Becoming a critical social work practitioner
Becoming a critical social work practitioner

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Becoming a critical social work practitioner

2.2 What is constructive social work?

Activity 3

1 hour 20 minutes

Read the following article: ‘What do we mean by “Constructive social work”? [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

While you're reading, make notes on the theoretical and philosophical ideas you come across.


There is a lot to consider in this opening chapter of a book arguing for a ‘constructive’ social work approach. We felt that three key themes should be highlighted. The first, and perhaps the most relevant for this course, is that a constructive approach demands a critical stance towards our assumptions about understanding ourselves and others. In social work practice a critical stance implies that we remain open to, and curious about, the things that we ordinarily ‘take for granted’ and that we question ‘received wisdom’, or assumptions, about the way things are and the way things work. Perhaps this is what Glaister meant by an ‘open and not-knowing’ approach?

One of the explanations for this critical stance is that our assumptions, or our categories and concepts, about the world are ‘situated’ historically and culturally and therefore vary over time and place. So, a critical or constructive practitioner shouldn't assume that their ways of understanding the world are the same as colleagues' or service users' with whom they work. You may have views in common but you cannot assume what these may be without checking it out through interpersonal dialogue and talk.

The second key theme follows from this emphasis on checking assumptions and areas of agreement and difference. The quality of dialogue, between you as a practitioner and the people with whom you work, is strongly influenced by the quality of the relationship that you have and the communication that you can establish and maintain. Later in this course you will read the case study of a social worker, John, who makes this point very clearly when describing how forming a relationship offers a chance to make a difference. If you have no relationship, he says, you have ‘no chance’ of influencing things.

This leads on to the third theme of constructive social work. Our knowledge of ourselves and of others is developed through interaction and social processes. This use of ‘talk’ to build and sustain relationships can be argued to be at the core of social work practice. We will be exploring this through a real case scenario later in this course.

One of the more philosophical arguments to help explain a constructive approach is the view that people have different assumptions about how they see their worlds or their social realities. The next activity aims to explore this through a story about three baseball umpires. Don't worry if you don't know anything about baseball, or any other sport, you will still get the point!


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