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Social Work Person-in-Environment
by
Mary Ellen Kondrat

Introduction

This bibliography deals with the concept “person in environment” as a practice orienting perspective for social work practice and education. This perspective is based on the notion that an individual and his or her behavior cannot be understood adequately without consideration of the various aspects of that individual’s environment (social, political, familial, temporal, spiritual, economic, and physical). A person-in-environment perspective is said to provide a more adequate framework for assessing an individual and his or her presenting problem and strengths than an approach that focuses solely on changing an individual’s behavior or psyche, or one that focuses solely on environmental conditions. This perspective is also thought to increase the range of interventions available to the practitioner—with the options to intervene directly with the individual or into aspects of the environment or both. The person-in-environment perspective has been accepted by the profession as uniquely defining and differentiating social work from related professions/disciplines, such as psychology (more person centered) and sociology (more structurally oriented). In terms of its epistemological status, the concept “person in environment” is variously described as a perspective or a framework. As such, it is said to help the practitioner organize observations, planning, and intervention strategy. In this broader understanding, person-in-environment is not a “theory” in the sense of producing statements that have been or can be verified with empirical evidence. However, this is not to say that more specific formulations linking some aspect of the environment to behavioral outcomes have not been productive. Many of such formulations have formed the backdrop for much that goes by the name “evidence-based practice” (a concept treated extensively elsewhere on this site). There is some speculation regarding when the person-in-environment framework was first clearly articulated in social work. What is clear is that there were a number of historical developments in the first two decades of the 20th century that led to the more formal expression of the concept in the emerging profession and discipline of social work sometime after World War I.

Reference Works

Although many social work journals may treat concepts associated with the person-in-environment framework, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment is dedicated to theory development, conceptual issues, and research related to person-in-environment. Three additional resources provide access to articles, book reviews, and dissertations, searched by topical area, including the topic “person-in-environment”: Social Services Abstracts, Social Work Abstracts, and Mizrahi and Davis 2008.

  • Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.

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    Articles in this journal explore human behavior theory and empirical research addressing human behavior as a complex phenomenon, particularly research that targets identified behaviors for change through specific environmental interventions.

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  • Mizrahi, Terry, and Larry E. Davis, eds. 2008. Encyclopedia of social work. 20th ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Articles in this reference work cover all aspects of social work practice, theory, and research. Each article is written by an expert in the topical area. With over four hundred articles, this resource includes an article on person-in-environment and treats related topics such as ecological theory and systems theory.

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  • National Association of Social Workers. Social Work Abstracts.

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    Provides up-to-date bibliographic references for published research/scholarship in social work and the human services. Topics may be searched by title, abstract, and key words, including the topic “person-in-environment.” Available for articles published since 1977, this resource indexes and abstracts more than five hundred social work journals.

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  • Proquest CSA Social Sciences. Social Services Abstracts.

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    Provides up-to-date bibliographic references for published research that covers social work, social welfare, social policy, and community practice, including “person-in-environment” as a researchable item in titles, abstracts, and key words. Available for articles published since 1979, this resource indexes over 1,200 publications/journals in a variety of social work and related professional journals.

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    Textbooks

    Most of the textbooks that promote a person-in-environment perspective are written for the “human behavior and the social environment” area of the social work curriculum. Other social work textbooks, especially those covering social work general practice, usually acknowledge some person-in-environment formulation as a guide to the social worker’s assessment, planning, and intervention. However, there appear to be few contemporary practice textbooks that use the person-in-environment concept itself to explicitly structure approaches to practice. Notable exceptions include Gitterman and Germain 2008, which applies ecological theory to social work practice; Kemp, et al. 1997, which is a direct practice text that emphasizes environmental modifications; and Karls and Wandrei 1994, which presents a schema for categorizing types of problems that can exist between a person and his or her environment.

    • Gitterman, Alex, and C. B. Germain. 2008. The life model of social work practice. 3d ed. New York: Columbia Univ.

