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Journal of Social Work Education
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The Place of Place in Social Work: Rethinking the Person-in-Environment Model in Social Work Education and Practice
Bree Akesson, Victoria Burns & Shawn-Renee Hordyk
To cite this article: Bree Akesson, Victoria Burns & Shawn-Renee Hordyk (2017) The Place of Place in Social Work: Rethinking the Person-in-Environment Model in Social Work Education and Practice, Journal of Social Work Education, 53:3, 372-383, DOI: 10.1080/10437797.2016.1272512
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2016.1272512
Published online: 24 Mar 2017.
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The Place of Place in Social Work: Rethinking the Person-in-Environment Model in Social Work Education and Practice
Bree Akesson , Victoria Burns, and Shawn-Renee Hordyk
ABSTRACT Social work’s traditional emphasis on the individual in the context of social environments has resulted in a neglect of the person in the context of physical environments. This conceptual article addresses this oversight by presenting three subconcepts of place—place attach- ment, place identity, and territoriality—and draws on research exam- ples with marginalized populations to illustrate the possibilities for understanding and integrating these concepts into social work. We ultimately argue for a shift toward an emphasis on place as a fresh avenue of inquiry to broaden and enhance social work education and practice.
ARTICLE HISTORY Accepted: November 2015
Over the past 40 years, the geographic concept of place has become a conceptual building block in various social science disciplines, including urban sociology, environmental psychology, environmental gerontology, and anthropology, and their applied disciplines, such as urban planning, housing studies, and architecture. The concept of place has been conceptualized through two main perspectives: a phenomenological approach of place and a social construc- tionist approach to place (Cresswell, 2004). A phenomenological approach of place is concerned less with studying specific places and more with the subjective meanings, emotions, and the embodied experience tied to place (Cresswell, 2004). For many phenomenological scholars of place, home is the ideal place, as it provides a sense of comfort, security, and belonging (Proshansky, Fabian, & Kaminoff, 1983; Relph, 1976; Tuan, 1974). On the other hand, a social constructionist approach to place considers how underlying sociopolitical processes related to power (i.e., capitalism, ageism, political violence) shape individual experiences with place (Cresswell, 1996; Harvey, 1996; Massey, 1997).
Although the person-in-environment model is a hallmark of the social work profession (Cornell, 2006), those in social work do not have a solid understanding of place as a significant concept in education and practice. Therefore, through this conceptual article, we aim to reveal place as a concept that is highly relevant and important to education and practice. After situating the concept of place within the history of social work, we demonstrate how three interrelated subconcepts of place—place attachment, place identity, and territoriality—are useful theoretical tools in the social work milieu. We use examples from three social work research projects with older homeless adults, immigrant families, and war-affected children and families to illustrate the utility of these three subconcepts of place. Ultimately, we contend that the concept of place provides a novel interdisciplinary lens to view social work issues and is a promising theoretical tool to reenvision social work’s trademark person-in-environment model.
CONTACT Bree Akesson [email protected] Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work, Wilfrid Laurier University, 120 Duke Street West, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, N2H 3W8. © 2017 Council on Social Work Education
JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK EDUCATION 2017, VOL. 53, NO. 3, 372–383 https://doi.org/10.1080/10437797.2016.1272512
Place in the history of social work
Although the geographical concept of place has received scant attention in the field of social work, the related concept of the environment has been the hallmark of the discipline. (Cornell, 2006), with social work’s commitment to the person-in-environment perspective distinguishing itself from other helping professions. The environmental perspective is considered to be the foundation of social work (Janchill, 1969), a “conceptual umbrella” under which social work practice has developed (Meyer, 1983, p. 5), and a pillar of social work theory (Goldstein, 2009). Since the birth of the social work profession at the turn of the 20th century, the environment, thinly conceptualized at the time as anything outside the individual, was a central concern for social workers (Strom-Gottfried, 2002). Notably, Mary Richmond (1917) highlighted the interdependence of people and environment through the systematic collection of detailed data regarding an individual’s environment, such as the family and other factors outside the family known as “social evidence” (Richmond, 1917, p. 38). However, by the late 1920s and continuing through the 1970s, the concept of person in environment was eclipsed by evolving theories related to individual functioning (Strom-Gottfried, 2002). Although social work theorists did not entirely exclude the environment from their formulations, it was only marginally included. This emphasis on the individual was more a result of social work’s reliance on psychological developmental theories, whereas geographical theories relating to place were far less common.
The 1970s ushered in greater interest and emphasis on the environment with social work scholars such as Germain (1973), Meyer (1970), and Siporin (1975) advocating for models of social work that placed primary emphasis on systems and ecological theories. Yet, since the 1970s, social work has taken a myopic view of the role of physical place in social work, reflecting challenges within the profession to redefine itself (Rogge & Cox, 2001). Although some scholars have recognized that social work needs to move beyond the social environment, for example, by acknowledging the natural environment (Zapf, 2009), the current social work discourse either ignores the concept and meaning of place in social work or emphasizes the social environment over the physical environment (Coates, 2003; McKinnon, 2008; Närhi, 2004; Zapf, 2009). In this way, the physical environment effectively becoming a present absence, or that which is ubiquitous yet receives scant attention. In fact, current social work trends tend to dichotomize the physical environment into social and physical spheres rather than acknowledging the dynamic and reciprocal interaction between people and place.
There is ambivalence and disagreement over what the person-in-environment model means, how it should be integrated into social work practice and education, and if it should even be social work’s signature concept (Rogge & Cox, 2001). Those in favor of the person-in-environment model as a central social work tenet suggest that it provides a holistic framework to understand person- environment interactions, whereas opponents assert that the person in environment is too broad a notion to guide social work practice (Probst, 2012). This tension about the definition, utility, and operationalization of the concept of place in social work hinders meaningful discussions about how we can best use the concept of place to enhance social work education and practice with diverse and often marginalized populations.
A brief overview of three subconcepts of place
Before providing examples of the utility of the concept of place in social work, this section introduces three subconcepts of place—place attachment, place identity, and territoriality—relevant to social work education and practice. In recognizing there is ample crossover work (Fullilove, 2014; Manzo & Devine-Wright, 2014; Moore, 2000), the first two concepts (place attachment and place identity) have largely been developed from the phenomenological approach of place, whereas territoriality comes from the social constructionist approach to place. These concepts have received extensive theoretical and empirical attention in other social science fields including sociology and psychology. However, they have received little consideration in the field of social work.
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Place attachment and place identity
The concepts of place attachment and place identity have been central to the phenomenological approach of place. For Tuan (1974b), everyday involvement with particular physical places over time leads to attachments to place, what Tuan called “topophilia,” literally meaning the love of place. Echoing Tuan’s conceptualizations of place, Relph (1976) contends that place attachment is just as important as attachment to people, as it addresses the fundamental need of human belonging. Relph argues that this sense of belonging occurs when one feels securely attached and rooted in a physical place. Conversely, those who feel no attachment to a place may experience placelessness (Relph, 1976).
Feeling securely attached to place is also considered a necessary requirement for maintaining a positive sense of self, or what Altman and Low (1992) refer to as place identity. Specifically, they contend,
Place attachment may contribute to the formation, maintenance, and preservation of the identity of a person, group, or culture. And, it may also be that place attachment plays a role in fostering individual, group, and cultural self-esteem, self-worth, and self-pride. (p. 10)
The concept of place identity captures the importance of one’s physical environment in the development of individual and collective identities. Memories, thoughts, values, emotions, and meanings are inseparable from the everyday physical environments in which they occur (Proshansky et al., 1983). This weaving of place and self gives rise to individual place identities. Collective identities, on the other hand, emerge from the discursive coconstructions concerning place and the unique cultural, historical, and political factors contributing to the meanings one attaches to place (Dixon & Durrheim, 2000). Place identities often remain unexamined unless there is change, such as that brought on by migration.
