On the basis of your understanding of the theoretical perspectives explored in this module, discuss what theoretical orientations you most closely align with and why.

In this 4page paper, address the following:

  • On the basis of your understanding of the theoretical perspectives explored in this module, discuss what theoretical orientations you most closely align with and why.
  • Analyze and discuss whether you fall into the category of relying upon one theory, a few theories, or multiple theories to assist you in understanding human behavior.
  • Discuss how you think your theoretical preferences influence your view of human behavior.

Submission Details:

  • By Wednesday, November 9, 2016, prepare a 4 page paper. Your response should rely upon at least five sources from professional literature. This may include relevant textbooks, peer-reviewed journal articles, and websites created by professional organizations, agencies, or institutions (.edu, .org, or .gov). Write in a clear, concise, and organized manner; demonstrate ethical scholarship in accurate representation and attribution of sources (i.e., APA format); and use accurate spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Here are some information down below to help with this paper!!

MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES FOR A MULTIDIMENSIONAL APPROACH

As you think about the details of the unfolding story of the multigenerational McKinley family, you may discover that you have some theory or theories of your own about what is happening with them and what can and should be done to help them. If we asked you what caught your attention as you read the story, we would begin to learn something about your theory or theories of human behavior, as you have developed it or them so far. There is much information in the case material as presented, but the case may have raised questions for you as well, and left you wanting more information. What you see as gaps in the information might also tell us something about your theory or theories. Theories help us organize vast and multifaceted information. The purposes of this chapter are twofold: first, to help you identify and refine your own theory or theories of human behavior and, second, to help you think critically about commonly used formal theories of human behavior that have been developed by behavioral science scholars.

There is general agreement that contemporary social workers must use a range of theories that draw on a number of disciplines to help them understand the practice situations they encounter and to see the possibilities for change. As we have come more and more to recognize that human behavior is multidimensional, we have also recognized the need for multiple disciplines and a multitheoretical framework to understand it (Bell, 2012; Melchert, 2013). There are many theories from which to draw, general theories of human behavior as well as theories designed to understand the specific dimensions of person and environment covered in this book. There are also a number of ways of organizing existing theories into categories or perspectives. We have organized them into eight broad perspectives: the systems perspective, conflict perspective, exchange and choice perspective, social constructionist perspective, psychodynamic perspective, developmental perspective, social behavioral perspective, and humanistic perspective.

We have selected these eight perspectives for a number of reasons. Each has a wide range of applications across dimensions of human behavior and is used in empirical research. Each has been reconceptualized and extended over time to keep current with rapid knowledge development. Each paid little attention to diversity, and most paid little attention to inequality in early versions, but each has evolved over time to address both diversity and inequality. Each is European American in heritage, but in recent years, each has been influenced by thinking in other regions of the world. Some of the perspectives had interdisciplinary roots in their early versions, and each has benefited by collaboration across disciplines in more recent refinement and elaboration. Some blurring of the lines between perspectives has begun to occur. Theorists are being influenced by each other, as well as by societal changes, and have begun to borrow ideas from each other and to build new theory by combining aspects of existing theory. As you can see, theory, like other aspects of human behavior, is ever-changing.

Each of the perspectives presented in this chapter comprises a number of diverse theories. We present the “big ideas” of each perspective and not a detailed discussion of the various theories within the perspective. Although we trace the development of each perspective over time, we pay particular attention to some of the recent extensions of the perspectives that seem most useful in contemporary times. If you are interested in a more in-depth look at these theoretical perspectives, there are many resources to help you do this.

We introduce the perspectives in this chapter, and you will see variations of them throughout subsequent chapters where theory and research about specific dimensions of person and environment are explored. Margin notes are used in Chapters 3 through 14 to help you recognize ideas from the perspectives presented in this chapter. We hope that these linkages will help you in your efforts to better understand theory and how it is used in scientific inquiry.

In this chapter, in addition to presenting an overview of the big ideas, we analyze the scientific merit of the perspectives and their usefulness for social work practice. The five criteria for critical understanding of theory identified in Chapter 1 provide the framework for our discussion of the perspectives: coherence and conceptual clarity, testability and empirical support, comprehensiveness, consistency with social work’s emphasis on diversity and power arrangements, and usefulness for social work practice.

SYSTEMS PERSPECTIVE

When you read the case study at the beginning of this chapter, you probably thought of it as a story about a family system—a story about Ruth, Stanley, Marcia, and Bethany McKinley—rather than “Ruth McKinley’s story,” even though the hospice case file reads “Ruth McKinley.” You may have noted how Ruth’s, Stanley’s, Marcia’s, and Bethany’s lives are interrelated, how they influence one another’s behavior, and what impact each of them has on the overall well-being of the family. You may be thinking about the changing health statuses of Ruth and Marcia and about how the family members keep adjusting their caregiving roles to accommodate changing care needs. You also may note that this family, like other families, has a boundary indicating who is in and who is out, and you may be wondering if the boundary around this family allows sufficient input from friends, extended family, neighbors, religious organizations, and so on. You probably have noted the influence of larger systems on this family, particularly the insecurities in the labor market and the gaps in the health care system. For example, Medicare coverage for hospice care is an important resource for the family as they cope with the end-of-life care needs of Ruth. These are some of the ideas that the systems perspective suggests for understanding what is happening in the McKinley family.

