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Social Work Ecological Framework
by
Susan P. Kemp

Introduction

Ecology, the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments, is a vibrant interdisciplinary field encompassing both the natural and the social sciences. In the social sciences, ecological theories, research, and intervention models focus on the complex, dynamic, and reciprocal relationships between human organisms and a range of environmental contexts, from family and immediate milieu to larger sociocultural, political, and institutional arrangements. Conceptually, the ecological framework is a broad, overarching paradigm or metatheory, bridging several fields of theory and research, and orienting practitioners and researchers to the importance of integrative, multilevel, and multidimensional approaches to person-environment relationships. Despite concerns that it is overly abstract and difficult to operationalize and use systematically in practice, the ecological (or ecological systems) framework has been widely influential, informing a range of practice and research applications and a growing interdisciplinary body of research literature. In social work, three lines of ecological inquiry have been particularly influential: sociological and community psychological approaches to community research and human ecology, theories and models grounded in general systems and ecological theories, and applications of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s developmental ecological theory. Recently, interest has been growing in holistic, justice-centered, and non-Western ecological frameworks. This bibliographic summary provides guidance on theoretical and applied work in these four areas, focusing primarily on developments since the 1970s. In addition to social work resources, materials are included that point readers to promising developments in ecological science in neighboring disciplines, including community, developmental, and environmental psychology; public health; geography; urban planning; and landscape architecture.

General Overviews

The overviews in this section provide a range of perspectives on the development and application of ecological perspectives in social work. Greene 2008, Gitterman 2008, and Mattaini 2008 provide useful general overviews. Siporin 1980 and Allen-Meares and Lane 1987 contribute additional information on the underlying interdisciplinary foundations of ecological approaches. Although overviews that compare US and non-US perspectives are not widely available, for valuable comparative perspectives see Ecological Systems Theory.

  • Allen-Meares, Paula, and Bruce A. Lane. 1987. Grounding social work practice in theory: Ecosystems. Social Casework 68.9: 515–521.

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    Describes the theoretical and empirical contributions of ethology, ecological psychology, ethnology, and systems theory to ecological systems theory (ecosystems) in social work; presents a set of ecosystems principles; and outlines a model for ecosystemic assessment in social work practice.

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  • Gitterman, Alex. 2008. Ecological framework. In Encyclopedia of social work, 20th ed. Edited by Terry Mizrahi and Larry E. Davis, 97–102. New York: National Association of Social Workers and Oxford Univ. Press.

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    A concise but comprehensive overview of foundational and emerging ecological concepts, framed within a summary of the development of ecological ideas in social work theory and practice.

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  • Greene, Roberta R. 2008. Ecological perspective: An eclectic theoretical framework for social work practice. In Human behavior theory and social work practice. 3d ed. Edited by Roberta R. Greene, 199–236. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine Transaction.

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    Reviews the theoretical roots of the ecological perspective, outlines its primary assumptions, and examines the application of selected concepts in individual, group, and community practice.

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  • Mattaini, Mark A. 2008. Ecosystems theory. In Comprehensive handbook of social work and social welfare, Vol. 2, Human behavior in the social environment. Edited by Bruce A. Thyer, 355–377. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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    A thorough presentation of the ecosystems perspective that delineates the history and key elements of this social work framework, maps its interdisciplinary conceptual and empirical foundations, and succinctly lays out recent advances in systems and ecological scholarship, including ecobehavioral theory and approaches.

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  • Siporin, Max. 1980. Ecological systems theory in social work. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 7.4: 507–532.

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    Provides a critical overview of ecological systems approaches emerging in social work at the end of the 1970s, including a useful presentation of the intellectual foundations of these approaches in social work and neighboring social science disciplines.

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Textbooks

Although a wide range of social work textbooks incorporate ecological theories and perspectives, fewer apply ecological principles comprehensively. These include Germain and Bloom 1999, a human behavior text; the direct practice texts Kemp, et al. 1997 and Gitterman and Germain 2008; and Coates 2003, a text on alternative ecological frameworks. All are relevant for graduate and undergraduate social work students and for practitioners.

  • Coates, John. 2003. Ecology and social work: Toward a new paradigm. Halifax, NS: Fernwood.

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    Presents a “new paradigm” ecological approach to social work practice focused on sustainability, environmental justice, and the interdependence of people with all natural and living systems.

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  • Germain, Carel B., and Martin Bloom. 1999. Human behavior in the social environment: An ecological view. 2d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This social–work human behavior textbook, organized around the author’s ecological framework, focuses centrally on life-course development across a range of ecological contexts.

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

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    The life model is an ecological approach to direct social work practice focused on assisting clients with “problems in living” related to stressful life transitions, maladaptive interpersonal processes, and unresponsive environments. See Applications: The Life Model.

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

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    This practice text focuses primarily on the environmental dimensions of direct social work practice, drawing on ecologically oriented interdisciplinary scholarship to present an expanded view of the salience of environmental contexts in human well-being.

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Human Ecology

Discussions of the development and application of ecological ideas in social work frequently overlook the groundbreaking ecological contributions of social workers in the Progressive Era charity organization societies and settlement houses (Residents of Hull-House 1895, Richmond 1901, Addams 1932). Familiarity with the profession’s long-standing interest and expertise in the ecology of urban communities is, however, essential to a full understanding of ecological perspectives in social work. As the writings of early social workers such as Mary E. Richmond (Richmond 1901) and Jane Addams (Addams 1932) make clear, both the charities and the settlements focused on the issues confronting urban communities, neighborhoods, and residents, underscoring social work’s central interest in the contexts of everyday life and providing an enduring template for community-based social work practice. The social surveys conducted by the settlement workers (Residents of Hull-House 1895) served as a model for the ecological studies of the "Chicago School" of sociology, which pioneered the systematic study of human ecology and continues to be a preeminent source of theory and methods in urban sociology and community research. Early writings by the sociologists Robert E. Park (Park 1915) and Ernest W. Burgess (Burgess 1916) trace this influence, as does Deegan 1990.

  • Addams, Jane. 1932. Twenty years at Hull-House, with autobiographical notes. New York: Macmillan.

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    Addams’s lively personal account of the everyday work of Hull House over its first two decades, including detailed descriptions of the ecology of the Hull House neighborhood.

