Social Work Contexts: Looking Beyond Our 'Environment'
Social work practice maintains a dual focus on the person and their environment and works to improve the ‘fit’ between the person and their environment. To understand and work at this nexus social work draws upon knowledge from a range of disciplines in the development of its own theories and models for intervention. Primary among these is knowledge and theory from the field of sociology. However, this has been predominantly based on the traditional sociological theorists such as Weber, Durkheim and Parsons and subsequent sociological understandings that have developed along these lines. In the 1970’s Catton and Dunlap argued that these ideas have been developed in a Human Exceptionalist Paradigm that sees humans as being central and superior to other living creatures. Instead they advocated for the development of theory in a New Environmental Paradigm that sees humans as one part of the broader ecological environment. Yet this argument has sat largely on the fringe of sociological discussions and went relatively un-noticed in the social work profession. This paper takes up the themes presented by Catton and Dunlap and explores the centrality and impact of this Human Exceptionalist position in social work practice. It is argued that this has had significant implications in terms of theory and model development which limit our understandings and ability to work in the current global context. The significance of disciplinary heritage, knowledge and overlap is emphasised and the importance of ongoing dialogue between disciplines in the social science field is highlighted.
Keywords: Social work, Environment, sociological paradigms
Dr. Deborah West
Senior Lecturer, Social Work and Welfare Studies, Charles Darwin University