In addition to identity and attachment, underlying notions of power contribute to the concept of place. In the human geography literature, power often refers to inherent power dynamics within a physical space (Harvey, 1973; Massey, 1993). A discussion about politics and power and their relationship to place cannot be isolated from the concept of territoriality (Sack, 1983, 1986). Territoriality is a spatial process for claiming and controlling a geographical area, including its people and resources. According to Sack (1986), territoriality is “related to how people use land, how they organize themselves in space and how they give meanings to place” (p. 2).
Territoriality has a psychological benefit for individuals and groups, playing a critical role in the development of a sense of security (Uzzell, 1990). Territoriality leads to a greater identification with home and the local community as a place of sanctuary, resulting in a perception of having more control over the environment. Lang (1987) confirms that territories fulfill the basic human needs for security, identity, and stimulation. A strong sense of territoriality becomes a means of establishing and maintaining one’s sense of identity related to place (Ittelson, 1974).
Drawing on excerpts and examples from three research projects, the next section illustrates how these three subconcepts—place attachment, place identity, and territoriality—are portrayed in different marginalized populations.
The concept of place in social work research: Three examples from the field
Emphasizing the dynamic, reciprocal, and interactive relationship between people and place (Massey, 1994; Relph, 1976), this section explores the application of the three subconcepts of place. Each of these subconcepts are further illustrated using examples from different research projects with marginalized populations. To clarify the subconcept of place attachment, the first
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research example describes the experiences of newly homeless older adults (NHOAs) compared to the chronically homeless living in an urban Canadian setting (Burns, 2015). The second research example draws on research with newly immigrant families also living in an urban Canadian setting to further explain the subconcept of place identity (Hordyk, 2014). Providing illustrations of the subconcept of territoriality, the third research example explores the concept and meaning of place for war-affected children and families living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Akesson, 2014b). All three research projects received relevant ethics approval.
The following three sections do not present the full findings of these studies. Rather, concepts and quotations are used to illustrate the relevance of the different subconcepts of place when working with these marginalized populations. It is our hope that these examples will broaden the under- standing of those in social work of the relevance and importance of place in the lives of marginalized populations.
Differing experiences of place attachment among older homeless adults in an urban context
Countless scholarly articles have claimed that the immediate environment becomes more significant in old age as social networks and mobility tend to decrease, making one’s home and neighborhood the main sites for identity and belonging (Guest & Wierzbicki, 1999; Peace, Holland, & Kellaher, 2006; Peace, Wahl, Mollenkopf, & Oswald, 2007; Rowles, 1983). A prevalent notion is that an older adult’s sense of security, comfort, autonomy, and well-being is directly related to feeling securely attached to place, which is most often one’s private home and surrounding neighborhood (Burns et al., 2012; Wiles, Leibing, Guberman, & Allen, 2011). Such assumptions implicitly underpin the current “aging in place” (p. 357) policy and practice models that are based on the idea that people become increasingly attached to their homes and prefer to remain in place for as long as possible (Wiles, Leibing, Guberman, Reeve, & Allen, 2011).
One of the most widespread theories of place attachment for older adults was developed by Rowles (1978, 1983) who conceptualized place attachment across three dimensions of insideness: physical, social, and autobiographical. For Rowles (1983), physical insideness is associated with living somewhere for long periods of time; the resident establishes a sense of environmental control or mastery by creating an idiosyncratic rhythm and routine. Social insideness evolves not only from everyday social exchanges and relationships but also from a sense of being well-known and knowing others. Third, autobiographical insideness has been suggested to be the most relevant to describe older people’s attachment to place because it is embedded in memories. Through the process of aging, these memories are recalled selectively in the creation of one’s identity. Older people with strong ties to place are also reported to feel more in control and more secure and to have a positive sense of self. The concept of place attachment has been applied empirically by Rubenstein and Parmelee (1992) and Sugihara and Evans (2000) who make the link between older people’s attach- ment to their private homes, maintaining a positive self-image, and supporting their independence. Thus, understanding place attachment has become a crucial subconcept for understanding well- being and positive self-image for older people. However, the existing body of research has focused largely on adults who are aging in stable and familiar living environments, mainly their private homes. As yet, little is known about experiences of place attachment among older homeless adults, a population that is rising in number but remains largely neglected in research, policy, and practice (Burns et al., 2012).
Examples of place attachment in this section are based on a research study comparing the experiences of long-term, chronically homeless older adults who had moved in and out of home- lessness over the course of their lives and NHOAs, adults who were experiencing their first episode of homelessness at age 50 and over and were homeless for a maximum of 2 years at the time of the study (Burns, 2015). In describing the chronically homeless shelter residents, service providers used the words “comfort” and “security” in relation to shelter living and specified that chronically homeless residents said they “hoped it was their last home”:
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There is just a handful, maybe five or six. I’d say the ones who are truly aging here, they are hoping it is their last home . . . they have their own rituals, their space. Like, Mr. S. goes downstairs to the third floor where there is an English TV room to watch The Price Is Right, and that is a major part of his day. The whole TV room knows that it is Mr. S’s The Price Is Right. If he is not there at 11, they still switch the channel in anticipation. It is just established.
The long-term homeless adults had established a sense of social and physical and autobiographi- cal insideness within the shelter. Having lived at the shelter for years, they had established routines and knew their physical environment well (known as autobiographical and physical insideness). They were connected to their community, and, in turn, they were well known by others (i.e., they had high levels of social insideness), all of which are signs of heightened place attachment (Rowles, 1978).
In contrast, the NHOAs battled place attachment at the shelter by actively working toward exiting homelessness as quickly as possible. They spent as little time as possible at the shelter, avoided shelter residents, and refused to self-identify as homeless. One NHOA explained that he was doing everything to avoid “becoming part of the furniture” as he has seen happen with other shelter residents,
Some people they live here for years. They are part of the furniture that’s why, I see that too much, and I don’t want to. [The homeless shelter] is only a trampoline. That’s what I’m putting in my head and saying, oh, it’s a bouncing place. I bounce.
By considering the subconcept of place attachment from the narratives of older homeless adults, this study provides important insight into how the experience of place attachment can differ for people who are residing in an emergency homeless shelter. The long-term homeless wished to age in place inside an emergency shelter. This desire to stay put was reinforced by feelings of physical, autobiographical, and social insideness (Rowles, 1978). On the other hand, the NHOAs aimed to avoid becoming attached to the shelter or establishing any form of insideness. They convinced themselves that homelessness was only temporary, which in turn was also a strategy to resist taking on a negative homeless identity. Overall, the results of this study show that within the growing population of older homeless adults, those who become homeless for the first time in later life have different experiences with place attachment than those who have been homeless for extended periods of time. Acknowledging older homeless adults’ differing experiences with place attachment is a promising strategy to guide rehousing strategies and ensure the diversity of needs are met.
The concept of place and its related subconcept of place attachment are certainly pertinent theoretical lenses to view the experiences of individuals who have experienced homelessness. Likewise, as the next section demonstrates, connection with place through nature can help immi- grant families adapt to their new social and physical environments by contributing to the develop- ment of place identity.
Nature and urban place identity for immigrant families
Within urban settings, several dimensions have been found to be pertinent in the development of individual and collective place identities, which include (a) continuity between the present location and one’s personal past, (b) feelings of belongingness and rootedness, (c) the ability to perceive what is unique about the urban place, (d) a sense of familiarity and orientation, and (e) a commitment to stay (Lalli, 1992). Researchers have found that nature spaces such as parks and gardens play a role in the development of place identity in immigrant adult populations (Li, Hodgetts, & Ho, 2010; Morgan, Rocha, & Poynting, 2005; Rishbeth, 2004; Rishbeth & Finney, 2006). It has remained unclear, however, whether the natural environment as experienced in urban centers influences the development of place identity in immigrant families.
This section draws on findings from a research study exploring how encounters with the urban natural environment, flora, fauna, geography, and climate influenced the adaptation of newcomer
376 B. AKESSON ET AL.
children and their families (Hordyk, Dulude, & Shem, 2015; Hordyk, Hanley, & Richard, 2015). Using the social determinants of a health framework, psychological, social, and physical factors emerged. As illustrated in the following, urban nature spaces in home and public settings contrib- uted to a new place identity. Sensory nature experiences facilitated a deepened awareness of the present physical environment while stimulating memories of the home country. This movement between past and present allowed newcomers to develop a hybrid sense of place identity in which the past and present were woven together.