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      This is the third edition of a well-received basic practice textbook; the first edition was published in 1980 (see Germain and Gitterman 1980, cited under Ecological Theory and Life Model of Practice). Authors apply ecological theory to social work practice, with copious examples and real-life applications. The book expands on ecological concepts such as niche, coping, adaptation, life stressors (predictable and unpredicted), environmental stress, and resilience. The narrative weaves these and similar concepts within the steps of the traditional social work problem-solving process.

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    • Karls, J. M., and K. E. Wandrei. 1994. Person-in-environment system: The PIE classification system for social functioning problems. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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      Karls and Wandrei’s book has been used as a supplementary text in direct-practice and human-behavior courses. Authors develop a schema for categorizing types of problems at the interface of person and environment. As an attempt to move past limitations of the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, when applied in social work practice, the book is focused on problems and symptoms and consistent with a medical model of practice.

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    • Kemp, Susan P., James K. Whittaker, and E. M. Tracy. 1997. Person-environment practice: The social ecology of interpersonal helping. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

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      This direct-practice textbook focuses on theories of the environment-person connection, environmental assessments, environmental interventions, and diversity of environments. There is less emphasis on the person and more on environmental modifications.

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    Prehistory of a Social Work Perspective

    The concept of person-in-environment in social work has “prehistory” that includes contributions from three late-19th- and early-20th-century developments: (1) the increasing influence of pragmatism as a philosophy, (2) the rise of progressivism as an important social and political reform movement, and (3) the emergence of sociology as a new science/discipline. Each of these developments/movements emerged at approximately the same time as the profession and discipline of social work and in much the same places; also there are documented instances of mutual influence among the three developments. Pragmatism, though defined variously by its different proponents, essentially holds that the meaning or truth value of any concept must be understood in terms of its real-world consequences. One of the figures most associated with this movement was philosopher John Dewey. Dewey 1997 was influential not only in disciplines of philosophy and education but also in the newly emerging fields of sociology and social work as these developed at the University of Chicago. Progressivism as a social reform movement in the United States lasted from about 1890 to the end of World War I. The movement was a response to the massive social dislocations that came with rapidly expanding urbanization, industrialization, and immigration during this period. Progressives advocated for change in public policy and increased public accountability with respect to social problems such as poverty, urban slums, exploitation of child labor, unsafe and unsanitary work conditions, political corruption, and lack of political voice for women. This movement emphasized social dislocation, as well as forms of social injustice within the urban setting as key environmental factors in the production of social problems faced by individuals and families. Progressive reforms were embraced by early sociologists and the first group of social work reformers and scholars. In the context of this period, which was historically and politically fertile, the first faculty in sociology developed at the University of Chicago, with a focus on the examination of contemporary social conditions and their impact on individuals (see Park 1915, McKenzie 1984, and Thomas and Znaniecki 1958). In an era characterized by unprecedented social dislocation, the urban environment as context for human behavior, as well as rapid social change as a result of immigration and industrialization, became a focus for the sociology faculty. In these very early days of sociology as a social science, the distinction between scientific sociology and social reform/social work was not as sharply drawn as it later became (see Deegan 1988 and Sibley 1995). The American social work founders who developed Hull House in Chicago were involved in all three of these historical movements. Social thinkers such as Jane Addams, Albion Small (the founder of the sociology program at the University of Chicago), John Dewey, George Herbert Mead and others identified with both pragmatism and progressivism. It is well known that John Dewey was a frequent visitor to Hull House (see Deegan 1988). And social worker/activists at Hull House became closely associated with sociologists of the new Chicago School of Sociology. Prior to World War I, some of women of Hull House, including Grace Abbott, Edith Abbott Jane Addams, Julia Lathrop, and Florence Kelley, were writing articles that appeared in the American Journal of Sociology (published at the University of Chicago) and other social science journals, focusing on urban reform and human rights for various groups, especially children. Influenced by pragmatism’s emphasis on real-world consequences, these works focused on the impact of poverty, crowded housing conditions, child labor, and other social ills in the wake of industrialization and urbanization. This was a significant development in that the focus for the fledgling profession of social work expanded from more directly trying to assist and reform people (the original casework approach favored by many East Coast social workers) to reforming social conditions and social policy as well (environment as well as persons). However, it would be quite some time before the formulation of person-in-environment received wide currency in the profession, and the next several decades were characterized by debates between partisans of social reform and partisans of individual case work.