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  • Burgess, Ernest W. 1916. The social survey: A field for constructive service by departments of sociology. American Journal of Sociology 21:492–500.

    DOI: 10.1086/212524Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this classic article, one of the founders of the Chicago School of sociology makes the case for a “practical sociology” modeled on the activist ecological research of the social settlements.

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  • Deegan, Mary Jo. 1990. Hull-House maps and papers: The birth of Chicago sociology. In Jane Addams and the men of the Chicago school, 1892–1918. By Mary Jo Deegan, 55–70. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

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    This historical chapter describes Hull-House maps and papers and argues that its publication “established the Chicago tradition of studying the city and its inhabitants” (p. 55).

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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.

    DOI: 10.1086/212433Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Chicago sociologist Robert E. Park’s seminal formulation of a systematic approach to the study of the human ecology of urban communities.

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  • Residents of Hull-House. 1895. Hull-House maps and papers, a presentation of nationalities and wages in a congested district of Chicago, together with comments and essays on problems growing out of the social conditions. New York: Crowell.

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    Reprinted in 2007 by the University of Illinois Press with an introduction by Rima Lunin Schultz. This classic book presents the pathbreaking survey research of the Hull House residents, including vividly detailed community maps modeled after those produced by Charles Booth in London.

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  • Richmond, Mary E. 1901. Charitable cooperation. In Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities and Correction. Edited by Isabel C. Barrows, 298–313. Boston: Ellis.

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    This early article contains Richmond’s famous diagram showing the “social forces” available to be harnessed by charity workers on behalf of poor families at multiple levels, from family and kin to wider community resources.

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Applications

Building on the foundational work of the Chicago School of sociology and the Progressive Era social workers, a focus on the ecology of urban neighborhoods and communities has continued to be central to social science theory and research across a range of disciplines. Although this is a wide-ranging literature, papers in social work by Chaskin 1997, Coulton 2005, and Nicotera 2007 and in community psychology by Shinn and Toohey 2003 and Trickett 2009 provide helpful entry points. From different perspectives, each offers an accessible and comprehensive overview of current theoretical and methodological approaches to the ecology of neighborhoods and communities that is suitable for undergraduate and graduate students and for researchers.

Situational Approaches

In the years between the two world wars, as social work embraced psychoanalytic theories and methods and became increasingly person-centered, a small group of social casework theorists prefigured later ecological approaches in direct practice by emphasizing the dynamic interdependence of person and environment. Informed by contemporary scholarship in sociology, social psychology, and Gestalt psychology and by the earlier ideas of W. I. Thomas and William Dewey, the integrative and contextual focus of these “situational” approaches anticipated later developments in ecological theory. In social work, early situational theorists included Ada E. Sheffield (Sheffield 1937), who used the ideas of Kurt Lewin (Lewin 1951) to argue for situational practice focused on clients in their physical and social settings, and Gordon Hamilton (Hamilton 1951), who drew on Lewin and other Gestalt psychologists to inform her “psychosocial” focus in social casework. Overviews of these early efforts are in Mailick 1977 and Murdach 2007. After World War II, Lewin’s influence on ecological frameworks is seen again in the groundbreaking work of Urie Bronfenbrenner (Bronfenbrenner 1977), who in this paper credits Lewin’s work with seeding his understanding of the importance of the experienced environment, or “life space,” and of the complex and nuanced ways development varies by place, time, and context.

  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1977. Lewinian space and ecological substance. Journal of Social Issues 33.4: 199–212.

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    In this reflective paper, Bronfenbrenner acknowledges and elaborates on his intellectual debt to Kurt Lewin.

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  • Hamilton, Gordon. 1951. Theory and practice of social casework. 2d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    In this second edition of her highly influential textbook, Hamilton elaborates a transactional, multicausal focus on “person-in-situation.”

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  • Lewin, Kurt. 1951. Field theory in social science. New York: Harper.

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    Foundational text in which Lewin laid out the major principles of field theory, including his classic formulation B = f(p,e): behavior is a function of both person and environment.

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  • Mailick, Mildred D. 1977. A situational perspective in casework theory. Social Casework 58:400–412.

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    Traces the history of developments in social casework theory focused on the client situation. Particularly useful for its discussion of the interdisciplinary theoretical influences on social work theorists, including W. I. Thomas and Kurt Lewin.

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  • Murdach, Allison D. 2007. Situational approaches to direct practice: Origin, decline, and re-emergence. Social Work 52.3: 211–218.

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    Describes early situational approaches, including the community-based practice of Mary E. Richmond and Jane Addams and the situational ideas of Ada E. Sheffield, Eduard Lindeman, and Mary Parker Follett, and links these to contemporary efforts to revive contextual frameworks.

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  • Sheffield, Ada E. 1937. Social insight in case situations. New York: Appleton Century.

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    Presents the theoretical arguments for and central principles of social casework practice focused on the client-in-situation.

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Systems Theory

Ideas drawn from systems theory are foundational to social work’s ecological frameworks. Complex systems are conceptualized as holistic entities with interlocking components that over time constantly interact in dynamic, nonlinear ways and that are whole in themselves but also connected collaterally to and nested within other systems. Originating in biology in the 1920s, systems ideas proliferated after World War II through the individual and collaborative efforts of a diverse interdisciplinary group of scholars, including Gregory Bateson, Margaret Mead, Kurt Lewin, and from ecology Howard T. Odum (Capra 1996). General systems theory (GST) (Bertalanffy 1969), a subset of systems theory focused on living systems, proved to be particularly influential in social work. Unlike a closed system, such as a clock, living systems are inherently dynamic, subject to transformation in response to human creativity and action. In the 1960s Gordon Hearn (Hearn 1969), Sister Mary Paul Janchill (Janchill 1969), and other social work theorists turned to systems theory for the theoretical tools to expand the linear, person-centered, and frequently reductionistic practice models then dominating the field. Practice approaches using systems ideas focused instead on addressing person-context relationships at multiple levels, from micro to macro. Many social work textbooks draw on systems ideas (Anderson, et al. 1999); a particularly good summary is provided by Rodway 1986. Payne 2002 complements this by speaking to the contexts in which systems theory took hold in the profession. Recent interdisciplinary developments in systems theory, including complexity theory, are described in Capra 1996.