Immigrant families who accessed urban parks and gardens described their outdoor experiences as providing a sense of continuity between the home and the host country. More than visual, a wide variety of sensory-filled experiences—described by participants as the varied aroma of herbs, the incessant buzzing of the cicadas, the mouth-watering taste of fresh tomatoes, the touch of earth, the sight of tiny shoots pushing through the ground—were instrumental.
Juanita was conscious of this need for familiarity, stating that one of the reasons she chose to immigrate to Canada was the similarity between Canada and her home country in South America:
When I came here, I wanted a change in my life. I really like nature in [her home country], but I could not choose an area that was too different . . . I like the ocean. I like the sun. I like nature and green vegetation. I wanted to go somewhere where I could have that.
Juanita chose to come to Canada in May so that she could adjust to this new country in the spring and summer, the seasons that most closely represented what she had known in her home country.
Urban natural settings also contributed to a collective sense of identity when outdoor family traditions could be revived in a new city. Lien and Vong had already established a family tradition in their home country, regularly frequenting a large urban park on the weekends. This tradition had increased in frequency now that they lived within walking distance of a neighborhood park in Montreal, which allowed them to feel more at home with other Montreal families. Lien also described how the urban park contributed to individual identity when she described how her children “are more relaxed.” Having room to run and play outdoors on a daily basis had made her children less pressured and performance- oriented than before.
Newcomer families created a sense of continuity between the home and host countries through traditions of gardening on balconies, windowsills, and in yards. Some plants were recognizable to them, whereas others were clearly unique to their home country, as the seeds had been imported. Indoors, some grew small tropical plants from the seeds of oranges, avocadoes, or lemons, and they kept these throughout the winter. Although they knew the plants would not readily bear fruit in Montreal’s cold climate, the plants were reminiscent of home and provided a bridge between where families once had been and where they now found themselves, once again facilitating a new sense of identity.
That nature places in urban settings contributed to feelings of belonging and rootedness. While meeting with Dora and her mother in a local park, the third author (Hordyk) was invited by Dora to a place that she called her “hiding spot.” Located in the corner of the park, a group of low-lying trees had branches that were accessible for her to climb. As it was summer, the branches were filled with leaves, providing privacy from those who passed by. Her mother stated that each time they came to the park, Dora wanted to spend time there. When asked about the first thing she heard when she arrived in Canada, she replied that she heard the trees greeting her and whispering “coo-coo Dora.” Her mother explained that she and Dora lived in an apartment that had little privacy because of its size and paper-thin walls. The neighbors complained when they heard Dora playing or running in the apartment. Dora felt a sense of belonging perched in the trees of this hiding place.
Feelings of belonging were also fostered by environmental conservation traditions that some families began on their arrival in Canada. Selena had lived in countries where recycling programs were not an established community-based practice. In Montreal where recycling was discussed in community centers and schools as well as modeled by her neighbors, Selena shared how her identification as Canadian was shaped in part by her participation in this local environmental practice.
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As social work educators preparing students to engage with immigrant populations in the process of adapting to a new social and physical environment, we might consider the embodied experiences in urban nature settings that children and families draw on to develop their identities. As newcomers negotiate the process of adaptation to new geographies, traditions, and communities (Ensor & Gozìdziak, 2010; Lansford, Deater-Deckard, & Bornstein, 2007), social workers might consider how sensory contact with nature components of the environment, in parks, on sidewalks, on windowsills, or seen through windows, facilitate an embodied awareness of place and a transformed awareness of self within that place. Contact with urban nature provides continuity between the home and host countries, permits newcomers to become aware of and participate in local ecological initiatives, and facilitates the strengthening of individual and collective identities that are simulta- neously rooted in the home country and the place of migration.
This section clearly illustrates the importance of place, specifically urban nature, for the devel- opment of identity among immigrant populations. Using examples from research with war-affected populations, the next section explores how politics and power intersect with place (including place attachment and place identity) and contribute to territoriality.
The politics and power of territoriality for war-affected children and families
The concept of territoriality is particularly apt in explaining the politics and power of place for war- affected children and families, for the places that these populations live in are highly politicized. Territoriality’s very definition implies that it is embedded in relations of power as a strategy for establishing different access to and movement within place. Based on a study exploring the concept and meaning of place for Palestinian children and families living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Akesson, 2014b, 2015, 2016), this section provides examples that show that the politics and power of place are openly on display in their everyday …
From Person-in-Environment to Strengths: The Promise of Postmodern Practice
Social work relies heavily on its value base to guide practice; however, there are no conceptual models—on par with person-in-environment (PIE)—to describe how these values are implemented within an evidence-based approach. However, the philosophical foundation of empiricism and positivism that lends PIE its strength also brings with it inherent weaknesses: Namely, empirical observation cannot produce value judgments, and positivism’s verification of causality cannot capture the workings of free will. Postmodern thought is uniquely suited to address these short- comings. Its philosophical foundation of phenomenology and social constructionism speak to a value-based approach to practice and hold out the promise of engendering conceptual models that can illustrate these values in action.
The intellectual landscape currently informing social work practice may be described as falling into two broad areas: modern, scientific thought and postmodern, humanistic thought. Since its inception in the 1970s (e.g., Germain, 1973), the person-in-environment (PIE) conceptual model has come to dominate the modern traditional practice of social work. Practice in this vein is heavily based in science; it emphasizes problem solving and evidence-based approaches. Beginning in the early 1990s, postmodern thought began to inform social work practice, resulting in approaches such as the strengths perspective (Saleebey, 1992), narrative therapy (White & Epston, 1990), and solution-building therapy (De Shazer & Berg, 1992). Practice in this vein is heavily based in the humanities; it emphasizes consciousness-raising and a value- based approach.
Using the PIE model as an example of modernist thought guiding social work interven- tions, the first part of this article will elaborate particular strengths and shortcomings of the model specifically and then of modernist thought in general. Briefly, the strength that empiricism brings to bear on validating conceptual models contains the inherent shortcoming of embracing a value-free stance in the development of these models. In addition, the strength of positivism in explaining cause-and-effect mechanisms contains the inherent shortcoming of emphasizing causal determinism when seeking to explain human behavior.
Accepted: August 2013 Phillip Dybicz is assistant professor at Valdosta State University. Address correspondence to Phillip Dybicz, Department of Social Work, Valdosta State University, Health Science and
Business Administration, Social Work Administrative Suite 2002, 1500 N. Patterson Street, Valdosta, GA 31698, USA. E-mail: [email protected]
Journal of Social Work Education, 51: 237–249, 2015 Copyright © Council on Social Work Education ISSN: 1043-7797 print / 2163-5811 online DOI: 10.1080/10437797.2015.1012923
Next, the article will turn toward elaborating particular aspects of postmodern thought and how it is uniquely positioned to address these inherent shortcomings in applying PIE and modernist thought.
STRENGTHS AND SHORTCOMINGS OF PIE
Scientific inquiry is built on the philosophical foundations of empiricism and positivism. Each brings to bear a formidable strength in the development of knowledge; however, inherent in each of these strengths is a shortcoming. Like two sides of the same coin, the shortcoming arises from the strength; so the shortcoming can never be sundered from the strength—rather, one can merely compensate for it. Empiricism embraces a neutral, or value-free, stance when making observations—relying purely on the sensory input. This provides a strong foundation for claims of reality as they are based on evidence rather than on mere opinion. Consequently, this evidence is what informs our conceptual models.
