by GR Lowe · 1987 · Cited by 12 — historical record of social work at its word; that is, it wanted to be a profession. I think the goal has not been achieved,.

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˚.11˙ˇˇ˙˘ˆ˘˛02ˇ Social Work’s Professional Mistake: ConfusingStatus for Control and Losing BothGary R. Lowe˝˘ˆ˘˘˜.++.##(2(.-.0*2’9″‘.+ 05.0*1,(“‘$15ˆ 0˝.”(.,,.-18(02.3&’0$””$1.”(2˝”‘.+ 0˜.0*ˇ˛, 2+$ 1.-2 “2, (0 !3-#,(“‘$#3˙$”.,,$-#$(2 2(.-˘.5$ 0˝.”(.0*0.%$11(.-(12 *.-%31(-2 .-20..1(-˚˙˘˘.+11024 (+ !2’9″‘.+ 05.0*1,(“‘$1.1brought to you by COREView metadata, citation and similar papers at by ScholarWorks at WMU

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SOCIAL WORK’S PROFESSIONAL MISTAKE:CONFUSING STATUS FOR CONTROLAND LOSING BOTHGARY R. LOWE,LECTURER IN SOCIAL WORKDepartment of Sociology/AnthropologyUniversity of North Carolina at CharlotteThe dimensions of control and power supporting monopoly arecentral to the professional notion. These factors are implicit in theattribute professional formulation traditionally put forth andadopted by Social Work. This paper asserts that social work lead-ership between 1915 and 1952 misunderstood or ignored these cru-cial dynamics. This “mistake” led to practice methodology(casework) and educational policies (graduate-only) that soughtstatus rather than occupational control. This flawed analysis splitthe occupation in its formative years. The article concludes thatthe result has been social work’s inability to gain professionalstanding.The notion of a profession contains a fundamental as-sumption: any occupational group wishing to be recognizedas professional must first define and exercise control overthe boundaries of its realm of activity. Fundamentally, thisboundary establishes control over members in the profession* Dr. Lowe wishes to give special note and recognition to the staff at TheUniversity of Iowa’s University House for their excellent support duringthe period of research and writing for this paper. Also, the people at theSocial Welfare Archives at the University of Minnesota deserve particularthanks for the rich resource they so ably and cheerfully share.

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by identifying who is “inside” and who is “outside.” Thisfactor creates the foundation of authority thereby forming abasis for the claims of “expertise” embedded in the profes-sional ideal (Gerst and Jacobs, 1976; Johnson, 1981; Starr,1982: 3-29). This paper discusses social work’s lack of under-standing of this assumption, and the results of this mistakenanalysis.The issues identified in this discussion as central to so-cial work’s historical professionalization process are: 1) de-velopment of a scientific base coupled with a communicabletechnique; and 2) the subsequent, and related, educationalpolicies that initially spelled out the roles of “professional”and “non-professional.”The resolution of the first issue was CASEWORK, andthe second was the GRADUATE ONLY model for profes-sional education. The period under review begins in 1915with Flexner’s speech to the Conference of Charities andCorrections (Flexner, 1915:576-90), and ends with the forma-tion in 1953 of the Council on Social Work Education(CSWE). 1 Recent comment and discussion from within socialwork (Specht, 1984; Howe, 1980; Austin, 1983;Leighninger, 1980 and 1984)2 indicate that we still strugglewith the issue of professionalization and the education/training dimension continues to be a focus for active, evenheated debate. In an effort to contribute to this timely con-cern, this paper highlights what are believed to be historicalreasons contributing to social work’s “mistaken analysis”and offers thoughts on the consequences both past and pre-sent.This paper first identifies the dimensions of CONTROLand MONOPOLY as central to the notion of a professionand the professionalization process. Applying these two di-mensions and the power perspective they represent to socialwork’s professional development, I assert that leadershipduring the period under review either misunderstood or ig-nored their importance. The mistaken analysis supportedpractice and educational philosophies and policies that failed

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to implement the requisite control and monopoly over thelogical realm of social work’s early occupational activity-thepublic welfare sector. Instead, the foundation that was laidsplit social work and actually undermined its efforts towardachieving professional standing. Specifically, the conclusionis drawn that active, and successful, resistance to under-graduate training/education as entry-level professional prep-aration was a key factor that hampered social work’s questfor full professional development.Before turning to the discussion, I want to emphasizethat the following review does not argue that professionsand professionalization are good or bad. I have taken thehistorical record of social work at its word; that is, it wantedto be a profession. I think the goal has not been achieved,and I believe much energy has been dissipated by socialwork as a result of our flawed pursuit. Ivor Kraft has poin-tedly observed:Despite deliberate efforts to promote social work to thestatus of a dominant and learned profession these effortsdid not take, and it is now clear that social work is destined toremain among the “heteronomous” or subfusc professions inour culture (Kraft, 1980:2).Taking Kraft’s point, this paper clarifies and suggestspossible historical reasons, emanating from within the field,that have contributed to social work’s difficulty and failureto realize its professional goal.Professions and Prof essionalizationIn the early Twentieth Century, a resurgence of profes-sions occurred in the United States (Starr, 1982:3-144).Medicine was the dominant example of this resurgence, andprovided the paradigm for other occupational groups, likesocial work, who were seeking recognition as professions.Medicine’s success was idealized and incorporated into whatbecame known as the Attribute Model of Professions (Tho-ren, 1972; Stein, 1968; Kraft, 1969; Feldstein, 1971;