    • Deegan, Mary J. 1988. Jane Addams and the men of the Chicago school, 1892–1918. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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      Sociologist Deegan revisits the period leading up to World War I, as social work and sociology were both developing at the University of Chicago. She documents the separation of function by gender that led to the eventual disciplinary boundaries constructed between sociological inquiry (male prerogative) and social work as action-oriented practice (women’s province).

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    • Dewey, John. 1997. Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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      For Dewey, “An experience is always what it is because of a transaction taking place between an individual and what, at the time, constitutes his environment” (p. 43). This small volume is well worth the read for its historical concordance with theorizing in social work about person-environment transactions and for Dewey’s clear and compelling arguments.

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    • McKenzie, R. D. 1984. The ecological approach to the study of the human community. In The city: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the urban environment. Edited by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess, 63–79. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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      Provides one of the first available definitions of human ecology as “a study of the spatial and temporal relations of human beings as affected by the selective, distributive, and accommodative forces of the environment” (pp. 63–64). Within social work, the concept the “ecological perspective” is one of the historical variations of the person in environment perspective.

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    • Park, Robert E. 1915. The city: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the city environment. American Journal of Sociology 20.5: 577–612.

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      Park argues for the city as social institution and as a proper subject for social inquiry. He proposes a laundry list of research questions that follow from his assumptions about the urban environment.

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    • Sibley, D. 1995. Geographies of exclusion. New York: Routledge.

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      For our purposes, this work includes a chapter dealing with the relationship between the women of Hull House and the sociologists who were developing their emergent science at the University of Chicago. Sibley contends that the more radical politics of the women were factors in their gradual exclusion from the scientific sociology discourse, despite their many significant scientific contributions to an understanding of urban life and context.

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    • Thomas, W. I., and F. Znaniecki. 1958. The Polish peasant in Europe and America II. New York: Dover.

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      Thomas and Zaniecki introduce the concept of social disorganization to describe the results of spatial and social dislocation of primarily agricultural families to urban industrial environments. Social structures that gave coherence and identity to individuals and communities were fractured or weakened and irrelevant to the new environment, creating social problems faced by individuals and families.

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    Emergence of a Social Work Perspective

    As professional social work emerged from its earliest origins in Great Britain and the United States in philanthropy and settlement houses, key debates also emerged as to the proper focus for this new occupation. In very general terms (understanding that nuances are lost in the process), early debates within the profession centered on whether the main target of change should be the individual person or whether it should be social conditions and social policies. While Midwest social reformers/social workers advocated for environmental and social policy changes to meet the emerging social crises of individuals and families, East Coast social work leaders were absorbing the insights of the (also newly emerging) Freudian school of thought and the psychosocial casework approach advocated by social work pioneer Mary Richmond (Richmond 1964). Efforts to reconcile the various sides of the debate were played out in a series of major conferences and commissioned reports (see American Association of Social Workers 1974, Hollis and Taylor 1951, Boehm 1959, and Bartlett 1970), before they were clearly articulated in any disciplinary literature. What is important is that the difference between these two positions was centered largely on defining what constituted “legitimate” social work intervention (structural/policy change versus intervention at the level of individuals and families). The historical record shows that, with varying emphases, both sides of this debate understood that problems of individuals and families were contextual and complex, and both person and context helped define a person’s total situation. In recent decades a general consensus has emerged that the practice of social work requires attention to persons, the environments they inhabit, and the interactions between persons and aspects of their environments. The notion that the profession of social work was defined (and differentiated from other helping professions) by a person-environment perspective gradually became an accepted formulation within the profession globally. Within the last several decades, various social work professional associations affirmed the principle that attention to the person-in-environment context is a central element in definitions of social work practice. Such statements may be found in documents of the following organizations: the Australian Association of Social Workers, the British Association of Social Workers, the Council on Social Work Education (US), the US National Association of Social Workers (US), the International Federation of Social Workers, and the International Association of Schools of Social Work. It is important to note that the two most comprehensive international social work associations IFSW and IASSW, with members in over seventy countries, explicitly endorse the person-in environment framework as a defining characteristic of social work practice.