The PIE conceptual model is based on the evidence established in ecological systems theory. Empirical observations of ecological systems in nature lead to the proposition that organisms have an interdependent relationship with other organisms in their ecological environment. To translate the validity of this proposition from ecological systems in nature to ecological systems in human society, human beings must be viewed in a neutral manner, as being another example of a bio-psycho-social organism. Science is the study of the natural world—thus to scientifically study human beings, they must be viewed as existing in nature. And if one views the early writings of both Germain and Gitterman (1980) and Gordon (1969)—both pioneers in the development of the PIE model—one is able to see that they liberally use the word organism to describe human beings to bolster the validity of the model via its comparison to ecological systems in nature. This scientific stance of viewing human beings as products of nature results in emphasizing humans’ continuity with animals. We see this dynamic at work with other scientific theories of human behavior as well; for example, as noted in most human behavior in the social environment (HBSE) textbooks (e.g., Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 2011; Thyer, Dulmus, & Sowers, 2012), foundational aspects of behaviorism are built on Pavlov’s experiments on dogs and Skinner’s experiments on pigeons and rats: as with ecological systems, we can study animals to learn something about ourselves. However, empiricism’s reliance on pure sensory observation means that various values we attribute to the human condition—such as the inherent worth and dignity of the individual—are excluded from scientific understanding and conceptual models. We must look outside of scientific knowledge for our understanding of values. Thus in scientific, evidence-based practice, we seek to compensate for this shortcoming through the adoption of a strong base of social work values based in a philosophy of ethics.
Positivism—through its emphasis on the repeatability of results—serves as the philoso- phical floor on which claims of cause-and-effect mechanisms are made. This confidence in the nature of a cause-and-effect mechanism—when applied to human behavior—similarly carries with it an inherent shortcoming: causal determinism. Science recognizes free will in human beings, but in the process of describing cause-and-effect mechanisms, science can never explain human behavior as a reflection of free will. When one states that cause “A” (e.g., abuse) results in effect “B” in human behavior (e.g., difficulty in forming intimacy), one is removing free will from this equation. When applied to ecological systems in nature,
cause-and-effect mechanisms translate into attempts at adaptation. Building on empiricism’s emphasis of humans’ continuity with animals, we are able to translate this theme of adaptation into ecological systems of human society; goodness-of-fit is the adaptive term used to describe the harmonious balance sought within the interdependent relationships of PIE.
Now although science cannot explain the workings of free will, it does recognize its existence in human beings. As notably recognized by Kant (trans. 1785/1997), reason is the quality that frees will from ever being a determined effect in human action. The exercise of free will can serve only as a cause within a cause–effect framework. Adaptation by an animal within an ecological system in nature predominantly occurs at the genetic level. By contrast, human beings’ attempts at adaptation within an ecological system occur predomi- nantly through learning—which stems from the exercise of reason. However, this difference does not shatter the validity of translating the premises of adaptation and interdependence from ecological systems of nature to ecological systems of human society established by emphasizing humans’ continuity with animals. This is because it is a difference in degree, not kind. Scientifically, it is recognized that some animals possess rudimentary reasoning— they can problem solve and use tools. But there is a vast chasm separating this rudimentary use of reasoning from the highly advanced use by human beings. Through first developing an understanding of various cause-and-effect mechanisms affecting a client’s behavior (via diagnosing the problem) and then communication of this understanding to the client (via a treatment plan), the social worker makes an appeal to the client’s reason to promote positive change.
So the adoption of a strong ethic of social work values and making appeals to the client’s reason are the ways social workers compensate for the shortcomings of empiricism and positivism. There are some notable implications that stem from this strategy. First, social work values are left without a vigorous philosophical foundation on par with empiricism and positi- vism that serves to inform conceptual models concerning their implementation. Consequently, the understanding of social work values (such as self-determination or recognizing the impor- tance of human relationships) is not something that must be studied and learned but rather absorbed. This is reflected in the fact that foundational courses in social work programs require two courses specifically on human behavior theory. In contrast, the transmission of social work values is infused throughout the curriculum. This lack of need to transmit social work value conceptual models allows for this diffuse approach. Postmodern thought—supporting value- based approaches—addresses this shortcoming by offering the vigorous philosophical founda- tion (namely, phenomenology and social constructionism) from which conceptual models of social work values can arise.
Second, by emphasizing humans’ continuity with animals, qualities of the human con- dition that make us unique are deemphasized. Science is the broad field of the study of nature. The humanities—comprising history, literature, language, and so forth—is the broad field of the study of human beings as unique entities. Yes, by appealing to reason science recognizes free will, but free will falls outside the framework of scientific conceptual models describing its operation. So again, how to effectively engage a client’s free will to foster the change process is knowledge that must be absorbed rather than studied and learned. Again, postmodern thought provides the philosophical foundation for these con- ceptual models to arise.
FROM PERSON-IN-ENVIRONMENT TO STRENGTHS 239
The following quotation by Gadamer (trans. 1960/1999) illustrates the shift in thinking con- cerning human action offered by phenomenology:
But it is thus clear that man [sic], unlike all other living creatures, has a “world,” for other creatures do not in the same sense have a relationship to the world, but are, as it were, embedded in their environment…. Moreover, unlike all other living creatures, man’s relationship to the world is characterized by freedom from environment [original emphasis]…. this does not mean that he leaves his habitat but that he has another posture toward it—a free, distanced orientation—that is always realized in language. (pp. 444–445)
This quote introduces the notion of individual-in-world as a more encompassing conceptualiza- tion than PIE. To simply be embedded in one’s environment harks back to the causal determin- ism predominantly guiding the actions of animals. The world that human beings inhabit encompasses all of the bio-psycho-social qualities of interdependence offered by the PIE model, and then adds the additional layer of a relationship with one’s environment realized through language.
Some important implications arise from this shift. First, emphasizing the role of language highlights a quality that is uniquely human: although animals communicate, they do not possess language—that is, the ability to create meaning via new strings of symbols that comprise new sentences. So phenomenology emphasizes a difference in kind between humans and animals. Although the various similarities between humans and animals are still recognized, the ability to formulate conceptual models elaborating these similarities falls outside the scope of phenomen- ology. This is a similar in dynamic to science recognizing free will but being unable to form conceptual models elaborating its use.
Second, Gadamer’s (trans. 1960/1999) reference to “freedom from environment…realized in language” (pp. 444–445) refers to humans’ ability to use their imagination to posit new worlds different from the one they currently occupy, and new modes of being in these worlds. Again, the use of imagination is a difference in kind between humans and animals—animals do not possess the ability to imagine themselves being different. This is not surprising as postmodern thought is based within the humanities—the study of humans as unique entities. When applied to the field of social work, phenomenology marks a shift away from appealing to a client’s reason to promote change efforts (this is still done; it is simply divested of its central role) toward appealing to the client’s imagination to promote change. This is reflected in the strengths perspective’s directive to understand a client’s hopes and dreams of a better life (Rapp & Goscha, 2006) and the use of “the miracle question” in solution-building therapy (De Jong & Berg, 2008) to get the client to imagine a life absent the problem.
KEY PRINCIPLES OF PHENOMENOLOGY
It is the work of Husserl (e.g., trans. 1939/1975) and Heidegger (e.g., trans. 1927/1962) that ushers phenomenology into a postmodern framework. The first key phenomenological principle that informs its embrace of language is the phenomenological distinction between meaning/ identity (i.e., essence) and object (i.e., existence; Husserl, trans. 1939/1975). By divesting itself
of a role for language and concentrating solely on pure observation, empiricism only recognizes and describes qualities of existence. In contrast, phenomenology views a phenomenon as consisting of an existence (i.e., qualities of nature) plus an essence (i.e., meaning/identity realized through language). In addition, multiple meanings/identities can apply to the same object. So, for example, the same triangle may be described as being either equilateral or equiangular: both names express different meanings but designate the same object. Thus the name chosen to identify this object will emphasize certain qualities of its nature over others (length of its sides vs. measurement of its angles).
When this concept is applied to a human being (or human beings in the form of groups and communities), the possible meanings/identities become numerous. This principle translates into social work practice via spotlighting the dynamic of how we as social workers come to know the client (the term client here and throughout the article reflects its broadest possible conception in social work terms: individual, group, or community), and how clients comes to know themselves. “Do clients come to know themselves primarily through the problems and failures they are experiencing or through their strengths?” is a primary question asked by the postmodern practitioner. If clients are viewing themselves primarily through the problems and failures they are experiencing, it is through appealing to the client’s imagination, not reason, that will produce a change in the client’s essence (meaning/identity) and, consequently, a change in the client’s behavior. A further elaboration of this dynamic will be given shortly.
