Science of Wholeness. New York: Harper and Row.
Capra, F. (1996). The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems. New York: Anchor Books.
Cox, D. (1998). Toward People-Centered Development: The Social Development Agenda and Social Work Education, Indian Journal of Social Work, 59(1), 513-530.
Evans, T. (2001) The time is right for a conceptual framework: A Response. Paper presented to “Reworking the Working Definition,” The Kentucky Conference on Social Work Practice and Education, Lexington, Kentucky, February 8-10, 2001.
Fratarolli, E. (2001). Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain: Becoming conscious in and unconscious world. New York: Viking Penquin.
Fuller, R. B. in collaboration with E.J. Applewhite (1975). Synergetics: Explorations in the Geometry of Thinking. New York: Collier Books, Mac Millan Publishing Company.
Greene, R. (2001). Redefining social work for the new millennium. Paper presented to “Reworking the Working Definition,” The Kentucky Conference on Social Work Practice and Education, Lexington, Kentucky, February 8-10, 2001.
Hartman, A., & Laird, J. (1983). Family-centered Social Work Practice. New York: Free Press.
IFSW (2000). International Federation of Social Workers Definition of Social Work. Berne: International Federation of Social Workers.
Kendall, K. (2000). Social Work Education: Its origins in Europe. Alexandria, VA: Council of Social Work Education.
Margulis, L. and Sagan, D. (1997). Slanted Truths: Essays on Gaia, symbiosis, and evolution. New York: Copernicus, Springer-Verlag
NASW, (1958). “Working Definition of Social Work Practice” in Toward clarification and improvement of social work practice. Social Work 3(2), 5-9.
NASW, (1977). Special Issue on Conceptual Frameworks. Social Work 22(5).
NASW (1981). Conceptual frameworks II: Second special issue on conceptual frameworks. Social Work (26) 1.
Ramsay, R. (2001). Revisiting the Working Definition. Paper presented to “Reworking the Working Definition,” The Kentucky Conference on Social Work Practice and Education, Lexington, Kentucky, February 8-10, 2001.
Reid, W. and Epstein, L. (1977). Task-centeredCasework. New York: Columbia University Press.
Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Weick, A. (2001). Essential social work. Paper presented to “Reworking the Working Definition,” The Kentucky Conference on Social Work Practice and Education, Lexington, Kentucky, February 8-10, 2001.
Wakefield, J. (2001). Social work as the pursuit of minimal distributive justice. Paper presented to “Reworking the Working Definition,” The Kentucky Conference on Social Work Practice and Education, Lexington, Kentucky, February 8-10, 2001.
Wheatley, M. (1999). Leadership and new science :Finding order in a chaotic world. Wiliston, VT: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Zastrow, C. (1999). The Practice of Social Work (6th edition). Pacific Grove: Brooks/Cole.
 

Appendix 1

International Federation of Social Workers Definition of Social Work
 

DEFINITION *

The social work profession promotes social change, problem solving in human relationships and the empowerment and liberation of people to enhance well-being. Utilising theories of human behaviour and social systems, social work intervenes at the points where people interact with their environments. Principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to social work.
 

COMMENTARY
Social work in its various forms addresses the multiple, complex transactions between people and their environments. Its mission is to enable all people to develop their full potential, enrich their lives, and prevent dysfunction. Professional social work is focused on problem solving and change. As such, social workers are change agents in society and in the lives of the individuals, families and communities they serve. Social work is an interrelated system of values, theory and practice.
Values
Social work grew out of humanitarian and democratic ideals, and its values are based on respect for the equality, worth, and dignity of all people. Since its beginnings over a century ago, social work practice has focused on meeting human needs and developing human potential. Human rights and social justice serve as the motivation and justification for social work action. In solidarity with those who are dis-advantaged, the profession strives to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion. Social work values are embodied in the profession’s national and international codes of ethics.
 

Theory

Social work bases its methodology on a systematic body of evidence-based knowledge derived from research and practice evaluation, including local and indigenous knowledge specific to its context. It recognises the complexity of interactions between human beings and their environment, and the capacity of people both to be affected by and to alter the multiple influences upon them including bio-psychosocial factors. The social work profession draws on theories of human development and behaviour and social systems to analyse complex situations and to facilitate individual, organisational, social and cultural changes.
 

Practice

Social work addresses the barriers, inequities and injustices that exist in society. It responds to crises and emergencies as well as to everyday personal and social problems. Social work utilises a variety of skills, techniques, and activities consistent with its holistic focus on persons and their environments. Social work interventions range from primarily person-focused psychosocial processes to involvement in social policy, planning and development. These include counselling, clinical social work, group work, social pedagogical work, and family treatment and therapy as well as efforts to help people obtain services and resources in the community. Interventions also include agency administration, community organisation and engaging in social and political action to impact social policy and economic development. The holistic focus of social work is universal, but the priorities of social work practice will vary from country to country and from time to time depending on cultural, historical, and socio-economic conditions.

* This international definition of the social work profession replaces the IFSW definition adopted in 1982. It is understood that social work in the 21st century is dynamic and evolving, and therefore no definition should be regarded as exhaustive.

Adopted by the IFSW General Meeting in Montréal, Canada, July 2000 and endorsed by theInternational Association of Schools of Social Work in 2001

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