    • American Association of Social Workers. 1974. Social casework: Generic and specific; A report of the Milford conference. New York: American Association of Social Workers.

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      The report from the Milford Conference made an attempt to define the major elements across all social work fields, including an appreciation of the individual functioning “in a given environment.”

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    • Bartlett, Harriet. 1970. The common base of social work practice. New York: National Association of Social Workers.

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      Bartlett’s book, commissioned by NASW, clearly identified the domain of social work as focused on the interaction between people and their environments.

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    • Boehm, Werner. 1959. Objectives of the social work curriculum of the future. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

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      In this CSWE-commissioned curriculum study, understanding human beings and their behavior in an environmental context was affirmed as a necessary element in the education of social workers. Shortly thereafter, the person-in-environment perspective was conceptualized as a required curriculum element and labeled “human behavior in the social environment.”

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    • Hollis, E. V., and A. L. Taylor. 1951. Social work education in the United States: A report of a study made for the National Council on Social Work Education. New York: Columbia Univ.

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      Hollis and Taylor coined the phrase “biopsychosocial” to refer to the person as a biological/psychological being in a social context. The phrase is sometimes used as an alternate way of talking about person-in-environment.

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    • Richmond, Mary E. 1964. Social diagnosis. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

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      Social work pioneer Mary Richmond, in a work originally published in 1917, articulated a concept of social work practice that stressed the importance of a dual or psychosocial approach. While still focused on intervention at the individual level, Richmond’s work underscores the importance of family and social circumstance in understanding social problems faced by individuals. As such, it can be said to be a precursor of the later person-environment conceptualization.

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    Contemporary Theories

    At the present time, the person-in-environment framework has wide currency in social work education and practice nationally and internationally. As noted above, it has become part of the definition of social work practice, a characteristic of practice that is said to distinguish social work from other helping professions. Virtually every general practice textbook acknowledges the importance of viewing an individual within environmental context. However, the formulation in and of itself is limited in terms of what can be called a genuinely systematic or coherent body of literature. Instead, the framework has been elaborated into several rich conceptualizations that will be discussed below. These alternative conceptualizations were advanced in an attempt to further develop an understanding of the interaction-link between person and environment. The person-environment perspective is the general “umbrella” concept under which these alternate conceptualizations can be said to rest. Attempts to give more conceptual depth to the person-environment nexus included (a) general systems theory and (b) ecological theory and the life model of practice. The person-in-environment perspective is also elaborated in various conceptualizations of the concept “human behavior in the social environment.” The latter concept is a common translation of person-in-environment as it appears in social work curricula.