The second key phenomenological principle marking its postmodern turn is the recon- ceptualization of time begun by Husserl (trans. 1913/1982) and brought to full fruition by Heidegger. As reflected in the title of Heidegger’s (trans. 1927/1962) magnum opus Being and Time, time is privileged as determining being (i.e., existence and essence). Being is defined as a phenomenon’s presence in a continuously succeeding series of “nows” (i.e., the present). Previously, the various properties of a phenomenon were privileged as determining its being. Husserl (1913/1982) dubbed this view the “natural standpoint.” So, for example, Plato (trans. c. 370 BCE/2008) states as way of illustration that a specific dog has many observable qualities determining its existence. Among these, certain of these qualities will be shared by all dogs, thus determining the essence of “dogness.” Consequently, for Plato, the essence of a phenomenon lies in eternal abstract qualities that find their expression in a specific phenomenon.
At first glance, this difference in determining how being (i.e., reality) arises may seem like simple nitpicking among philosophers. However, the shift to privileging time carries with it some profound implications. First, meaning/identity becomes something unique to the phenom- enon being observed rather than resting in fixed abstract qualities. Heidegger (trans. 1927/1962) creates the word Dasein to capture this notion of a unique individual revealing oneself tempo- rally, rather than the abstract term human. Second, privileging time results in identity being realized through language: language (e.g., equilateral or equiangular) orders the natural qualities of a phenomenon’s existence as it passes through time (Mensch, 1988). Flowing from this implication is the first key principle outlined above—being realized through language, the identity of a phenomenon is malleable: multiple identities are possible for the same object. Thus the being of a phenomenon can be transformed through a shift in language use. As will be illustrated below, this has profound implication for promoting change within the client or his or her environment.
FROM PERSON-IN-ENVIRONMENT TO STRENGTHS 241
THE IMPORTANCE OF NARRATIVE
Building on the insights laid down by Heidegger (trans. 1927/1962) in Being and Time, Ricoeur (1984–1988), in his multivolume work Time and Narrative, further elaborated the connection that language has to the role played by time in ordering existence. Ricoeur described time as falling into two categories: cosmic time and human time. Cosmic time is time as measured by the clock; it governs the cause–effect mechanisms found in nature. So, for example, if a woman becomes pregnant, it is the passage of clock time (typically, 9 months) that will govern when she gives birth.
By contrast, human time is time as it is realized through language/narrative. As such, it governs the shaping of the essence (i.e., identity) of a phenomenon. As way of illustration, if I were to ask you, “How was your day?”, a typical response would include some type of qualitative measure followed by a listing of events acting as evidence in support of this measure. It would not consist of a second-by-second account of everything you did. Rather, the time marking your “day” would be compressed by narrative into the span of a few sentences. Furthermore, the selection of events for this narrative is determined by the theme of my inquiry (i.e., “How was your day?”). So, for example, what you ate for breakfast would typically be deemed irrelevant and, thus, not included in your response. However, if I were to ask you “How’s your diet coming along?”, this theme grants much greater importance to what you ate for breakfast. Thus multiple identities are possible for the same “your day.” When applied to the scenario of a woman becoming pregnant, the existence of pregnancy (the observed facts, or definition of pregnancy) is the same for all women; however, the meaning/identity (i.e., essence) attributed to the pregnancy may range anywhere from blissful to dreadful. Similarly for groups and communities, one’s sexual orientation or racial makeup are observable traits; yet the mean- ing attributed to these traits in terms of identity features varies widely in human society and throughout human history.
So by elaborating the link between human time and narrative, Ricoeur (1984–1988) com- pleted the formula begun by Heidegger (trans. 1927/1962): Being-Time-Narrative. Doing so allows for the elaboration of conceptual models describing how narrative shapes being and, consequently, human action—human action that is guided by free will. Ricoeur (1984–1988) turned to Aristotle’s (trans. c. 335 BC/1996) theory of mimesis in his treatise Poetics. This is a theory that seeks to describe human behavior as it occurs in narrative. Appealing to human imagination, simply put, Aristotle’s mimesis states that each of us have a current image of “who I am” as well as an image of “who I would like to be” in the future. Acting on the image of “who I would like to be” is what guides present actions. Thus, “All human action is always an imitation of action—Achilles is living up to his own image of himself…like all brave men, he wants ‘to die like Achilles’” (i.e., courageously; Davis, 1992, p. xviii).
Ricoeur (1984–1988) updated Aristotle’s mimesis for a postmodern context, lending it a deeper and richer elaboration. This conceptual model guides such postmodern practices as elucidating a client’s dreams and goals and the highlighting of strengths. The full implications for social work practice arising from Ricoeur’s theory of mimesis has been given comprehensive treatment elsewhere (Dybicz, 2010). For the purposes here, it is sufficient to note that mimesis addresses the shortcoming of positivism by offering a conceptual model—grounded in the equally rigorous philosophical thought of phenomenology—that describes the operation of free will.
As with phenomenology, the following quote by Berger and Luckman (1966) in their founda- tional treatise on social constructionism describes people as living in a world as opposed to simply an environment:
Animals, as species and as individuals, live in closed worlds whose structures are predetermined by the biological equipment of the several animal species. By contrast, man’s [sic] relationship to his environment is characterized by world-openness. (p. 47)
Again, this quote emphasizes the unique human qualities of free will and the ability to imagine one’s world and one’s self as consisting of many possibilities (i.e., world openness).
Yet creating an image of “who I am” and “who I would like to be” is not merely an exercise of imagination. For myself to begin basing my actions on such an image, I need to find it believable—it must be supported by evidence. One cannot escape the realities of one’s existence. So, for example, I may have daydreams of being a rock star, but I will not base any of my actions to pursue this dream unless I believe I have the necessary talent. The evidence of my musical talent (or lack thereof) does not simply occur in my own mind but, rather, in the court of public opinion. I can find this evidence in society at large (e.g., favorable reactions from an audience) or through the responses of a few important people (e.g., family, friends who know me well) or knowledgeable people (e.g., other rock musicians) in my life, communicating to me, in effect, “Yes, I see you that way too—you have the talent to become a rock musician.”
Two aspects from this dynamic are worthy of note. First, because the evidence supporting my image occurs in the court of public opinion, it is social in character. This is from where the “social” in social constructionism derives. Second, while relying on observations, evidence of my musical talent is not strictly empirical in nature: The quality of my talent can never be established as a scientific fact. Rather, evidence of my musical talent requires a judgment to be made—this makes it a value-laden, not value-free, endeavor. Putting this all together, my dream of becoming a rock musician forms the theme guiding the selection of events that act as evidence of my musical talent (e.g., again, what I ate for breakfast would be considered irrelevant). In this manner, a socially constructed narrative is created that directly speaks to both “who I am” and “who I can be.”
KEY PRINCIPLES OF SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM
The first key principle that informs this inquiry is that of legitmation (Berger & Luckman, 1966): the notion that some social constructions, due to the preponderance of evidence supporting them, achieve a dominant status in society. The sensibility of the value-laden judgment is so apparent that it goes unquestioned. So using the example given earlier of a woman’s experience of pregnancy and impending motherhood, phenomenology tells us that the meaning of this pregnancy can range from blissful to dreadful. Now if we apply a specific scenario to this example of pregnancy—the woman is 16 years old—a definitive social construction arises that lends meaning to this event: It is deemed unwise and undesirable. Note that this is not a scientific empirical fact (i.e., in all times and circumstances, giving birth at age 16 is undesirable) but rather a value-laden judgment based on the observed demands of modern society. The
FROM PERSON-IN-ENVIRONMENT TO STRENGTHS 243
preponderance of evidence supporting the social construction, “It is unwise and undesirable for teenagers in the United States to become pregnant,” is so overwhelming that the value-laden judgment becomes legitimized over all others. And this is with good reason. At a societal level, we do not wish to encourage U.S. teenagers to become pregnant.