  • Anderson, Ralph E., and Irl Carter, with Gary R. Lowe. 1999. Human behavior in the social environment: A social systems approach. 5th ed. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

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    This social work textbook takes a comprehensive social systems approach to human behavior in the social environment.

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

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    This seminal text from the “father” of general systems theory is widely referenced as foundational to ecological systems perspectives in social work.

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  • Capra, Fritjof. 1996. The web of life: A new scientific understanding of living systems. New York: Anchor.

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    Here the physicist Fritjof Capra traces the history and current status of systems thinking across a range of scientific disciplines, illuminating its broad interdisciplinary foundations, its grounding in empirical science, and its potential for transforming traditional scientific paradigms.

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

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    Benchmark collection of papers on the contributions of general systems theory (GST) to social work theory and practice presented at a groundbreaking seminar on this subject convened by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

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  • Janchill, Sister Mary Paul. 1969. Systems concepts in casework theory and practice. Social Casework 50.2: 74–82

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    One of a triad of early papers delineating the major concepts of general systems theory (GST) and arguing that general systems theory provides social work with the conceptual tools for an integrative focus on person and environment.

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  • Payne, Malcolm. 2002. The politics of systems theory within social work. Journal of Social Work 2.3: 269–292.

    DOI: 10.1177/146801730200200302Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This paper adds to the General Overviews by exploring the development of systems theory in social work from the perspective of the political and intellectual contexts in which it emerged as influential.

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  • Rodway, Margaret R. 1986. Systems theory. In Social work treatment: Interlocking theoretical approaches, 3d ed. Edited by Francis J. Turner, 514–539. New York: Free Press.

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    An excellent general introduction to the intellectual history and core components of systems theory as it has been conceptualized and applied in social work.

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Applications

In the 1970s a series of social work books and articles, including Pincus and Minahan 1973, Vickery 1974, and Whittaker 1974, applied systems ideas to social work practice. These foundational resources are useful for students and others interested in understanding earlier formulations of the systems of thinking that are now widely incorporated into social work’s ecologically focused practice frameworks.

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

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    One of the first US texts to rely heavily on systems concepts as the foundation for an integrative model of social work practice focused on four major systems: the change agent system, the client system, the target system, and the action system.

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  • Vickery, Anne. 1974. A systems approach to social work intervention: Its uses for work with individuals and families. British Journal of Social Work 4.4: 389–404.

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    In this first paper on systems theory for a British audience, the author examines the applicability of US developments in general systems theory (GST) for social work practice with individuals and families.

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  • Whittaker, James K. 1974. Social treatment: An approach to interpersonal helping. New York: Aldine.

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    Proposes an expanded model of interpersonal practice incorporating social systems theory with the aim of putting the “social” back in social work practice.

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Ecological Theory

Derived from the biological rather than the physical sciences, ecological theory is a form of systems theory focused specifically on the continuous, mutually adaptive transactions between living organisms and a range of environmental contexts. Carel B. Germain (Germain 1973), the theorist primarily responsible for introducing social work to ecological ideas, considered ecological theory’s focus on life processes and real-world contexts to be particularly well suited to social work’s dual interest in helping people and supporting environmental change. Drawing in particular on theoretical work in biology, such as Dubos 1968, Germain 1973 and Germain 1979a conceptualized ecology as a metaphor that allowed social workers to focus holistically on people in transaction with their environments. Her landmark paper, Germain 1978, is noteworthy for its use of the spatial sciences to expand social work’s environmental and ecological knowledge base. Another theorist who influenced social work’s ecological framework was Gregory Bateson (Bateson 1972; see also Harries-Jones 1995), who linked systems ideas drawn from cybernetics to the complexities of living systems. Key ecological concepts include transaction, adaptation, person-environment fit, habitat, and niche. For perspectives on practice applications of ecological ideas, see Germain 1979b and Brower 1988 and, linking ecological ideas and the strengths perspective, Sullivan and Rapp 2006. Also see Allen-Meares and Lane 1987 in General Overviews and Ungar 2002 in Ecosocial Perspectives.

  • Bateson, Gregory. 1972. Steps to an ecology of mind. San Francisco: Chandler.

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    Bateson’s brilliant, complex contemplations on the ecology of ideas within living systems.

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

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    Arguing that the ecological model is conceptually appealing but too abstract to guide practice, this paper presents an approach to ecological assessment and intervention informed by social cognition and the concept of “niche.”

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  • Dubos, René. 1968. So human an animal: How we are shaped by surroundings and events. New York: Scribner.

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    This classic text by a French-born American microbiologist stimulated the application of biological ideas to human ecologies by encouraging a focus on the role of environmental and social factors in human welfare.

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

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    Landmark article in which Germain translated ecological principles for social work practice, arguing that ecological thinking’s focus on organic, living, real-world systems is more appropriate for social work than general systems theory.

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  • Germain, Carel B. 1978. Space: An ecological variable in social work practice. Social Casework 59.9: 419–426.

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    One of the first papers in social work to use environmental and spatial research to illustrate the central role of natural and built environments in human functioning.

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  • Germain, Carel B. 1979a. Ecology and social work. In Social work practice: People and environments, an ecological perspective. Edited by Carel B. Germain, 1–22. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Germain’s introductory chapter provides a broad overview of ecological ideas and explains their relevance for social work practice.

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  • Germain, Carel B., ed. 1979b. Social work practice: People and environments, an ecological perspective. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    In this edited volume, leading social work theorists and researchers present a range of practice and program applications of ecological ideas.

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  • Harries-Jones, Peter. 1995. A recursive vision: Ecological understanding and Gregory Bateson. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

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    Provides a thorough overview of the development of Gregory Bateson’s ecological thinking, focusing on his ideas about the role of recursive patterns of information in the ecology of living systems.

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  • Sullivan, William P., and Charles A. Rapp. 2006. Honoring philosophical traditions: The strengths model and the social environment. In The strengths perspective in social work practice, 4th ed. Edited by Dennis Saleebey, 261–278. Boston: Pearson, Allyn, and Bacon.

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    Draws on ecological concepts, particularly the concept of social niche, to argue for the importance of focusing on person-environment transactions in identifying and amplifying the strengths in clients and communities.