    General Systems Theory

    During the 1960s and 1970s, general systems theory, as developed in the theoretical work of biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, became a major paradigm in social work education and literature to describe the relationship between persons-as-systems and contiguous systems, as well as the relationship to the larger social system. Briefly, Bertalanffy 1969 challenged prevailing notions in science that parts and processes of a larger (especially living) phenomenon could be separated and studied as elements isolated from the whole. Systems theory as adopted in social work took the focus away from an exclusive emphasis on either the individual or the social. Instead, the focus became the transaction between the individual and contiguous systems and between the individual and larger systems in which he or she existed. Works from some of the earliest pioneers who introduced systems theory into the social work literature include Forder 1974, Hearn 1969, Pincus and Minihan 1973, and Stein 1974. Although since the 1980s, social work practitioners and educators have tended to embrace the ecological perspective as a closer fit for human life and interactions than the earlier, general systems theory, social work scholars have not entirely abandoned systems theory as a way to understand the person-environment nexus. For example, borrowing concepts from applied mathematics and engineering, proponents of dynamical systems theory and similar models (complexity theory, chaos theory) suggest that approaches that treat human beings as open systems and their behavior as nonlinear and recursive hold the promise of being better able to account for the complexity, mutability, and unpredictability of human behavior over time (Stevens and Cox 2008; Warren, et al. 1998; and Warren and Knox 2000).

    • Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. 1969. General system theory. New York: Braziller.

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      Bertalanffy underscores differences between closed systems (those that can be studied in isolation from their environment and from relationships with other elements) and open systems (sets of elements existing in interrelationship with one another and with the environment in dynamic interplay). He further suggests that living organisms are open systems, with implications for understanding behavior of living organisms, including human beings.

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    • Forder, A. 1974. Social work and system theory. British Journal of Social Work 6.1: 23–42.

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      Forder provides an account of general systems theory, indicating ways in which the human organism differs from other kinds of systems. Suggests that, for the practice of social work, systems theory is most useful in guiding the practitioner in assessment and intervention.

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    • Hearn, Gordon, ed. 1969. General systems approach: Contributions toward a holistic conception of social work. New York: Council on Social Work Education.

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      Explores applications of the emerging general systems approach to social work practice and to an understanding of social work as a profession/discipline.

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    • Pincus, Allen, and A. Minihan. 1973. Social work practice: Model and method. Itasca, IL: Peacock.

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      One of the first systematic works on systems theory to be used as a textbook in teaching social work practice. It applies general systems theory to practice with social systems of various sizes and assists the student to differentiate between four basic systems: (a) the “change agent system” (person and system specifically engaged in creating planned change); (b) the “client system” (the system that is being helped); (c) the “target system” (the system that needs to be changed in order to accomplish the goal); and (d) “action system” (the systems and groups the change agent engages to effect the planned change).

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    • Stein, Irma. 1974. Systems theory, science, and social work. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow.

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      Stein discusses the origins of general systems theory and defines key terms. He states that systems theory has influenced social work practice with an increasing emphasis on person in relation to the various systems to which that person belongs, rather than focusing exclusively on intra-psychic phenomena.

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    • Stevens, I., and P. Cox. 2008. Complexity theory: Developing new understandings of child protection in field settings and in residential child care. British Journal of Social Work 38:1320–1336.

      DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcm052Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Clearly delineates between systems theory and complexity theory. Complexity theory, unlike systems theory, deals with open systems characterized by nonlinearity, unpredictability, self-mutability, and instability. Authors supply examples and suggest implications for policy makers and practitioners in the area of child protective services.

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    • Warren, K., C. Franklin, and C. L. Streeter. 1998. New directions in systems theory: Chaos and complexity. Social Work 43.4: 357–373.

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      Authors suggest that dynamical systems theories may be useful in accounting for change in recursive systems over time.

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    • Warren, K., and K. Knox. 2000. Offense cycles, thresholds and bifurcations: Applying dynamical systems theory to the behaviors of adolescent sex offenders. Journal of Social Service Research 27.1: 1–27.

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      Authors apply mathematical formulae based on dynamical systems theory to the behavior of adolescent sex offenders.

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    Criticism

    Of course, systems theory in social work was not without its critics. Drover and Schragge 1977 criticized systems theory for being at a level too abstract to be useful to practice. Leighninger 1977 and Leighninger 1978 also criticized its alleged implicit acceptance of the status quo, while Mishne 1982 critiqued its purported eclipse of social work’s historic commitment to the well-being of the individual.

    • Drover, G., and E. Shragge. 1977. General systems theory and social work education: A critique. Canadian Journal of Social Work Education 3.2: 28–39.