Now as stated earlier, phenomenology tells us that social constructions create narratives that directly comment on the identity of the individual experiencing the specific situation. So for the vast majority of U.S. teenagers—those who avoid pregnancy—the above social construction attributes a life-affirming value judgment to their identity, depicting them as wise, mature women. They meet the normal expectation. By contrast, for those teenagers who do become pregnant each year in the United States, the above social construction attributes a negative value judgment to their identity, depicting them as unwise, immature, and ill equipped for motherhood. Failing to achieve this standard norm, these women, consequently, are viewed as failures in this area, and their pregnancy is not simply unplanned but also a mistake. It is not hard to see that such negative valuations of identity do not honor the inherent dignity and worth of the individual. When working with a pregnant teenager, a social worker who either overtly or tacitly accepts this social construction (or simply does not think to question it) actively contributes to undermining the client’s inherent worth and dignity. As will be demonstrated shortly, an alternative social construction is necessary to guide practice in a way that the social worker can honor the inherent dignity and worth of the client.
The second key principle is that multiple realities are possible for a particular observed reality (Berg & Luckman, 1966; Gergen, 1999). Social constructionism accepts the phenomenological position concerning multiple identities/realities for the same object. It adds to this notion, by describing how these alternative identities/realities are constructed: socially, through the lan- guage use of value-laden statements. Thus although a particular dominant narrative may hold sway in depicting an experience (e.g., teenage pregnancy) and client in negative terms, it is possible through the social process to construct alternative narratives that give the experience a new meaning that is life-affirming and that honors the dignity and worth of the client. Social constructionism provides the philosophical foundation—on par with empiricism—for guiding such value-laden practice.
One element at work in crafting an alternative social construction with the client is when the social worker moves away from primarily viewing the client empirically (a representative of a population group—e.g., pregnant teenagers) and begins to primarily view the client phenomen- ologically (an a unique individual temporally unfolding—e.g., Jane S.). When viewing the client phenomenologically, the social worker is able to understand that although a particular dominant narrative is useful at the societal level, in this particular individual instance it is damaging. This realization prompts an effort to generate an alternative social construction, which offers positive valuations for the client. So returning to the example of the pregnant teenager, the many challenges that she will face are not simply ignored. Rather, they move from the foreground of a narrative constructed about her pregnancy (wherein they represent key dynamics determin- ing her functional adaptation to her environment) to the background of an alternative construc- tion (wherein they represent various obstacles to achieving her dream of becoming a good mother). In such a counternarrative, evidence of Jane’s qualities and those of her environment that will …
Journal of Social Work
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Effectiveness of micro- and macro-level intervention at times of economic crisis
Ayelet Makaros and Haya Itzhaky Bar-Ilan University, Israel
� Summary: The aim of the study was to examine perceptions of micro- and macro-level
role effectiveness and the factors that contribute to those perceptions among social
workers in rural communities that are undergoing an economic crisis. We also
examined the correlations between these perceptions and various components of
social workers’ role behavior, as well as social workers’ sense of empowerment and
personal characteristics. This was a quantitative study, which was conducted among a
sample of 149 social workers in Israel.
� Findings: The contribution of components of role behavior to enhancing social
workers’ levels of perceived role effectiveness was highest, whereas sense of empower-
ment and personal variables contributed less. Moreover, information gathering contrib-
uted to perceptions of effectiveness at both the micro- and macro-levels, whereas
guidance and community roles contributed to perceived effectiveness only at the
� Applications: The contribution of the study lies in the identification of social workers’
roles at times of economic crisis. Moreover, the findings highlight the importance of
investing in empowerment of social workers. We believe the results can be generalized
to other communities in crisis.
Social work, effectiveness, empowerment, micro, macro, role behavior, social worker
Ayelet Makaros, School of Social Work, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat-Gan 52900, Israel.
Email: [email protected]
In light of far-reaching developments over the past few decades, communities and organizations around the world have had to adopt new perspectives and patterns of action (Heifetz & Laurie, 1997). The situation of rural communities in Israel is a case in point, which reflects the major changes that have taken place in Israeli society, and can provide a basis for examining how social workers deal with large-scale changes at the macro-level. The first change that has taken place in these communities is a dramatic ideological and moral change, that is, a transition from a socialistic perception which endorses equality, mutual responsibility, and helping individuals to a competitive perception that emphasizes individualism, personal freedom, and self-realization. The second change has taken place in the economic domain. This change was affected by the economic crisis that took place in the 1980s in Israel and in the rest of the world (Rosner & Getz, 1996). Moshavim and kibbutzim invested large sums of money in industry and agriculture without any justification. They took loans that incurred a debt amounting 400 percent per annum. In addition, they invested in stock market securities and sustained sub- stantial losses with the collapse of bank shares in 1983 (Rosner & Getz, 1996). Because the Israeli government was not willing to cover these debts, the commu- nities that had organized unions and managed individual finances collapsed. This led to an economic crisis in the communities as a whole and among individual members of those communities (Pavin, 2003). This situation generated further social crises, which also resulted in a desire for privatization and led to changes in the rural communities (Rosner & Getz, 1996). In that context, there has been a major trend toward privatization of services in an attempt to introduce economic improvements and reforms in rural communities.
The third change has been a transition from reliance on informal, community- based support to formal, institutional, external support (Horowitz & Rosenthal, 1994; Rounds, 1988; Wilson, Edwards, Alston, Harley, & Doughty, 2002; Wodarski, 1983). Whereas assistance was once provided by various community organizations, residents of rural communities have been forced to deal with formal, bureaucratic procedures in order to receive municipal services and assis- tance (Almaliah, 2009; Shapiro, 2010; Sheaffer, Yeheskel, & Ganzach, 2002). In light of these changes, social workers have also had to alter their intervention methods.
The present study examined role effectiveness among social workers in rural communities at times of economic crisis. In that context, we focused on new tasks assigned to those workers following processes of change in their work envir- onment. The study is relevant to communities undergoing various social and eco- nomic transitions, and emphasizes the potential role of social workers in these processes. Toward that end, we examined the contribution of three sets of variables to the social workers’ perceptions of their role effectiveness in professional inter- vention: demographic variables, sense of personal and group empowerment, and components of role behavior (community roles, representation and mediation,
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information gathering, and training). The findings of previous studies have revealed that the contribution of empowerment to measures of role effectiveness is not only direct, and that it can be even greater when empowerment interacts with other variables (Itzhaky, 2003; Lipschitz-Elhawi, 2004).
In the field of social work, effectiveness is a multidimensional concept, for which there is no universally accepted definition (Jenkins, 1987). Cameron (1986) main- tained that although the definition of effectiveness in the literature is vague, it is a central concept in the organizational sciences, and it must be addressed from a theoretical perspective. In Cameron’s view, because the concept is so complex, researchers can only agree that there is disagreement on issues relating to effective- ness. The literature emphasizes the need for additional research on topic, especially at the macro level (Combs, Cain, & Wilson, 2004; Itzhaky & Dekel, 2005; Mizrahi, 1992; Newman & Roberts, 1997). According to one approach, effectiveness in social work relates to the aspiration to ensure the best results for the target popula- tion (Cox & Amsters, 2002), based on the pre-defined goals (Cramer, Mueller, & Harrop, 2003; Schutz, 2007). However, another approach relates to evaluation of the process: evaluation of activities, methods, and tools that are used to achieve results (Itzhaky & Dekel, 2005). According to the literature, effectiveness in social work can be examined on two levels: the micro-level, which includes clinical inter- ventions such as diagnosis and treatment of problems, as well as helping indivi- duals identify their strengths (Gorey, Thyer, & Pawluck, 1998; Itzhaky & Dekel, 2005); and the macro-level, which includes tasks such as grassroots policy-making, social action, planning, and organizing groups (Itzhaky, 2003; Itzhaky & York, 1991). Hence, some researchers have highlighted the importance of examining effectiveness at both the micro- and the macro-levels (Gorey et al., 1998; Itzhaky & Dekel, 2008). In the present study, an intervention was conducted in an attempt to promote the development of an entire community. However, because the inter- vention also contributed to the members of that community as individuals, its effectiveness was examined at both the macro- and micro-levels. Examination of effectiveness can be measured from various perspectives, such as: the workers, the clients, and the service providers. In this article, perceived effectiveness was exam- ined on the basis of the workers themselves.