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Leighninger, 1980, 1984). In this model, desirable char-acteristics, or traits, are identified and an occupationpresumably reaches professional standing by developing thenoted characteristics.The Attribute Model is flawed, and one succinct state-ment of its primary flaw in regard to social work is providedby Simpkins:The attempted identification of social work as a professionproceeds by comparing attributes and by emphasizing work-ers’ unique knowledge and skill. The argument is of a syllogis-tic form: professions are activities identifiable by particulartraits, therefore social work is a profession Whatever maybe thought of the logic of this argument, the principal flawlies in the major premise which is based on a naive acceptanceof ‘trait’ theory. In fact, no agreed list of professional attri-butes exists, most are just ragbags tailored to suit the needs ofwhatever group is using them to aspire to professional status(Simpkin, 1983:119-120).The enshrining of the syllogistic nature of the attributemodel had occurred in social work by 1920, and the ends(traits) of the process became viewed and confused as theMeans.Feldstein (1971; also Goode, 1969) clearly states the es-sential nature of the occupational professional boundary: “Ifa profession is to function with any kind of power it mustcontrol not only the activity ot its members, but the activityof the other workers in the territory or industry over whichit claims expertise.” The power and control perspective doesnot refute the usefulness of attributes, but places them in anappropriately dependent, secondary position. The attributesrepresent desirable characteristics that come after thewould-be profession has mapped out its basic boundaries.The programmatic expression of these boundaries has cus-tomarily been the process of training and education, leadingto acceptance into the professional circle. This view of pro-fessions acknowledges the necessity of control and the re-sulting monopoly as prerequisites for gaining power, recog-nition, and/or the status exemplified by the attributes. By

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applying the power and control perspectives, rather thanstatus, to a historical review of social work’s occupationaldevelopment the nature of social work’s mistaken profes-sional development gains clarity and provides insights intocurrent difficult and contentious professional issues.The Search for a Scientific Base, a CommunicableTechnique, and Practice Unity:In 1915, social work confronted the question of profes-sionalization by inviting Abraham Flexner to address theConference of Charities and Corrections. Flexner concludedthat social work was not a profession.3 Two years later in anapparent response to Flexner, the first delineation of an in-dividual practice emphasis, the casework method, appearedin Mary Richmond’s (1917) book Social Diagnosis. As Leiby(1978:122) notes, Social Diagnosis was an organized statementthat served “to transform (friendly visiting) into the notionof deliberate and constructive case-work.”A few months after the publication of Social Diagnosis, atthe annual meeting of the National Conference of SocialWork (NCSW), in a paper titled “The Social Caseworker’sTasks,” Richmond addressed Flexner’s 1915 verdict that so-cial work was not a profession by asserting that social worknow had a scientific method called “casework” (Drew, 1983).This method contained the distinguishing characteristics of”skill in discovering the social relationships by which agiven personality had been shaped; second, ability to get atthe central core of difficulty in these relationships; and third,power to utilize the direct action of mind upon mind in theiradjustment (Drew, 1983: 39). As Lubove (1965) has pointedout, casework evolved into social work’s primary technologyexerting significant influence on the field’s subsequent de-velopment.During the Twenties, following the emergence ofRichmond’s casework formulation, social work experienced aperiod of great expansion. A national organization, theAmerican Association of Social Workers (AASW) was

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legitimacy called for in the Flexner attribute perspective.5Paralleling these practice developments was the debate overhow best to educate, train, and socialize the new profes-sional worker. The opposing sides of the debate fell into twobroad categories: Agency-based versus University-basedpreparation. The means of education/training and thereforeincorporation into the professional “select” was the pivotalarea by which social work established its understanding ofprofessional. The emergence of casework and the emphasison its scientific/academic enhancement shaped the ultimategraduate-only professional education policy adopted by so-cial work.The Institutionalization of the Scientific Base andTechnique: The Graduate-Only Ethos DevelopsIn 1919 the Association of Training Schools for Profes-sional Social Work (ATSPSW) was established to addressprofessional training/education issues. ATSPSW was theforerunner of the American Association of Schools of SocialWork (AASSW). Between 1920 to 1923, James H. Tufts, Pro-fessor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago completedthe first study of social work education and training withsupport from the Russell Sage Foundation. Tuft’s study(1923) first analyzed existing social work practice and in-ferred from this the characteristics of social work in general.Based on these characteristics, Tufts examined social workeducation and training as it existed and offered recom-mendations for future developments. A contemporaneousquestionnaire study was conducted by Paul Beisser (1923).The results were published under the title “A Measurementof Professional Training: Deductions from a QuestionnaireStudy of Social Work Positions.”‘6 The Beisser results werepresented in December 1922 to a joint meeting of the Ameri-can Sociological Society and the ATSPSW. Beisser’s study ac-cording to the Encyclopedia of Social Work (Boehm, 1977)influenced social work educational thinking while Tuft’s was

