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Articles Philosophy, Theory and Method in Social Work Challenging Empiricism’s Claim on Evidence-based Practice

By  and Stanley Houston and Stanley Houston


• Summary: For quite some time the evidence-based practice discourse in social work has been influential. While this may be viewed as a positive development, problems arise when some of the proponents of the discourse deride other approaches in social work as unscientific. In particular, it is of concern that those who embrace a psychodynamic perspective have been corralled into a ‘mentalist ’ enclosure which, it is argued, lacks scientific rigour. By way of rebuttal, this paper argues that approaches promoting an understanding of ‘deep structure ’ have a legitimate place within the evidence-based discourse in social work. Bhaskar’s critical realism is adopted to make the case. • Findings: The retroductive method, as articulated by Bhaskar, can be extrapolated to social workers ’ assessments of complex situations. This method provides a way of generating and testing hypotheses and evidence by drawing on realist, explanatory theories to gain understanding of the deep, causal mechanisms at play in social life. • Applications: This paper makes a contribution to the continuing discussion about the nature of evidence, and how it is acquired, in social work. Critically, it argues that the pursuit of evidence is central not only to the intimate, micro-domain of face-to-face interaction but also to the macro-domain of oppressive social structure

Year: 2009
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