Expectations regarding the professional role of social workers derive from the legal definition of social work as an occupation that aims to improve the personal and social functioning of the individual, family, and community by means of treatment, rehabilitation, counseling, and training (National Association of Social Workers, 2009). Various researchers have discussed the social worker’s role (Itzhaky, 1994; Koeske, Lichtenwalter, & Koeske, 2005;
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Miley, O’Melia, & DuBois, 1998; Weiss-Gal, 2007), but all of them have defined that role in terms of its components, which include different tasks. The main components of the social worker’s role are therapy, diagnosis, mediation, training, supervision, initiative, advocacy, organization, and development. Within rural communities, the social worker’s role has been defined as including three levels: the individual, the group, and the organiza- tion (Itzhaky, 2003). Nitzan and Vered (1991) also included micro-level roles such as individual and family treatment, as well as macro-level roles such as training and supervision of service providers and counseling for committee members.
The present study focused on four main roles of the social worker: a) community roles – including organization and supervision of various groups in the community, as well as development of programs, and changing regulations and policies within and outside the community; b) representation and mediation – including represen- tation of clients vis-à-vis service agencies, and mediation between community mem- bers and service agencies; c) information gathering roles – including identification of social problems, and gathering information on community issues and services; and d) training roles – including training, supervision, and counseling of commu- nity service providers. The present study examined the social workers’ roles based on the frequency of performance of different tasks associated with each of those roles.
Only a few studies have explored the relationship between role behavior and perceptions of the effectiveness of interventions. Those studies have focused mainly on the relationship between specific macro-level tasks and effectiveness, but have not addressed all aspects of the social worker’s role (Bale, 2002; Schnake, 1991). For example, Schnake (1991) examined cooperation between social workers and their colleagues, and Bale (2002) examined cooperation between social workers and professionals in other disciplines. The results of those studies indicate that the components of cooperation increase the exchange of information within and out- side of the organization, and contribute to macro-level effectiveness. To the best of our knowledge, no other studies have revealed a clear relationship between other role components and macro-level effectiveness, nor have relationships been revealed between role components and micro-level effectiveness. In an attempt to fill that gap, the current study aimed to examine the relationship between social workers’ role behavior (community roles, representation and mediation, gathering information, and training) and their perceptions of their effectiveness at both the micro- and macro-levels.
Empowerment is not a personality trait, but a system of cognitions that take form in a given work environment (Thomas & Velthouse, 1990). It is defined on a continuum, which ranges from more empowerment at one end to less empower- ment at the other. Thus, it is assumed that people neither completely lack nor
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completely possess empowerment (Spreitzer, 1995). Thomas and Velthouse (1990) viewed empowerment as a multidimensional concept, which was measured by means of four criteria: the meaning of work, worker’s ability, self-determinism, and impact on results at work.
According to Frans (1993), the social worker’s sense of empowerment is based on five components: a) positive self-perception, that is, a sense of self-validation and self-esteem; b) critical awareness regarding the worker’s position within broader systems, such as the family, the organization, or society; c) control of knowledge and skills, that is, the individual’s ability to influence events in his or her life or in the lives of others; d) a natural tendency to act, that is, the power to initiate effective action for one’s own benefit or for the benefit of others; and e) a sense of collective identity, that is, a sense that one is part of a social group or system where goals, resources, and values can be shared.
Research findings have revealed a positive correlation between professionals’ sense of empowerment and their perceptions of role effectiveness (Butler, 1994; Cummings, 1997; D’Haene, 1995; Duckett & Fryer, 1998; Dveirin & Adams, 1993; Frans, 1993; Johnson & Mcintye, 1998; Neeman, 1995; Pryor, 1992; Sarri & Sarri, 1992; Spreitzer, Kizilos, & Nason, 1997; Van-Ruy & Heaney, 1997; Wiatrowski & Campoverde, 1996). Existing research has also revealed that perso- nal empowerment (e.g. positive self-perception, self-awareness, control of knowl- edge and skills, and a natural inclination to act) as well as group empowerment (e.g. a sense of collective identity) significantly affect the nature of the changes and the effectiveness of micro-level role behavior in situations such as crisis, anxiety, sense of instability, and uncertainty (Dench, 2002; Kauff, 2002; McCallum, Arnold, & Bolland, 2002). Regarding the macro-level, Itzhaky (2003) and Dobri (2001) found that empowerment only contributes significantly to role effectiveness when it interacts with demographic variables at the micro- and macro-levels.
Based on the literature reviewed above, the present study examined the contri- bution of personal and group empowerment to social workers’ perceptions of their role effectiveness. Research has shown that sometimes empowerment does not influence effectiveness directly, but emerges through demographic variables. Therefore, it is also important to examine the impact of the interaction between empowerment and demographic variables on effectiveness.
Demographic variables (job seniority, full- or part-time employment, and marital status)
The research literature indicates that perceptions of the effectiveness of a given process are influenced by the demographic variables of those who generate that process. Job seniority (years of service in the organization), marital status, and extent of employment (full- or part-time) have been found to correlate with workers’ perceptions of the effectiveness of the process they generate (Kim, 1996; Koberg, Boss, Senjem, & Goodman, 1999; Schneider, 1987; Thompson & Marley, 1999). Koberg et al. (1999) and Schneider (1987) found a negative correlation between
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social workers’ job seniority and their perceptions of the effectiveness of client participation: the higher their job seniority, the lower the effectiveness of client participation. In a study that examined the effectiveness of Australian social workers in different processes, Long and Lamb (2002) found differences between full-time and part-time workers. Those who worked full time were found to be more effective in their work than those who worked part time. Friedman (2001) reported a similar tendency among community coordinators: those who worked full time were more effective in their relationships with schools than those who worked half time.
Based on the theoretical review, the present study examined the contribution of role behavior, sense of personal and group empowerment, and demographic vari- ables to perceived role effectiveness at the micro- and macro-levels among social workers in rural communities.
The participants in the study were 149 social workers who worked in social service departments in rural communities throughout Israel. These workers comprised 90 percent of all social workers in rural communities (collective moshavim and kib- butzim) in Israel. In those communities, all of the profits of individuals are depos- ited into the collective budget of the community, and do not reach individuals.
Of the participants in the sample, 140 (94%) were women, and most of them (70.2%) were aged 31–50; 123 (84.2%) were married, and only 22 were unmarried; 142 (95.3%) were not religious, whereas only six were traditional or religious; 132 of the workers (89.2%) lived in rural communities, and the rest resided in cities. Eighty-six of the workers (58%) had Bachelor’s degrees, and 61 (42%) had Master’s degrees. About one-third (30.3%) had been employed in the field of social work for more than 15 years. More than half (55.9%) had less than five years of experience working in the rural sector, and over half (55.5%) reported that they had not received any specific training in community work. As for hours of work per week, 56.3 percent of the social workers worked full time, 31.3 percent worked a three-quarter shift, and 11.8 percent worked half time. No differences were found between the workers in kibbutzim and collective moshavim.
Demographic variables. A questionnaire was administered to obtain demographic data about the social workers, including job seniority (years of service in the organization), full- or part-time employment, and marital status.
Effectiveness. A questionnaire developed by Itzhaky (2003) was used to measure perceived effectiveness. Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which
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they feel they have accomplished their goals at the micro level (identification of problems, therapy, mediation between clients and the system, and help in identifying strengths), as well as at the macro-level (policy-making, planning activities, imple- mentation of community-related programs, and organizing groups). Responses to each of the above-mentioned components of effectiveness were based on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (very low effectiveness) to 5 (very high effectiveness). The Cronbach’s alpha reliability of the questionnaire in the present study was .84 for the micro-level items, and .87 for the macro-level items. This instrument was validated by Itzhaky and Dekel (2005). In their study, the Cronbach’s alpha values were .82 for micro-level roles, and .86 for macro-level roles.