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Applications: The Life Model

The life model, the first social work practice model framed from an ecological perspective, is a prescriptive model of direct social work practice that combines ecological ideas with intervention strategies drawn from ego psychology and other clinical practice theories. Developed by Carel B. Germain and her colleague Alex Gitterman in three editions of a practice textbook (Germain and Gitterman 1980, Germain and Gitterman 1996, Gitterman and Germain 2008), the life model focuses on assisting clients with “problems in living” related to stressful life transitions, maladaptive interpersonal processes, and unresponsive environments. Spanning a quarter century, the books illustrate the progressive development and refinement of the life model’s ecological framework in response to emerging ecological ideas and also to criticism that the initial formulation of the model minimized power inequities and the realities of toxic environmental conditions (for example, Gould 1987). Germain and Gitterman 1996 incorporates a life-course perspective and focuses directly on questions of power and oppression in person-environment relationships. Responding to emerging ecological paradigms, Gitterman and Germain 2008 includes content on ecofeminism and deep ecology. Accessibly written, the books are appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate students.

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

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    This groundbreaking practice text, oriented to social work education and to direct social work practitioners, outlines an ecological approach to social work practice focused on assisting clients with “problems in living” related to stressful life transitions, maladaptive interpersonal processes, and unresponsive environments.

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  • Germain, Carel B., and Alex Gitterman. 1996. The life model of social work practice: Advances in knowledge and practice. 2d ed. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This second edition extends the life model to focus more explicitly on a life-course perspective and on power differentials and environmental risks as dimensions of person-environment relationships.

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

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    The third edition of this widely influential text incorporates updated content on a range of environmental and ecological issues confronting social workers and their clients and expands the book’s conceptual foundations to include emerging ideas from deep ecology and ecofeminism.

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  • Gould, Ketayun H. 1987. Life model versus conflict model: A feminist perspective. Social Work 32:346–351.

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    Critiques the life model for its focus on adaptation and its lack of attention to issues of power and inequality.

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Ecological Systems Theory

Ecological systems approaches bring abstract, nonhumanistic, but theoretically powerful concepts from systems theory together with ecological theory’s focus on organisms adapting and changing in real-life settings. Early discussions of the value of integrating these two theoretical strands are provided by Auerswald 1968 and Siporin 1980; the latter includes a thoughtful evaluation of the pros and cons of ecological systems ideas. As noted by Rothery 2008, Payne 2005, and O’Donoghue and Maidment 2005, most contemporary ecological approaches draw on both systems and ecological ideas.

  • Auerswald, Edgar H. 1968. Interdisciplinary versus ecological approach. Family Process 7.2: 202–215.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1968.00202.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This pioneering paper by a community-based family therapist integrates ecological and systems ideas to propose a broadened approach to family systems practice.

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  • O’Donoghue, Kieran, and Jane Maidment. 2005. The ecological systems metaphor in Australasia. In Social work theories in action. Edited by Mary Nash, Robyn Munford, and Kieran O’Donoghue, 32–49. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

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    A thorough and informative overview of ecological systems ideas, focusing in particular on assessing their applicability to practice in Australasian contexts.

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  • Payne, Malcolm. 2005. Systems and ecological perspectives. In Modern social work theory, 3d ed. By Malcolm Payne, 142–160. Chicago: Lyceum.

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    A comprehensive overview of systems and ecological perspectives and the development and application of these theories in social work, including a discussion of critical ecological approaches emerging in North America and Europe.

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  • Rothery, Michael. 2008. Critical ecological systems theory. In Theoretical perspectives for direct social work practice: A generalist-eclectic approach. 3d ed. Edited by Nick Coady and Peter Lehmann, 89–118. New York: Springer.

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    Presents a helpful general overview of ecological systems theory as an organizing framework, or metatheory, for social work practice, including a useful summary and application of core constructs.

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  • Siporin, Max. 1980. Ecological systems theory in social work. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare 7.4: 507–532.

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    A critical overview of ecological systems approaches emerging in social work at the end of the 1970s, including a useful discussion of the intellectual foundations of these approaches in social work and neighboring social science disciplines.

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Applications: The Ecosystems Perspective

As formulated by the social work theorist Carol H. Meyer, the ecosystems perspective aims to provide a broadly inclusive metatheoretical framework for social work practice across a wide range of settings and methods. Meyer regarded the ecosystems perspective as a way of thinking about and conceptualizing practice that would open up issues for attention and intervention. Unlike the life model (see Applications: The Life Model), her framework does not provide specific guidance for intervention but is focused primarily on assessment. In the 1970s and 1980s Meyer developed her ideas in a series of practice textbooks and related articles (Meyer 1970, Meyer 1976, Meyer 1983, Mattaini and Meyer 2002). A helpful overview is also provided by Greif and Lynch 1983. Although quite influential, the perspective also generated criticism for its lack of direct applicability to practice (see, for example, Wakefield 1996a, Wakefield 1996b, Wakefield 1996c, and the response to Wakefield by Gitterman 1996).

  • Gitterman, Alex. 1996. Ecological perspective: Response to Professor Jerry Wakefield. Social Service Review 70.3: 472–476.

    DOI: 10.1086/604201Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this response to Wakefield 1996a and Wakefield 1996b, the ecological theorist Gitterman reaffirms the value of the ecological perspective as a broader framework for social work practice and clarifies perceived misreadings of ecological constructs. Read in tandem with the underlying articles, this debate brings into focus tensions over the nature and applicability of ecological frameworks in social work practice.

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  • Greif, Geoffrey, and Arthur Lynch. 1983. The eco-systems perspective. In Clinical social work in the eco-systems perspective. Edited by Carol H. Meyer, 35–71. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    Provides a thorough overview of the theoretical components of the ecosystems perspective.

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  • Mattaini, Mark A., and Carol H. Meyer. 2002. The ecosystems perspective: Implications for practice. In Foundations of social work practice: A graduate text, 3d ed. Edited by Mark A. Mattaini, Christine T. Lowery, and Carol H. Meyer, 3–24. Washington DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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    Provides an updated overview of the development and current form of the ecosystems perspective, focused in particular on its applicability to practice.

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  • Meyer, Carol H. 1970. Social work practice: A response to the urban crisis. New York: Free Press.

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    In her first textbook, Meyer draws on general systems theory to develop a broadened lens for social work practice at “the cross-roads of life” (p.158).

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  • Meyer, Carol H. 1976. Social work practice: The changing landscape. 2d ed. New York: Free Press.

