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Social Construction and Social Work Practice

Social Construction and Social Work Practice: Interpretations and Innovations

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Social Construction and Social Work Practice
    Book Description:

    Social construction addresses the cultural factors and social dynamics that give rise to and maintain values and beliefs. Drawing on postmodern philosophies and critical, social, and literary theories, social construction has become an important and influential framework for practice and research within social work and related fields. Embracing inclusivity and multiplicity, social construction provides a framework for knowledge and practice that is particularly congruent with social work values and aims.

    In this accessible collection, Stanley L Witkin showcases the innovative ways in which social construction may be understood and expressed in practice. He calls on experienced practitioner-scholars to share their personal accounts of interpreting and applying social constructionist ideas in different settings (such as child welfare agencies, schools, and the courts) and with diverse clientele (such as "resistant" adolescents, disadvantaged families, indigenous populations, teachers, children in protective custody, refugee youth, and adult perpetrators of sexual crimes against children). Eschewing the prescriptive stance of most theoretical frameworks, social construction can seem challenging for students and practitioners. This book responds with rich, illustrative descriptions of how social constructionist thinking has inspired practice approaches, illuminating the diversity and creative potential of practices that draw on social constructionist ideas.

    Writing in a direct, accessible style, contributors translate complex concepts into the language of daily encounter and care, and through a committed transnational focus they demonstrate the global reach and utility of their work. Chapters are provocative and thoughtful, reveal great suffering and courage, share inspiring stories of strength and renewal, and acknowledge the challenges of an approach that complicates evidence-based evaluations and requirements.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53030-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Dennis Saleebey

    Stanley Witkin, whose career path has led him from the ideological and methodological inclinations of positivism and modernism to the penchants of social constructionism, has put together a book that begins with that journey but quickly branches out into a rich and compelling accounting of what social constructionism means for social work theory, practice, and pedagogy. A central constructionist notion is that words, images, and ideas constitute the world for us; words do not reflect what is “real,” as modernists and positivists would have it. In that spirit, Witkin makes it clear at the outset that disparate theoretical and ideological...

  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  5. [1] Beginning the Journey
    (pp. 1-12)

    Humans cannot live alone. To envision human life is to envision relationships. Our beliefs and feelings, what we find pleasing or displeasing, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong, are all products of social relationships. This, in a nutshell, is the guiding principle of social construction. Since the mid-1980s, I have spent much time exploring, discussing, playing with, and trying to live in accord with social constructionist ideas and sensibilities. I have been fortunate to teach in a program in which social construction is a primary theme of the curriculum. This has given me relatively free reign to teach about and...

  6. [2] An Introduction to Social Constructions
    (pp. 13-37)

    Few intellectual movements in social work have generated as much controversy as social construction.¹ Some see it as a perilous trend inimical to the development of a more scientifically based social work (e.g., Reid, 2001), while others consider it a promising alternative to ways of thinking that have contributed to suffering and oppression (e.g., Parton and O’Byrne, 2000). Between these positions are many other views that take up social construction in various ways (e.g., Payne, 1999). This chapter attempts to provide an overview of some ideas commonly associated with social construction and their relevance for social work. I will show...

  7. 3 Honoring Client Perspectives Through Collaborative Practice: Shifting from Assessment to Collaborative Exploration
    (pp. 38-71)

    I begin this chapter with a confession: When I was a graduate student I disliked clinical theory. In fact, dislike may be too weak a word—I loathed clinical theory. I disagreed with clinical professors; I wrote papers counter to traditional clinical ideas; I found clinical theories objectionable in much the same gut-wrenching way that it is possible to dislike Brussels sprouts or liver (apologies to all those liver and Brussels sprouts lovers out there). I don’t mean gut-wrenching in the nervous way. I was never afraid of clinical theory—I mean gut-wrenching in the marginalized and discounted way. Whenever...

  8. 4 Becoming a Social Constructionist: From Freudian Beginnings to Narrative Ends
    (pp. 72-102)

    Little did I know when I chose “pre-social work” as an undergraduate major in college, that it would lead to my becoming a social constructionist and a teacher of narrative therapy. As a seventeen year old heading off to college from a city in the mid-western United States in 1955, the idea of a career of any kind was far from my mind. My friends and I, all from middle-class families, subscribed to the view that college was a place to find a husband. True to our cultural surround, we were not particularly concerned with discovering our life’s work. A...