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seemingly ignored. Beisser’s study recommended “that so-cial work (education) be considered a professional school,provided it met certain requirements of autonomy withinthe university” (Boehm, 1977:301).Throughout the 1920s support grew for the establish-ment of educational standards and practices that wouldmaintain the perceived momentum toward professionalmaturity. Consistent with Biesser, the principle of universityaffiliation was firmly in place by the end of the decade. Ad-vocates for agency-based training were unsuccessful in as-serting their views. The professional ideal sought by socialwork leadership of the time characterized agency-basedpreparation as apprenticeship/vocational and therefore an-tithetical to the notion of professionalization (Blostein, 1977).This same view would reappear later as an objection to ef-forts promoting undergraduate social work education.In May of 1927, Edith Abbott of the University ofChicago delivered an address to the annual meeting of theAASSW titled “Backgrounds and Foregrounds in Educationfor Social Work.” Abbott’s comments implied a maximumdefinition for professional education:Is it true that we have or should have any such thing as agroup of “routine caseworkers,” and second, is it desirablethat two grades of social workers should be trained-thosewho are to be constructive leaders in the field and those whoare to be merely routine technicians of some sort? (Abbott,1942:36).In the same speech, Abbott correctly asserted the fun-damental role of training/education in the formation of a so-cial work profession and its boundary function: in the final analysis it is clear that social work will neverbe a profession and that social agencies can never bestandardized except through professional schools. Not untilsome course of professional study is required as a prerequisitefor entrance (sic) can it be said that social work is really a pro-fession (Abbott, 1942:40).

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One year later Abbott’s definition, supporting a singulargraduate-only definition, was explicitly stated in a paperentitled, “Some Basic Principles in Professional Educationfor Social Work”;* ..our profession calls for character as well as education character is frequently, if not usually, a plant of slow growthand can be developed in a proper educational atmosphere bet-ter than anywhere else. That is one reason for our stress onthe development of graduate rather than undergraduateschools; the undergraduates are not yet prepared, even withcareful supervision, to understand and carry the heavy re-sponsibilities which our profession lays on its members (Ab-bott, 1942:47).Abbott spoke for a dominant sentiment held by socialwork education leaders of the time, that is, asserting a de-velopmental argument that combined with the view that anypreparation other than university and post-graduate wasviewed as occupational, technical and thus non-professional.Even with the growing graduate-only ethos, undergraduateadvocates were many and vocal during the 1920s (Hagerty,1942). The baccalaureate advocates were not anti-graduate,but viewed undergraduate preparation as appropriate forprofessional entry-level, and a relevant foundation forfurther graduate and specialized education/training.Numerous dynamics during the 1920s supported themomentum for the graduate-only definition articulated bysomeone like Abbott. In addition to the “developmental”argument, there was the apparent presumption, withmedicine as the model, that the advanced nature of graduatestudy (with a liberal arts base) was, a priori more profes-sional. A third issue promoting the post-baccalaureate modelwas the genuine educational dilemma of incorporating thepractical field-work component into the traditional academicliberal arts undergraduate model. By defining social workeducation as post-baccalaureate, this fundamental educa-tional problem was avoided.8

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In the same year as Abbott’s speech, a book by SydnorWalker, Social Work and the Training of Social Workers (1928)was published. Originally written as a Columbia UniversityPh.D. dissertation in Political Science, this “outsider’s”analysis of the social work field provided comparativethoughts to those asserted by leaders such as Abbott:Underlying most of the discussion which takes place as towhat educational preparation is desirable is the assump-tion that all persons entering (social work) need the same gen-eral type of training. The schools of social work often stateexplicitly that they seek to prepare students of firstrate calibrefor positions of leadership. But if preparation of social work iseventually to be a necessity for all entering the field, it may bewell to raise the question whether preparation is to be thesame for everyone (Walker, 1928:158).Walker followed her hypothesis with an analysis of theoccupation and the implications for education and training:In reading much that is written one might suppose that all oc-cupational divisions in this field were vertical rather thanhorizontal. The suggestion is offered that social work may becomprised of many “planes,” calling for varied and defi-nite grades of preparation for the preliminary interviewerin a welfare agency requires some background, but not that ofthe man who runs a community chest in view of the prac-tical demands of the field, preparation will range fromspecialization in vocational courses given in the under-graduate liberal arts college to a graduate course of severalyears in a professional school (Walker, 1928:159).Walker’s discussion and analysis was relevant and accu-rate. Her conclusions rested upon extensive data collectedfrom the 35 schools of social work that existed in 1927-28.While Abbott can be appreciated for high standards, therewas nothing asserted by Walker and others to challenge theestablishment and maintenance of high standards, nor thediminution of effort toward professionalization.Against this backdrop of debate, concrete developments

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