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    In this major revision of her 1970 book (Meyer 1970), Meyer introduces “the eco/systems perspective,” focused on the transactions between people and environments.

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

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    This edited volume covers the primary domains of a more fully developed ecosystems paradigm. See in particular the chapter by Greif and Lynch 1983.

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  • Wakefield, Jerome C. 1996a. Does social work need the ecosystems 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 »

    In this first article of a two-part series, the author critiques the ecological perspectives in general and the ecosystems perspective in particular on the grounds that these frameworks are too general and abstract to meet the profession’s clinical needs for domain-specific, operational practice theories.

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  • Wakefield, Jerome C. 1996b. Does social work need the ecosystems perspective? Part 2: Does the perspective save social work from incoherence? Social Service Review 70.2: 183–213.

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

    In this second article of a two-part series, the author critiques the ecosystems perspective as an overarching conceptual framework for social work practice, arguing that the profession should instead focus on better specifying its purposes and related interventions.

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  • Wakefield, Jerome C. 1996c. Does social work need the ecological perspective? Reply to Alex Gitterman. Social Service Review 70.3: 476–481.

    DOI: 10.1086/604202Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Responding to Alex Gitterman (Gitterman 1996), Wakefield reiterates his concerns about the ecological perspective’s lack of specificity for practice. Read in tandem with the underlying articles, this debate brings into focus tensions over the nature and applicability of ecological frameworks in social work practice.

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The Ecology of Human Development (Urie Bronfenbrenner)

Urie Bronfenbrenner’s influential work on the ecology of human development (Bronfenbrenner 1977, Bronfenbrenner 1979, Bronfenbrenner 2005) solidified moves in developmental psychology and related fields toward a focus on the central importance of real-life environmental contexts in human development and well-being. His conceptualization of the environment as a multilevel set of nested structures—the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, and macrosystem—has been equally if not more widely adopted. In later work Bronfenbrenner’s thinking evolved from his earlier emphasis on development in context to a bioecological model focused on the dynamic and unfolding nature of person-environment interactions over the life course (Bronfenbrenner 1986, Bronfenbrenner 2005, Bronfenbrenner and Morris 1998). More a framework or perspective than a theory, Bronfenbrenner’s work has been described as an “imagination machine” (Garbarino and Abramowitz 1992, p.15), useful as much for stimulating generative lines of inquiry as for specifying ecological processes for research and intervention. Familiarity with Bronfenbrenner’s work is essential to understanding contemporary ecological approaches. Comprehensive summaries are in Garbarino and Abramowitz 1992 and Moen, et al. 1995; informative discussions of the trajectory of his own thinking are in Bronfenbrenner 1995 and Bronfenbrenner 2005.

  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1977. Toward an experimental psychology of human development. American Psychologist 32.7: 513–531.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.32.7.513Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this “citation classic,” Bronfenbrenner maps out the main contours of his ecological systems approach to human development in real-world settings.

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  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1979. The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Foundational monograph in which Bronfenbrenner elaborates a theoretical framework for human development focused on the ongoing transactions between the developing human organism and a series of environmental contexts.

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  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1986. Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology 22.6: 723–742.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.22.6.723Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Widely cited paper in which Bronfenbrenner explores the influence of external environments on “the functioning of families as contexts for human development” (p.723).

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  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. 1995. The bioecological model from a life course perspective: Reflections of a participant observer. In Examining lives in context: Perspectives on the ecology of human development. Edited by Phyllis Moen, Glen H. Elder Jr., and Kurt Lüscher, 599–618. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10176-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A short reflection on aspects of Bronfenbrenner’s life experience that influenced his ecological approach to developmental theory.

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  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie, ed. 2005. Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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    Bronfenbrenner’s culminating work charts key points in his career-long investment in the development of bioecological theory. The book usefully includes edited versions of twelve of his key papers and applied chapters by other authors.

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  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie, and Pamela A. Morris. 1998. The ecology of developmental processes. In Handbook of child psychology, 5th ed., Vol. 1, Theoretical models of human development. Edited by Richard M. Lerner, 993–1028. New York: Wiley.

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    Outlines Bronfenbrenner’s reformulated “bioecological” model, focused on “the progressive, mutual accommodation, throughout the lifespan, between a growing human organism and the changing immediate environments in which it lives” (p. 996).

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  • Garbarino, James, and Robert H. Abramowitz. 1992. The ecology of human development. In Children and families in the social environment. By James Garbarino, with Robert H. Abramowitz, 11–33. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

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    A thoughtful overview, appraisal, and elaboration of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological approach to human development.

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  • Moen, Phyllis, Glen H. Elder Jr., and Kurt Lüscher, eds. 1995. Examining lives in context: Perspectives on the ecology of human development. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    DOI: 10.1037/10176-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this Festschrift to Bronfenbrenner, leading developmental scholars reflect on and extend his frameworks through the lens of their own work. The book includes sections on life-course perspectives, the multiple contexts of human development, and new directions in developmental ecological theory.

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Applications

Urie Bronfenbrenner’s formulation of ecological ideas is arguably the most influential in contemporary social science, including in social work theory, practice, and research. Readers exploring this area will find a proliferation of social work materials incorporating Bronfenbrenner’s framework. Three exemplars among the many available are Whittaker, et al. 1986; Corcoran, et al. 2000; and Jack 2000. Pence 1988 provides an excellent introduction to the application of Bronfenbrenner’s concepts in research.

  • Corcoran, Jacqueline, Cynthia Franklin, and Patricia Bennett. 2000. Ecological factors associated with adolescent pregnancy and parenting. Social Work Research 24.1: 29–39.

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    This research study used Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems framework to examine predictors of adolescent pregnancy and found support for incorporating multiple systems levels in studies of this issue.

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  • Jack, Gordon. 2000. Ecological influences on parenting and child development. British Journal of Social Work 30:703–720.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/30.6.703Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses Bronfenbrenner’s ecological framework to explore the mutually influencing systems that shape child development and parenting, focusing in particular on social support, social capital, and resiliency in the context of poverty and inequality.

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  • Pence, Alan R., ed. 1988. Ecological research with children and families: From concepts to methodology. New York: Teachers College Press.

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    This edited collection presents a range of approaches to ecological research with children and families, demonstrating the empirical applications of Bronfenbrenner’s framework and providing excellent summaries of this theoretical approach.

