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Issues » 2012/5 - Special English Issue 2012 »

Malcolm Payne

Paradigms of Social Work: Alternative Perspectives on Social Work Practice Theory


This paper reviews claims that there are paradigms of social work. Alternative meanings of the concept ‘paradigm’ focus on shifts in the structure of knowledge and knowledge development in a discipline, or, particularly in the social sciences, on a looser understanding of paradigm as cluster of beliefs that order discourse within a discipline. Most discourse in social work concentrates on the looser analysis. The international definition of social work reveals three alternative potential paradigms within social work: a tripartite analysis of practice objectives and dichotomous analyses of social work’s knowledge and values bases. Review of practice theories and accounts of knowledge and values informing social work suggests that distinct paradigms exist, but these are overlapping and interacting sets of ideas, rather than representing incommensurable disciplinary shifts.


discourse, knowledge base, paradigm, practice theory, social work, theory

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