In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Social Work Luminaries: Luminaries Contributing to the Clarification and Elaboration of Social Work Practice and Theory

  • Introduction

Social Work Social Work Luminaries: Luminaries Contributing to the Clarification and Elaboration of Social Work Practice and Theory
Charles D. Garvin, Lorraine M. Gutiérrez, Larry E. Davis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0288


Oxford Bibliographies in Social Work includes three articles describing the scholarly writings of a select group of deceased social workers who have been especially prominent and influential in the profession within the United States. These individuals are referred to social work luminaries. These three bibliographical articles can be used to identify the publications of prominent individuals who have been most influential in the development of social work; these individuals are identified by first reviewing the biographies of significant social workers from the Encyclopedia of Social Work and obituaries collected by the Council on Social Work Education since the publication of the Encyclopedia of Social Work. From this list come the biographical material and publications, with the most prominent luminaries for each of the three articles. For each luminary is provided a brief biographical overview and one to five annotated citations of their most important publications. Respectively, the three articles describe the publications of luminaries: (1) who were involved in the founding and creation of the social work profession in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; (2) who, subsequently, contributed to the clarification and elaboration of social work practice and theory; and (3) who contributed to social work theory and scholarship in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This article presents the luminaries who wrote primarily between the 1920s and 1960s. They were aware of the pioneer work of other luminaries who created the profession of social work and began the process of creating its theoretical, ethical, and historical foundations. During these four decades, these luminaries added to the theoretical foundation of social work while also leading the expansion of social work into many new areas. This resulted in scholarship related to different sizes of service systems (individuals, groups, families, communities); new settings for social work; and the evolution of university-based education and training for social workers. During this period, luminaries fell into several categories in terms of their contributions to the evolution of social work scholarship. One category was the development of each of the social work methods as now conceived. These consisted then of Casework (e.g., Interviewing: Its Principles and Methods, Theory and Practice of Social Casework, Social Casework: A Problem-Solving Process, A Functional Approach to Family Casework, and Common Human Needs [i.e., individual work]); Group Work (e.g., Group Work with American Youth: A Guide to the Practice of Leadership, Essentials of Social Group Skill, and Social Group Work Practice: The Creative Use of Social Process); and Community Organization (e.g., Community Organization for Social Welfare, Community Action against Poverty: Readings from the Mobilization Experience, Community Organization and Social Planning, and An Overview of the Community Organization Curriculum Development Project and Its Recommendations). A second category is the adaptation of social work for different fields of service—notably rehabilitation, health, mental health, corrections, and child welfare. Some luminaries during that time were devoting themselves to developing methods for social work research and the advancement of social work theory. Other luminaries focused on considering social work approaches to Policy development. Finally, some luminaries at that time were thinking of applications for different ethnic groups, primarily Jewish and African Americans. The following is a presentation of luminaries under these categories and some of their major scholarly publications.


During this period, a number of writers sought to create a theoretical and conceptual basis for social work practice with individuals. The social work emphasis that came to be known as an individual and environmental one was present in all these writers, although some (Perlman 1961) contended that the environment was being neglected; she made that case in that classic article. The writings of Hamilton and Towle were also widely used and Garrett made major contributions to social workers’ understanding of the interview process itself. Taft 1944 wrote a major piece outlining a functional (i.e., Rankian) approach to casework.

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