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  • Whittaker, James K., Steven P. Schinke, and Lewayne D. Gilchrist. 1986. The ecological paradigm in child, youth, and family services: Implications for policy and practice. Social Service Review 60.4: 483–505.

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    Applies the ecological paradigm to child and family social services, focusing in particular on social support and life skills facilitation.

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Resilience Theory

The growth of interest in risk, resiliency, and protective factors in recent years can be viewed as an extension of ecological theory. Growing out of observations conducted in naturalistic, longitudinal studies of children’s development in the context of severe adversity (Werner 2000, Waller 2001), resiliency theory focuses on identifying risk and protective factors at multiple levels, from individual to social and environmental. For social workers, this focus on risk and protective factors is particularly useful in pointing to potential leverage points for change. Useful orientations to resilience perspectives from a social work perspective are provided by Fraser 2004, Corcoran and Nichols-Casebolt 2004, and Benzies and Mychasiuk 2009. Chaskin 2008 adds the additional dimension of a community perspective.

  • Benzies, Karen, and Richelle Mychasiuk. 2009. Fostering family resiliency: A review of key protective factors. Child and Family Social Work 14.1: 103–114.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2206.2008.00586.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Identifies twenty-three empirically derived protective factors at three ecological levels: individual, family, and community.

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  • Chaskin, Robert J. 2008. Resilience, community, and resilient communities: Conditioning contexts and collective action. Child Care in Practice 14.1: 65–74.

    DOI: 10.1080/13575270701733724Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Integrates resilience theory, ecological theory, and community theory to explore resilience at the community level.

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  • Corcoran, Jacqueline, and Ann Nichols-Casebolt. 2004. Risk and resilience: Ecological framework for assessment and intervention. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal 21.3: 211–235.

    DOI: 10.1023/B:CASW.0000028453.79719.65Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides a comprehensive overview of the risk and resilience ecological framework as a tool for social work assessment and goal setting. Particularly useful for its identification of empirically supported risk and protective factors at multiple systems levels.

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  • Fraser, Mark W., ed. 2004. Risk and resilience in childhood: An ecological perspective. 2d ed. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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    The chapters in this edited volume apply an ecologically oriented risk and resilience perspective to a range of issues typically encountered in social work practice with vulnerable children and families. See also the first edition, published in 1997.

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  • Waller, Margaret A. 2001. Resilience in ecosystemic perspective: Evolution of the concept. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 71.3: 290–297.

    DOI: 10.1037/0002-9432.71.3.290Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reviews the interdisciplinary literature on resilience and delineates key crosscutting domains, including a useful table of resiliency factors across ecosystemic levels.

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  • Werner, Emmy E. 2000. Protective factors and individual resilience. In Handbook of early childhood intervention. 2d ed. Edited by Jack P. Shonkoff and Samuel J. Meisels, 115–134. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A theoretical and methodological overview of resilience and protective factors at multiple ecological levels written by one of the foundational scholars in the field.

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Emerging Ecological Perspectives in Social Work

Recent years have seen the emergence of ecological frameworks that move beyond mainstream systems and ecological theories, including environmental justice (Park 1996), indigenous (Coates 2003), and deep ecology (Besthorn 2003) frameworks. From different perspectives, these share a central focus on the importance of “mutually enriching and sustainable human/Earth relationships” (Coates 2003, p. 2). Recognizing human interdependence with the earth leads in turn to a critique of person-environment relationships that involve degradation, control, and exploitation and a concomitant emphasis on social and environmental justice, stewardship, and sustainability. These frameworks also focus much more directly than prior models on the implications of environmental issues for human welfare and of the ethical responsibility of social workers to engage with environmental and ecological issues. The works in this section provide guidance on sources offering broad overviews of these perspectives as well as selected references in each area. Access to an excellent range of resources across these topics can be found on the website for the Global Alliance for a Deep Ecological Social Work. See also Besthorn 2003.

Environmental Justice

Environmental justice frameworks, which focus on the links between environmental disparities and social marginalization and oppression, emphasize the importance of active social work engagement in efforts to enhance environmental and social justice. Hoff and McNutt 1994 continues to serve as a primary point of reference in calls for social work attention to environmental justice issues. Articles by leading scholars in this area (Soine 1987, Hoff and Rogge 1996) similarly argue that a focus on environmental inequities is a social work responsibility. Looking at application, Marlow and Van Rooyen 2001 examines the extent to which social workers actually attend to environmental issues in their everyday practice. Taking a larger view, the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) 2004 policy statement addresses social work roles in the context of the escalating economic and environmental changes associated with globalization.

Indigenous Perspectives

Indigenous and ecospiritual approaches emphasize the spiritual connection of people with the earth, the fundamental interdependence of living and physical systems, and the value of indigenous environmental and ecological knowledge. Zapf 2005a and Zapf 2005b identify limitations in social work’s prevailing understandings of spirituality and person-environment relationships and points to the value in incorporating holistic perspectives drawn from traditional indigenous knowledge. Coates, et al. 2006 argues that shifts in social work’s ecological frameworks provide important opportunities for building connections with indigenous knowledge and practices. All three papers provide accessible points of entry for readings on indigenous ecological perspectives (see also Coates 2003 in Emerging Ecological Perspectives in Social Work).

  • Coates, John, Mel Gray, and Tiani Hetherington. 2006. An “ecospiritual” perspective: Finally, a place for indigenous approaches. British Journal of Social Work 36:381–399.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcl005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Makes the case for opening up social work’s prevailing paradigms to include indigenous understandings of the “interdependence and relatedness of all life, connectedness with nature, and the importance of place” (p. 389).

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  • Zapf, Michael Kim. 2005a. Profound connections between person and place: Exploring location, spirituality, and social work. Critical Social Work 6.2.

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    Draws on indigenous perspectives to argue for the inclusion of holistic understandings of person-place relationships in discussions of spirituality in social work. Available online.

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  • Zapf, Michael Kim. 2005b. The spiritual dimension of person and environment: Perspectives from social work and traditional knowledge. International Social Work 48.5: 633–642.

    DOI: 10.1177/0020872805055328Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Arguing that social work has relied too heavily on person-focused approaches to person-environment interactions, this paper draws on traditional indigenous cosmologies to suggest an expanded understanding of the significance of people-place connections.