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      Authors suggested that systems theory was at a level of abstraction too general to be really applicable to human life as it is lived day to day.

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    • Leighninger, R. 1977. Systems theory and social work. Journal of Education for Social Work 13.3: 44–49.

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      Leighninger critiqued systems theory for its implicit acceptance of the status quo and consequent deficiency in explaining social change and conflict.

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    • Leighninger, R. 1978. Systems theory. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 5.4: 446–480.

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      Author continues elaborating what the he sees as unsettling implications of systems theory when applied to social work practice and theorizing.

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    • Mishne, J. M. 1982. The missing system in social work’s application of systems theory. Social Casework 63.9: 547–553.

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      Mishne argued that the focus on “transaction” was misplaced because it eclipsed social work’s commitment to the importance of the individual.

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    Ecological Theory and Life Model of Practice

    By the late 1970s and early 1980s, a conceptual alternative to general systems theory as a model for the person-in-environment relationship became ascendant in social work. Partially a corrective to what was thought to be a far too mechanistic and abstract general systems theory, the ecological perspective (and the life model of practice based on this perspective) appeared to offer a more concrete and lifelike metaphor for human beings in their environments than did general systems theory. This metaphor remains an influence in texts and training manuals to the present day. The ecological perspective is generally associated with the work of Carel Germain (see Germain 1973, Germain 1978, Germain 1980, and Germain 1981) and her work with Alex Gitterman in Gitterman and Germain 2008 (cited under Textbooks). Meyer 1983 similarly applies the ecological perspective to practice and elaborates on various social work methods in light of this framework. In challenging the usual conceptualization of person-in-environment, Kondrat 1999 and Kondrat 2002 suggest a different metaphor than the one commonly used to discuss the person-environment relationship. Drawing on British sociologist Anthony Giddens’s “structuration theory,” Kondrat suggested that people are in the environment not so much the way increasingly smaller boxes are contained within larger ones (the usual metaphor) but more recursively, the way dancers are in the ballet, players are in the football game, or people are in their families. The dancers, players, and family members constitute the dance, the game, and the family, respectively: they are not merely objects contained within the larger entity. In this approach, both the actors and their environments (micro and macro) are constituted by each other in recursive processes.

    • Germain, C. B. 1973. An ecological perspective in casework practice. Social Casework 54:323–330.

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      One of the first articles in the social work literature to propose (and provide a rationale for) an ecological metaphor for conceptualizing person-environment transactions. Author suggests implications of such a conceptualization for the practice of casework and social agencies that provide casework services. This article is an essential read for anyone interested in the history of ideas that shaped social work education and practice.

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    • Germain, C. B. 1978. General-systems theory and ego psychology: An ecological perspective. Social Service Review 52.4: 535–550.

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      Germain identifies the two dominant paradigms in social work theorizing and practice at the end of the 1970s as ego-psychology and general-systems theory. She proposes ecological concepts as a way to bridge the differences between these two alternative conceptual approaches to social work interventions.

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    • Germain, C. B. 1980. Social context of clinical social work. Social Work 25.6: 483–488.

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      In an interesting and thought-provoking application, the author turns the lens of ecological theory on clinical social work practice itself, examining this form of practice as a system among other systems in the environment. Article looks at elements of the external and internal environment. Implications for the practitioner are included.

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    • Germain, C. B. 1981. The ecological approach to people-environment transactions. Social Casework 62.6: 323–331.

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      Argues that although there has been increasing consensus that a focus on person-in-environment is a unifying and defining characteristic of social work practice, little had been done (up to that point) to develop concepts and skills needed to intervene at the interface between person and system. Author introduces concepts of coping, adaptation, and positive and negative feedback and describes the multiple layers of environment that must be considered in assessment and intervention.

