Session: Advancing Ecological Systems Theory in Social Work Theory and Practice: Integrating History and Place into an Ecological Framework (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

13 Advancing Ecological Systems Theory in Social Work Theory and Practice: Integrating History and Place into an Ecological Framework

Thursday, January 12, 2023: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Valley of the Sun D, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
Cluster: Social Work Practice
Karen Staller, PhD, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Irene Routte, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Sunghyun Hong, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and Liz Harris, MSW, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Social Work practice has historically been anchored in Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Systems Theory (EST). This theoretical framing, arising out of developmental psychology, draws attention to how individuals' psychological and behavioral processes interact with systems of social environment, such as family, education, healthcare, and legal. Arguably social workers are facing increasingly complex environments which shape and inform clients' lived experiences. This has resulted in calls for anti-racist methods of practice as well as being sensitive to unprecedented human migration and dislocation. In both cases, the way history intersects with geographic space and place matter. Yet our theoretical frameworks have not kept pace with these demands. Despite original assumptions that systems do not occur in a vacuum, EST in social work often takes a static, rather than a dynamic view of the environment. Current EST fails in adequately addressing the influence of the chronosystem, the pattern of environmental events and transitions over a life course, as well as changing socio-historical circumstances and how they arise spatially. In failing to consider the influence of both history and place, we ignore possible avenues for advancing social work theory in innovative ways to advance our practice.

This round table will revisit social work's use of EST. We ask: how can we update the model, by actively incorporating conceptual frameworks of time and place? The workshop will feature three presentations, comments by a discussant, and active participation of attendees who will be invited to discuss social work's use of EST and consider its development moving forward. Specifically, the speakers will address: landscape and place attachment for refugee communities in south west Michigan; gentrification, displacement and avenues for resiliency for African American communities in the southside of Chicago; and trauma-informed care in healthcare and education systems. All three focus on expanding our understanding of EST by incorporating place and history. Additionally, each presenter is aligned with a different social science discipline; developmental psychology, sociocultural anthropology, and sociology. Thus, speakers will offer a variety of disciplinary, positionality, and epistemological perspectives. The discussant will identify common threads from the three papers and invite workshop participants into the conversation. Our aim is to challenge participants to conceptualize how place and critical history fit into EST and how such integration might benefit their own practice.

Ecological systems theory has long been used in social work. We have reached a moment where re-conceptualizing it will not only better meet the needs of the populations with whom we work, but where we could generate a more uniquely social work grounded theoretical framework, less reliant on its developmental psychological origins. This roundtable explores ideas of how to manage this re-conceptualization and urges participants to think about the ways this might benefit social work practice in the future.

See more of: Roundtables