  9. 5 The Car, the Rain, and Meaningful Conversation: Reflexivity and Practice
    (pp. 103-126)

    My introduction to social constructionism came early. I was born in Scotland and emigrated with my family to Australia when I was nine. Being transplanted in another country provided an early demonstration of how differently people perceived me and my culture—a beginning and, of course, unarticulated understanding of social construction. At school, for example, I was teased initially for being a “POM.” When I asked what this meant I was told “prisoner of mother England”; when I answered “I’m not English, I’m Scottish,” the teasing stopped immediately. For a nine-year-old this was primarily a relief, but it demonstrated to...

  10. 6 Thinking and Acting Constructively in Child Protection
    (pp. 127-153)

    My introduction to social constructionist ideas was very much theoretical and, primarily, sociological via my introduction to the book by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966) called The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. This came towards the end of my social work degree in 1973 when studying a course on social work organizations. One of the key texts was by David Silverman (1970), which provided a very demanding tour of different theoretical perspectives on organizations, in which he outlined an “action frame of reference” and which drew heavily on The Social Construction of Reality....

  11. [7] Mostly We Played with Whatever She Chose
    (pp. 154-187)

    The foyer of the former Catholic elementary school was totally deserted and eerily silent. The school had been converted to office space as private Catholic education became too expensive for immigrant families in the surrounding Chicago neighborhood. The absence of a receptionist or passing custodian seemed odd. I had recently left a business career where customers were never left alone to hunt for their destination. At the same time, there was something soothing about the total silence; silence that brought attention to the sunlight playing through stained glass windows and that bid its own voiceless welcome. As I started to...

  12. [8] Shedding Light on the Expert Witness Role in Child Welfare Work: The Value of Social Constructionism
    (pp. 188-210)

    Since my move from social work practice to social work education in the mid-1990s, I have retained a small practice base as an expert witness and independent social worker in public law child protection cases. These cases primarily involve care proceedings taken by the Irish authorities (often referred to as social services) under child welfare legislation in cases of child maltreatment but have also included assessments of relatives (as potential carers) of Irish children in care in the English system.

    In this chapter, I will describe my work in this role and how I have found a social constructionist perspective...

  13. [9] Family Therapy with a Larger Aim
    (pp. 211-239)

    After many years of working therapeutically with families, we have recently been developing some practices within our work that attempt to address larger social ills simultaneously with helping families change specific troubles that bring them to therapy (Rojano, 2004). Our family work has always been an integration of family therapy and social work; we regularly address basic needs (e.g., adequate housing, effective childcare, good nutrition, and supportive medical care) along with presenting problems, and now we are bringing what we call the larger societal discursive influences on families, that is, those scripts or messages about how one should conduct his/her...

  14. [10] Opening a Space for Hope in a Landscape of Despair: Trauma and Violence Work with Men Who Have Sexually Abused Minors
    (pp. 240-277)

    The concept of hope is not often evident in public or professional discourses on child sexual offenders—the language of pathology, evil, or risk management more often to the fore. If you consider the lives of the “residents” of Coalinga Mental Hospital in California,¹ you gain a sense of how little real hope darkens the door of this and other regimes of containment and treatment for men who have perpetrated child sexual offenses. Explanatory theories of child sexual offending offer the personality of the perpetrator or gendered relations of power and control as the main protagonists; medicolegal paradigms or the...

  15. [11] Narrative Supervision and Professional Development for School Teachers in Hong Kong
    (pp. 278-307)

    When Stanley Witkin sent out his invitation to prospective contributors of this book, he attached a special request—write something about yourself so that the readers would have a sense of who you are and where you come from. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “that is a reasonable request”—especially when this book is about social construction-informed practice. However, though the request was sensible, I had little idea how to pack a half century of me into less than five hundred words. This was my first challenge in writing this chapter. Fortunately, I love a challenge!

    I am the first...

  16. 12 When Woman-at-Risk Meets Youth-at-Risk: Engaging the Discursive Practices of the Nation-State
    (pp. 308-334)

    In this chapter, I share autoethnographic stories of my deepest struggles with social construction and weave them into a case illustration from my community practice. I especially highlight the inseparable interwovenness of the personal and the political, the individual and the collective, the ethnic and the national, the local and the global, the past and the future, the conscious and the unconscious.… I invite you to follow me through the surprising twists and turns as I peel away the notion of social construction layer by layer. Beware—I don’t define concepts! I simply tell you the stories of how I...

  17. Contributors
    (pp. 335-338)
  18. Index
    (pp. 339-354)