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    • Germain, Carel B., and Alex Gitterman. 1980. The life model of social work practice. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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      Authors apply ecological theory to social work practice, with copious examples and real-life applications. The third edition of this book (Gitterman and Germain 2008, cited under Textbooks) continues to be used as a textbook in basic social work practice classes.

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    • Gitterman, A., and C. B. Germain. 1981. Education for practice: Teaching about the environment. Journal of Education for Social Work 17.3: 44–51.

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      Drawing from social network theory, environmental psychology, and organizational theory, the authors describe ways to teach about the built and natural environment. Environments presented as enhancing or constraining human health and happiness. Classroom techniques such as force field analysis, network mapping, genogram and ecomap, critical incident reviewing, and others are presented as useful for teaching about the environment.

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    • Kondrat, M. E. 1999. Who is the self in self-aware: Professional self-awareness from a critical theory perspective. Social Service Review 73.4: 451–477.

      DOI: 10.1086/514441Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Describes four levels of self-awareness, including an awareness of the individual’s involvement in constructing his or her own social environment (micro and macro).

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    • Kondrat, M. E. 2002. Toward an actor-centered social work: Re-visioning person-in-environment through a critical theory lens. Social Work 47.4: 435–448.

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      Suggests that people are in their environment the way the dancers are in the ballet or the football players are in their game. The dance and the game are constituted by the dancers and players (and vice versa). Individuals are constantly altering their environment as social actors; at the same time that environment (now altered by the actors) recursively contributes to shaping their behavior.

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    • Meyer, Carol, ed. 1983. Clinical social work in the eco-system perspective. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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      Meyer makes the argument that the ecological perspective combined with a system orientation (eco-system framework) provides a unifying framework for practice, one that allows for a variety of interventions and does not limit the worker to just one approach. Contributors to chapters elaborate various social work methods, including casework, behavioral treatment, and crisis intervention, in the light of an eco-systems framework.

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    Criticism

    Like the general systems theory before it, the ecological perspective has not gone unchallenged. A number of authors have critiqued the ecological perspective and/or suggested modifications to it. Some of the most relevant include Besthorn and Canda 2002, Brower 1988, Saleebey 1992, Saleebey 2004, Wakefield 1996a, and Wakefield 1996b.

    • Besthorn, F., and E. R. Canda. 2002. Revisioning environment: Deep ecology for education and teaching in social work. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 22.1: 79–101.

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      Besthorn and Canda argue that social work’s conceptualization of “environment” is too narrow, usually excluding the natural environment.

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    • Brower, A. M. 1988. Can the ecological model guide social work practice? Social Service Review 62.3: 411–429.

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      Brower critiques the ecological model as too abstract to assist practitioners and researchers and proposes linking cognitive theory to the model, particularly to the ecological concept of “niche.”

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    • Saleebey, D. 1992. Biology’s challenge to social work: Embodying the person-in-environment perspective. Social Work 37.2: 112–118.

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      Saleebey suggests that the profession has ignored the “body” in conceptualizing person-in-environment and points to ways in which advances in biological knowledge can inform practice.

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    • Saleebey, D. 2004. The power of place: Another look at the environment. Families in Society 85.1: 7–17.

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      Author promotes the importance of attention to the “small” environments in which our clients live and act: waiting rooms, neighborhoods, homes, etc.

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    • Wakefield, J. C. 1996a. Does social work need the eco-systems perspective? Part 1: Is the perspective clinically useful? Social Service Review 70.1: 1–32.

      DOI: 10.1086/604163Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      The most comprehensive general critique of the ecological (or eco-systems) approach (along with part two in Wakefield 1996b).

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    • Wakefield, J. C. 1996b. Does social work need the eco-systems perspective? Part 2: Is the perspective clinically useful? Social Service Review 70.2: 183–213.

      DOI: 10.1086/604179Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      In this two-part presentation, Wakefield challenges the notion that there is a need for any sort of overarching perspective to give coherence to different forms of practice and that there is nothing wrong with accepting different theoretical orientations within the profession.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 05/25/2011

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389678-0092

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