Role behavior. The questionnaire was developed by Itzhaky (2003), and included 39 items which reflect tasks that characterize the social worker’s role. In keeping with the focus of the present study, the researchers selected only the tasks that relate to change in the community. Although micro-level roles focused on dealing with the crisis, they were eliminated from the questionnaire because the partici- pants ranked the frequency of those tasks as very high (5), and the variance was not sufficient to conduct statistical analyses. Examination of the means and standard deviations for performance of roles (1–5) revealed that the social work- ers performed clinical tasks more frequently (M¼ .4.66, SD¼ .79) than commu- nity tasks (M¼ .2.01, SD¼ .76).
Consequently, 21 tasks were used to measure the participants’ perceptions of their role behavior. Participants were asked to evaluate how frequently they per- form each task, on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (rarely), to 5 (at least once a week). Based on principal component factor analysis, the items were divided into four factors, where Eigenvalue of each factor was greater than 1. These four factors explained 57.8 percent of the variance in the role behavior variables. The loadings of the 21 items on the four factors are presented in Table 1.
The first factor included nine tasks relating to the social worker’s community roles, and their loading was greater than .46. The second factor included six tasks relating to representation and mediation, and their loading was greater than .60. The third factor included three tasks related to gathering information, and their loading was greater than .64. The fourth factor included three tasks, involving training, and their loading was over .80. Four overall scores were derived from the mean scores on each of the four factors.
Sense of empowerment. A questionnaire developed by Frans (1993) was used in this study to evaluate the participants’ sense of empowerment. The instrument con- sisted of 34 items, which measure the following five components of personal and group empowerment: knowledge and skills; collective identity; critical awareness; self-perception; and natural tendency to act. Responses were based on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree), to 5 (strongly disagree). Gerber (2002) and Bustin (2002) conducted a higher order factor analysis, and divided the five com- ponents of empowerment in the original questionnaire into two domains: group
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identity, and personal empowerment. The Cronbach’s alpha reliability of the ques- tionnaire in each of those studies was .91.
One hundred and sixty questionnaires were distributed in all of the social service departments in moshavim and kibbutzim that employ at least three social workers. This procedure was adopted, because in social service departments with less than three social workers, the assistance provided in the crisis was not planned or organized – in contrast to the departments with at least three social workers. Notably, there were only four localities with less than three social workers.
Eleven of the social workers selected for the sample refused to complete the questionnaire, so that a total of 149 questionnaires were completed (an 88%
Table 1. Factor loading of role behavior tasks
1 2 3 4
Organization and establishment of population groups .80
Supervision of self-help groups .79
Development of general programs in community .70
Organizing community members to generate change
in regulations and policy within and outside of the community
Activation and inclusion of community members in
Planning new services in the community .63
Mediation among service providers .60
Influencing services or individuals .47
Teamwork regarding community problems .46
Representation of clients to service agencies .79
Program management .71
Development of community initiatives .71
Development of region-wide programs .66
Mediation between community members and services .61
Helping people utilize services .60
Identification of social problems .79
Gathering information on community issues .75
Gathering information on services in community .64
Training and supervision of service providers .84
Supervision and counseling of clients .83
Referral of clients to other agencies .80
570 Journal of Social Work 13(6)
response rate). The researchers distributed questionnaires to the social workers at department staff meetings, and collected them at the end of the meetings.
To examine the contribution of the research variables (role behavior, sense of empowerment, and demographic variables) to explaining the variance in role effec- tiveness at the micro- and macro-levels, we performed stepwise hierarchical regres- sion analyses. In the first step, three demographic variables (job seniority, marital status, and full-/part-time employment) were entered. In the second step, the dimensions of empowerment (personal empowerment and group empowerment) and the interactions between those and demographic variables were added. In the
Table 2. Hierarchical regression of the explanation of variance in perception of effectiveness
Predictors b B SEB R2
First step .07**
Job seniority 21* �.01 .01
Extent of employment .20* .13 .06
Second step .12***
Job seniority �.21* �.01 .01
Extent of employment .11 .07 .06
Personal empowerment .24** .25 .09
Third step .28***
Job seniority �.15* �.01 .01
Extent of employment .14* .09 .06
Personal empowerment .13 .14 .09
Information role behavior .17* .14 .06
Second step .08**
Personal empowerment .21* .25 .10
Group empowerment x family status �.18* �.12 .06
Third step .28***
Personal empowerment .13* .15 .09
Group empowerment x family status �.15* �.10 .05
Training role behavior .27** .16 .05
Information role behavior .22** .13 .05
Community role behavior .15* .11 .06
*p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001.
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third step, the role behavior variables were added. The results of the regression analyses are presented in Table 2.
According to the hierarchical regression analyses, the independent variables explained 28 percent of the variance in micro- and macro-level measures of role effectiveness. The contribution of the demographic variables entered in the first step to explaining micro-level role effectiveness was minimal (7%). Job seniority con- tributed negatively to micro-level role effectiveness: the greater the social workers’ job seniority, the lower were their evaluations of micro-level role effectiveness. Extent of employment contributed positively to micro-level role effectiveness: the greater the social workers’ extent of employment, the higher their perceptions of micro-level role effectiveness. The demographic variables did not contribute sig- nificantly to macro-level role effectiveness.
In the second step of the regression analyses, empowerment added 5 percent to the explained variance in micro-level role effectiveness, and 8 percent to the explained variance in macro-level role effectiveness. Personal empowerment pre- dicted changes in perceived role effectiveness at both the micro- and macro-levels. The greater the social workers’ sense of personal empowerment, the higher their perceived micro- and macro-level role effectiveness. In this step, the interaction between group empowerment and marital status contributed significantly to macro-level role effectiveness. A high significant correlation was found between group empowerment and macro-level role effectiveness among the unmarried social workers (r¼ .57, p< .01), whereas the correlation between those variables among the married social workers was low and insignificant (r¼ .11, p> .05).
In the third step of the regression analyses, the role behavior variables added 16 percent to the explained variance in micro-level role effectiveness, and 20 percent to the explained variance in macro-level role effectiveness. Information-gathering roles contributed to both micro- and macro-level role effectiveness, whereas the performance of training and community roles contributed only to macro-level effectiveness. The more frequently the participants engaged in these roles, the higher their evaluations of their macro-level effectiveness.
The study aimed to examine the contribution of role behavior, sense of empower- ment, and demographic variables to social workers’ perceptions of their role effec- tiveness in micro- and macro-level intervention in rural communities at times of economic crisis.
The research findings indicate that the components of role behavior contributed most to the social workers’ perceptions of their role effectiveness, followed by personal empowerment and demographic variables. The role behavior component that contributed most to the social workers’ perceptions of effectiveness at both the
572 Journal of Social Work 13(6)
micro- and macro-levels during the period of economic crisis was information gathering, whereas training and community roles contributed only to macro-level role effectiveness. In other words, the more the social workers engaged in roles related to information gathering, the greater was their perceived micro- and macro- level role effectiveness; the more they performed training and community roles, the greater was their perceived macro-level role effectiveness.
The finding that information-gathering roles contributed to perceptions of micro-level role effectiveness might be associated with social, economic, and ideological changes in rural communities. Among other outcomes, those changes might have affected the sources of support provided to community members. Before the changes were introduced in the rural communities, mutual aid among the members of those communities was the primary source of support. Afterwards, this source of support declined, and the need for information from formal, institutionalized sources of support outside of the community increased (Coward & Smith, 1983). However, it might have been difficult to obtain such formal support due to lack of knowledge about the rights, procedures, and laws that characterize bureaucratic processes. Therefore, it is crucial to provide com- munity members with information about organizations that can offer assistance, and how such assistance can be obtained (Gibelman, 1999; Tal, 1998; Walz & Groze, 1991). Thus, the findings of the present study indicate that the social workers were aware of the community members’ need for this kind of guidance, and that the performance of information-gathering roles increased their sense of effectiveness. As for the effectiveness of macro-level roles or system-wide com- munity intervention, the findings indicate that the social workers’ perceptions of their role effectiveness were influenced by the extent to which they engaged in information-gathering, training, and community roles. These findings appear to reflect the very nature of macro-level intervention, which is directed mainly …