Session: Historicizing Knowledge: Historical Perspectives On Social Work Research (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

67 Historicizing Knowledge: Historical Perspectives On Social Work Research

Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Symposium Organizer:

Laura Curran, PhD, Rutgers University

Laura Curran, PhD, Rutgers University
Friday, January 15, 2010: 2:30 PM-4:15 PM
Seacliff C (Hyatt Regency)
Background and Purpose

This symposium addresses the history of research within the social work profession. While a significant body of literature examines the origins and evolution of social work, little of this scholarship specifically focuses on the place of research within this larger professional history. Moreover, existing discussions generally couch the history of social work research within the context of a Progressive Era social engineering agenda or as related to social work's professional ambitions (Herman, 2009; Kunzel, 1993; Lubove, 1969). While these interpretations are not necessarily incorrect, they fail to investigate the broader confluence of factors that underscore the particular course of profession's research enterprise. Collectively, the papers in the symposium expand existing histories and, in doing so, address the following research questions:

1. How do multiple contextual influences, such as political, economic, and generational context, shifting beliefs about science and history, the individual biographies of prominent researchers, and professional alliances and aspirations, underscore the historical progression of questions, methods, and findings in social work research?

2. In turn, what does a historical perspective on research tell us about the unique challenges and possibilities of social work research and the evolving role of research within the profession?


Papers in this symposium rely on a traditional historical methods as well as the use of qualitative social scientific approaches. The incorporation of systematic qualitative analysis into historical research advances and reflects recent methodological developments in historically oriented social scientific research and in historical research more generally. The papers utilize a rich variety of primary data sources including archival materials, published papers and studies, and oral histories. The final paper in the symposium specifically addresses methodological issues in historical research, including study design, data selection and collection, questions related to validity and reliability, and data analysis.


The first paper in the symposium moves beyond traditional interpretations of Progressive Era research attention to community life and suggests that the intergenerational legacy of the civil war and its horrors underscored researchers' fascination with the notions of cooperation and community. Tracing the progression of social work from the Progressive Era onwards, the second paper finds correlations between researchers' view of history, understandings of evidence and the use of particular research methodologies. The third paper addresses the current state of historical inquiry in social work and provides a methodological framework for historically oriented social work research.

Conclusion and Implications

Papers in this symposium are not only relevant to historians of the profession but also have significant implications for researchers and educators. In revealing a host of factors beyond methodological advances that underscore the historical trajectory of social work research, the symposium fosters an appreciation of historical perspectives and encourages critical reflection among contemporary researchers about the historical forces influencing their questions, methods, and findings.

* noted as presenting author
The Past is in the Present: How Views of History Have Shaped Social Work Research
Michael Reisch, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
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