Sociological Social Work

  • Lena Dominelli


Arguments about the relevance of sociology to social work practitioners have been ongoing. These have focused on how far sociology could or should influence practice and the theories underpinning it. While its capacity to inform conceptual developments was cautiously welcomed, its potential to criticise and undermine existing practices and the privileged position of elites was feared. Back in the 1960s, Peter Leonard (1966) sought to introduce a sociological framework into the profession to dislodge its psychodynamic orientation. He argued that social work students have much to learn from sociological insights in examining a variety of questions about roles, status, power and organisational issues. These, he believed, would be immensely valuable in enabling students to acquire the intellectual skills needed to improve their practice and establish a sociologically based social work (Leonard, 1966). Heraud’s (1970, 1979, 1981) attempts to develop a comprehensive sociological account of social work alongside other caring professions has met with limited success. Peter Day (1981, 1987) followed suit but has similarly failed to capture the imagination of either sociologists or social workers. Others, for example, Sibeon (1991) and Davies (1991), have attempted to develop a ‘sociology of social work’. Martin Davies (1991) has tried to achieve this through an edited text. Although this book provides useful insights into practice, it creates neither the comprehensive intellectual backdrop necessary for promoting a ‘sociology of social work’, nor an analysis of practice which would make sociological thought attractive to busy practitioners. A contributor to Davies’ book, Roger Sibeon, tackles some of the theoretical issues which need to be addressed in a sociology of social work and has written a book on the subject (Sibeon, 1991). This also fails to provide a Comprettensive analysis of the ‘sociology of social work’ by neglecting the impact of social divisions in a profession dominated by gendered and racially stratified social relations.


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© Lena Dominelli 1997

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  • Lena Dominelli

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