In this essay, the authors consider the challenge made by two keynote speakers at recent social work research conferences, one in the United States and the other in Europe. Both spoke of a knowledge crisis in social work. Both John Brekke (Society for Social Work and Research) and Peter Sommerfeld (First Annual European Conference for Social Work Research) proposed some version of realism as a solution to the crisis. The authors will deepen the argument for realism, however, by discussing how a critical realistperspective allows us to rethink positivist and conventionalist assumptions about the fact/value relation. Using a critical realist philosophy of social science, the authors discuss how social work has taken up positivism and myriad forms of conventionalism and also identify how practical knowledge gradually loses its place and thus contribute to social work's ongoing knowledge crisis. The authors then offer a way of thinking about practice. The authors will consider forms of practice knowledge and propose that social work has four kinds that unfold in essentially open systems: discursive, visual, embodied, and liquid systems, and that each of these have both tacit and explicit dimensions. These forms of practice, moreover, are inevitably situated in theory-to-practice gaps (the authors call them phenomenological practice gaps), which are the source of social work's knowledge crisis. The authors conclude with a discussion of the role of reflexivity in a science of social work.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Sociology and Political Science
- critical realism
- evidence-based practice
- philosophy of social science