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Ecosocial Perspectives

The term “ecosocial” covers a range of emerging ecological perspectives that argue for a stronger focus in social work theory and practice on supporting and enhancing mutually beneficial human-earth relationships. Drawing on perspectives such as social ecology and deep ecology (Ungar 2002, Besthorn and Canda 2002) and critical ecological perspectives (Besthorn 2002; Matthies, et al. 2003), these frameworks emphasize human interdependence with all living and natural systems; critique person-environment relationships that involve degradation, control, and exploitation; and argue for a focus in social work on social and environmental justice, stewardship, and sustainability.

  • Besthorn, Fred H. 2002. Radical environmentalism and the ecological self: Rethinking the concept of self-identity for social work practice. Journal of Progressive Human Services 13.1: 53–72.

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    Draws on ideas from radical environmentalism to argue for a view of the “self” that encompasses the interconnections between humans and the natural world.

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  • Besthorn, Fred H., and Edward R. Canda. 2002. Revisioning environment: Deep ecology for education and teaching in social work. Journal of Teaching in Social Work 22:79–101.

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    Outlines the conceptual development of deep ecology and asserts the importance of a deep ecological perspective for social work education and practice in light of contemporary environmental and ecological crises.

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  • Greif, Geoffrey L. 2003. In response to Michael Ungar’s “A deeper, more social ecological social work practice.” Social Service Review 77.2: 306–308.

    DOI: 10.1086/373910Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Responding to Ungar 2002, the author seeks to clarify perceived inaccuracies in Michael Ungar’s presentation of ecosystems ideas.

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  • Matthies, Aila-Leena, Kati Närhi, and Dave Ward, eds. 2003. The eco-social approach to social work. Jyväskylä, Finland: Sophi.

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    This European text presents an ecocritical approach to social work practice, grounded in German ideas about social work’s responsibility for sustaining and enhancing the whole life context and promoting social workers’ active involvement in environmental stewardship and sustainability.

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  • Ungar, Michael. 2002. A deeper, more ecological social work practice. Social Service Review 76.3: 480–497.

    DOI: 10.1086/341185Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critiques social work’s prevailing ecological models and argues for the incorporation of “more mutualistic, nonhierarchical, and emancipatory” ecological principles.

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Ecological Theory and Research: Interdisciplinary Developments

Increasingly, ecological frameworks are grounded in sophisticated, interdisciplinary bodies of basic and applied research that are highly relevant to social work research and practice. Although adequately summarizing these diverse and expansive bodies of work is impossible, two strands stand out as particularly salient: (1) efforts to specify and refine multilevel, contextually focused, and culturally responsive theories and research methods; and (2) a proliferation of conceptual and empirical scholarship, much of it generated by scholars in the spatial sciences and professions, that illuminates the applicability of spatial perspectives and methods to understanding and addressing a range of human and social issues. Readings in this section provide broad, well-referenced, and relatively accessible entry points to each of these lines of work.

Multilevel and Culturally Responsive Approaches to Ecological Research

Contemporary research on the ecology of human well-being coheres around efforts to specify and refine theories and research methods that adequately capture both the multidimensional nature of human-environment relationships (Stokols 1992; Revenson, et al. 2002; Krieger 2008, Winkel, et al. 2009) and the central importance of attending carefully to racial and cultural variation in ecological experiences and outcomes (Lewis 2000; McLoyd, et al. 2005). Increasingly, scholars are also focusing systematically on the links between ecological contexts and patterned disparities in social and health outcomes (Macintyre and Ellaway 2000; Gehlert, et al. 2008). Scholarship in this area spans a range of disciplines, including public health, geography, community psychology, environmental psychology, developmental psychology, and social work.

  • Gehlert, Sarah, Dana Sohmer, Tina Sacks, Charles Miniger, Martha McClintock, and Olufunmilayo Olopade. 2008. Targeting health disparities: A model linking upstream determinants to downstream interventions. Health Affairs 27.2: 339–349.

    DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.27.2.339Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This multidisciplinary paper proposes a “downward causal model” (p. 339) of the mechanisms by which specific social environments “get under the skin,” (p. 339) with the aim of more adequately understanding and intervening in the multilevel factors contributing to group differences in health.

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  • Krieger, Nancy. 2008. Proximal, distal, and the politics of causation: What’s level got to do with it? American Journal of Public Health 98.2: 221–230.

    DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.111278Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critically examines prevailing assumptions about influences at different ecological levels, arguing that the widely used terms “proximal” and “distal” inappropriately conflate space, time, level, and causal strength. Provides a useful window into current debates about ecological influences in public health.

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  • Lewis, Marva L. 2000. The cultural context of infant mental health: The developmental niche of infant-caregiver relationships. In Handbook of infant mental health, 2d ed. Edited by Charles H. Zeanah Jr., 91–109. New York: Guilford.

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    This comprehensive review of the literature on cultural variation in infant-caregiver relationships is framed within a clearly defined conceptual model of the cultural ecology of family life.

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  • Macintyre, Sally, and Anne Ellaway. 2000. Ecological approaches: Rediscovering the role of the physical and social environment. In Social epidemiology. Edited by Lisa F. Berkman and Ichiro Kawachi, 332–348. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Makes the case for the use of ecological analyses in exploring the social epidemiology of health, focusing in particular on methods for studying the interactions between social and physical environments and group variations in health outcomes.

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  • McLoyd, Vonnie C., Nancy E. Hill, and Kenneth A. Dodge, eds. 2005. African American family life: Ecological and cultural diversity. New York: Guilford.

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    Offers a range of disciplinary perspectives on African American families in cultural and ecological contexts, from family and community to political and economic.

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  • Revenson, Tracey A., Anthony R. D’Augelli, Sabine E. French, Diane L. Hughes, David Livert, Edward Seidman, Marybeth Shinn, and Hirokazu Yoshikawa, eds. 2002. Ecological research to promote social change: Methodological advances from community psychology. New York: Kluwer Academic Plenum.

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    Provides a broad overview of innovative methodological approaches to the study of persons in ecological context, including a section on culturally anchored research.

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  • Stokols, Daniel. 1992. Establishing and maintaining health environments: Toward a social ecology of health promotion. American Psychologist 47.1: 6–22.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.47.1.6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Foundational paper that maps out the core elements of a social-ecological approach to health promotion and delineates leverage points for intervention at multiple ecological levels.

