In 2016, the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare put forth Grand Challenges for the Social Work Profession in the United States of America. Grand challenges strove to organize the diverse efforts of social work researchers and practitioners towards solving persistent social inequities and steadfast social problems. The Grand Challenges simultaneously layout a theoretical pathway toward enhancing human well-being, meeting basic human needs, and addressing oppression in American society – essentially achieving social justice as outlined in the preamble to the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers. Social justice is a vital aspect of underlying both Grand Challenges for the Social Work Profession in the United States of America and the ethics of the profession. The aim of this study is to analyze the science of social justice in peer-reviewed journals using bibliometric methods.
To analyze the science of social justice, the keywords social justice, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism were used to collect scholarly publications in Web of Science. Web of science is the preeminent tool for conducting scientific analysis. Over 45,036 articles were identified and became the dataset for the analysis. Social work scholarship represented 5.4% of the articles in the dataset. Bibliometrix in R was used to conduct cluster analyses the keywords, author networks, authorship, and cited references to produce themes and further analysis. Highly cited abstracts were then subject to abductive qualitative analysis to complement that cluster analysis.
Social work lags many other disciplines in its scientific focus on social justice. Four quadrants of analysis are evident in the literature. Moreover, much of the research on social justice lacks the systems perspective espoused by the discipline, fewer studies examine sexual and gender identity groups, and the examination of many ethnic minority groups is also lacking. Qualitative analysis of key concepts in the abstracts indicates a variety and sometimes conflicting conceptualization of social justice, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism, which inhibits the science of social justice.
Conclusions and implications:
The Social Work profession must move forward its science of social justice. Social workers must change how they engage in the science of social justice to intervene into persistent social inequities and steadfast social problems – essentially the goals of the Grand Challenges for the Social Work profession. SSWR, for example, can begin by adding social justice as a cluster area in the annual conference. A re-examining of social justice, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism, from a social work perspective as well as a clear tie to mechanisms for behavior change is necessary for the science and profession to move forward. Future generations of DSWs and PhDs can benefit from expanding research methods to include concept analysis and development, bibliometrics, and field trials to move theoretical, exploratory, or observational studies towards evidence-informed interventions.