Session: Elevating Historical Research in Social Work: Grappling with Our Past to Inform a More Just Future (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

100 Elevating Historical Research in Social Work: Grappling with Our Past to Inform a More Just Future

Friday, January 14, 2022: 9:45 AM-11:15 AM
Mint, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
Cluster: Research on Social Work Education
Mimi Abramovitz, DSW, Hunter College, Laura Curran, PhD, Rutgers University, Justin Harty, MSW, University of Chicago, Stephan Tomczak, PhD, Southern Connecticut State University and Jessica Toft, PhD, LISW, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
The concurrent pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have unveiled longstanding historical problems of systemic racism, colonialism, xenophobia, sexism, police/state violence, and domestic terrorism, all threats to democracy. Historical research is often revived during tumultuous times because it tends to explicate events, intellectual traditions, political conflict, power structures and social change. This Social Welfare History Group (SWHG) roundtable opens a dialogue within the academy about the virtual, but rarely acknowledged, disappearance of history in social work research and education. One speaker (1) reviews the current status of historical research in social work, (2) two argue that including history is impractical, and (3) two others counter that history still matters in social work. It is argued that current epistemological trends in the academy make the study of history in social work impractical. Some suggest that because history spans social sciences and humanities historical research is not a science.In response social work conferences and journals often do not welcome historical research submissions. While never robust in social work, funding for historical research has withered while federal funding to analyze a narrow range of topics has grown. Further, faculty mentors caution doctoral students that conducting historical research may jeopardize funding, academic positions, tenure and promotions. Finally, CSWE EPAS make only passing reference to the profession's history and does not include an understanding or analysis of social work or welfare state history in its BSW/MSW competencies, reducing the need to train social welfare historians. Alternatively, others argued that current social events create an imperative for social work to include history. History is the major storehouse of information about how people and societies behave. It provides social work with critical data about values, problems, and institutional arrangements that determine the relationship between people and society--a relationship that social work is mandated to understand, mediate, and improve. Although historical knowledge helps social work reckon with its position, legitimacy, and accountability as well as inform our current and future work. we lack the needed faculty to carry out this endeavor. Current scholars of history have or will soon retire and are not being replaced, leaving PhD students without dissertation chairs or mentors and MSW and BSW programs without historically-trained faculty. Yet the demand for historical content in social work education and research is rising. The resurgence of social movements and a desire for a deeper understanding of structural inequality has reignited an interest among some social work faculty, emerging scholars, doctoral and other students in the history of the profession, the welfare state, and the past role of social work in relation to systemic injustices. In response to doctoral students' requests for support in historical research methods, the SWHG Doctoral Student Group was organized to provide mentorship from established social welfare historians. The SWHG also publishes bibliographies that place into historical context social work's relation to contemporary issues (e.g., pandemics and police violence). We hope this roundtable stimulates conversation and encourage social workers to reconsider the importance of history in social work research and education.
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