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  • Winkel, Gary, Susan Saegert, and Gary W. Evans. 2009. An ecological perspective on theory, methods, and analysis in environmental psychology: Advances and challenges. Journal of Environmental Psychology. 29.3: 318–328

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2009.02.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A clear-eyed appraisal of the theoretical and methodological challenges and opportunities confronting ecologically oriented research in environmental psychology, providing a succinct and well-referenced overview of developments in ecological research across a range of disciplines along with recommendations for strengthening future scholarship. Available online with subscription.

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Spatial Perspectives and Methods

An increasingly richly developed body of interdisciplinary scholarship, stimulated in particular by work in disciplines such as geography, urban planning, and landscape architecture, draws on spatial theories and methods to address pressing social and health issues. Developments in this area range from efforts to tap the analytic and explanatory potential of advances in spatial analytic technologies, such as geographic information systems (Goodchild, et al. 2000; Freisthler, et al. 2006), to renewed interest in the role of place in human well-being (Gieryn 2000, Relph 2008, Kemp 2009). Greatly enhanced awareness of the fragility of the earth’s ecosystems has also brought renewed interest in questions of sustainability, social and environmental equity, and the interdependence of human and natural systems (Steiner 2002; Agyeman, et al. 2003). All of these scholarly domains are of considerable relevance to social work research and practice.

  • Agyeman, Julian, Robert Doyle Bullard, and Bob Evans, eds. 2003. Just sustainabilities: Development in an unequal world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    Arguing that sustainable development must also attend to issues of social justice and equity, this interdisciplinary edited volume provides a range of perspectives on the links between environmental quality and human equality and between sustainability and environmental justice more generally.

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  • Freisthler, Bridget, Bridgette Lery, Paul J. Gruenewald, and Julian Chow. 2006. Methods and challenges of analyzing spatial data for social work problems: The case of examining child maltreatment geographically. Social Work Research 30.4: 198–210.

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    Describes analytic techniques appropriate for use with spatial data, using the example of a study of child maltreatment.

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  • Gieryn, Thomas F. 2000. A space for place in sociology. Annual Review of Sociology 26:463–496.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.26.1.463Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Provides an extensive review (and related bibliography) of the interdisciplinary literature on the ecology and meaning of place, including useful discussions of definitions, methodological issues, and the salience of place in questions of inequality, power, meaning, and history.

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  • Goodchild, Michael F., Luc Anselin, Richard P. Appelbaum, and Barbara Herr Harthorn. 2000. Toward spatially integrated social science. International Regional Science Review 23.2: 139–159.

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    This article, coauthored by a geographer, an economist, a sociologist, and an anthropologist, reviews the social science literature on space and place and presents key strategies for promoting the cross-disciplinary application of spatial perspectives and methods in social science research.

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  • Kemp, Susan P. 2009. Place matters: Toward a rejuvenated theory of environment for direct social work practice. In Reshaping theory in contemporary social work: Toward a critical pluralism in clinical practice. Edited by William Borden. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    This chapter draws on a wide interdisciplinary literature to argue for the central relevance of place and place-based interventions in ecologically oriented social work practice.

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  • Relph, Edward. 2008. Senses of place and emerging social and environmental challenges. In Sense of place, health, and quality of life. Edited by John Eyles and Allison Williams, 31–44. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

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    An influential humanistic geographer surveys the proliferating literature on place and proposes a “pragmatic approach” that can provide a basis for action in relation to contemporary realities.

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  • Steiner, Frederick. 2002. Human ecology: Following nature’s lead. Washington, DC: Island.

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    In this book a leading landscape architect and planner presents a “new ecology” focused on humans in interaction with natural and built environments. Unlike human ecology models grounded in urban ecology, this approach begins with ecological frameworks from the natural sciences and expands them to encompass human-environmental interactions.

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Ecological Assessment Tools

A range of visual, diagrammatic, and spatial tools are available to social work practitioners and researchers implementing ecological approaches. Those most widely used include ecomaps (Hartman 1978, Mattaini 1993), network maps (Tracy and Whittaker 1990), and, increasingly, mapping tools based in geographic information systems (Queralt and Witte 1998, Hillier 2007, PPgis.net). However, the increasing use of digital and visual media in community-based participatory research—such as in the photovoice projects described in Wang 2006—opens rich new possibilities for ecologically oriented social work practice.

  • Hartman, Ann. 1978. Diagrammatic assessment of family relationships. Social Casework 59:465–476.

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    Classic article describing the ecomap, a graphic tool for depicting the social ecology of personal and family relationships from the client’s perspective.

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  • Hillier, Amy. 2007. Why social work needs mapping. Journal of Social Work Education 43.2: 205–221.

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    Articulates the value of geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial mapping as essential tools for identifying and understanding the role of the environment and spatial relationships in human behavior. Links are also drawn to social work’s earlier history of using maps in the Progressive Era social survey movement.

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  • Mattaini, Mark A. 1993. More than a thousand words: Graphics for clinical practice. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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    Outlines practical techniques for the use of graphic tools in interpersonal social work practice, including useful overviews of ecologically oriented tools, such as ecomaps and social network maps.

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  • PPgis.net. Open Forum on Participatory Geographic Information Systems and Technologies.

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    This online platform focuses on the participatory use of geospatial information systems and technologies, providing a global forum for sharing experiences and good practices related to community mapping.

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  • Queralt, Magaly, and Ann D. Witte. 1998. A map for you? Geographic information systems in the social services. Social Work 43.5: 455–469.

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    Introduces and illustrates the use of geographic information systems for practice, administration, and research in the social services, using as an example the mapping of child care resources.

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  • Tracy, Elizabeth M., and James K. Whittaker. 1990. The social network map: Assessing social support in clinical practice. Families in Society 71.8: 461–470.

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    Describes the nature and application of the social network map, a procedure for assessing the structure and function of clients’ personal social networks.

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  • Wang, Caroline, C. 2006. Youth participation in photovoice as a strategy for community change. Journal of Community Practice 14.1–2: 147–161.

    DOI: 10.1300/J125v14n01_09Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article by the originator of photovoice describes this participatory visual method for engaging community members in assessing their everyday life contexts and illustrates its use in ten youth-centered community health projects.

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LAST MODIFIED: 12/14/2009

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195389678-0095

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