The systems perspective sees human behavior as the outcome of interactions within and among systems of interrelated parts. Its roots are very interdisciplinary, and there are many theoretical variations. During the 1940s and 1950s, a variety of disciplines—including mathematics, physics, engineering, biology, psychology, cultural anthropology, economics, and sociology—began looking at phenomena as the outcome of interactions within and among systems. Mathematicians and engineers used the new ideas about system feedback mechanisms—the processes by which information about past behaviors in a system are fed back into the system in a circular manner—to develop military and communication technologies. The development of the computer and sophisticated computer models for analyzing information has influenced continuous revision of the systems perspective. Exhibit 2.1 provides a visual representation of the systems perspective.

Social workers were attracted to the systems perspective in the 1960s, and general systems theory was the dominant theoretical perspective in the social work literature during the 1960s and 1970s. This approach was based primarily on the work of biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy, who defined systems as “sets of elements standing in interrelation” (von Bertalanffy, 1969, p. 38). He proposed that any element is best understood by considering its interactions with its constituent parts as well as its interactions with larger systems of which it is a part. For example, the McKinley family is best understood by considering the interactions among the family members as well as the interactions the family has with other social systems, such as their neighborhood, the health care system, workplace systems, and educational systems. Von Bertalanffy identified two types of systems: closed systems and open systems. A closed system is isolated from other systems in its environment. An open system is in constant interaction with other systems. He emphasized that feedback mechanisms produce both stability (homeostasis) and change within and across systems. Socially and geographically isolated families and communities could be considered examples of closed systems. Internet-based social networks are examples of open systems.

In the 1980s, ecological theory, also known as ecosystems theory, became popular across several disciplines, including social work. This theory comes from the field of ecology, which focuses on the relationships and interactions between living organisms and their environments. Interdependence and mutual influence are emphasized. The environment exerts influence on an individual, family, or group, but individuals, families, and groups can also have an impact on external systems. Social workers who promoted the ecological perspective called for a holistic view of practice situations that considers the multiple environmental influences involved (Germain&Gitterman, 1996). The ecological perspective extended general systems theory by considering the important role of physical as well as social environments in human behavior.

Exhibit 2.1    Systems Perspective

Influenced by scientific inquiry in a number of disciplines, several new systems theories have emerged in the last 2 decades or so. Taken as a whole, these new theories are attempting to explain the complexity of contemporary life. One approach often used in social work is risk and resilience theory, which is an extension of the ecological perspective. It draws on concepts from epidemiology and public health to explain the complexity of influences on human behavior. This theory proposes risk factors and protective factors in both the person and the environment. Risk factors increase the likelihood of a harmful outcome of person and environment interactions, and protective factors support a positive outcome (see Jenson & Fraser, 2011). Proponents of the risk and resilience approach acknowledge the uncertainty of human behavior that derives from the complexity of influences on it.

Complex systems theory proposes that we are all part of numerous interacting systems that are linked through many dense interconnections (think of your social system including your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter networks). These complex interactions produce uncertainty and unpredictability (Fuchs, 2013). Systems, including systems of human behavior theory, are always evolving toward greater complexity (Green & McDermott, 2010).

Chaos theory suggests that although it appears that the complexity of numerous interacting systems produces disorder, there is actually an underlying order that can only be discovered by analysis using complex computer models (Gleick, 2008). Chaos theory recognizes negative feedback loops that work like a thermostat to feed back information that the system is deviating from a steady state and needs to take corrective action as important processes that promote system stability. In addition, it proposes that complex systems produce positive feedback loops that feed back information about deviation, or should we say innovation, into the steady state in such a way that the deviation reverberates throughout the system and potentially produces change, sometimes even rapid change. The change-producing feedback may come from within the system or from other systems in the environment. Small random changes in any area can lead to rapid large-scale change. Chaos theory has been recommended as a useful approach for clinical social workers and clinical psychologists as they assist clients in trying new solutions to long-standing problems (Lee, 2008) and to re-create themselves in times of transition (Bussolari& Goodell, 2009). Examples of such problems and transitions include addiction recovery and intimate partner violence.

Complex systems and chaos theories propose that it is the openness of systems that produces complexity. European social workers (see Ahmed-Mohamed, 2011; Kihlström, 2012) are drawing on another systems theory that conceptualizes the openness of systems in a very different way. German sociologist NiklasLuhmann (2011) has proposed a systems theory that suggests that in highly complex societies systems must find a way to reduce complexity to make life more manageable. They do this by developing cultures and structures that clearly differentiate the system from other systems. Systems are open to interaction with other systems, but they are operatively closed, meaning that system behavior is influenced only by the system’s operations, its language, culture, and processes, not by the language, culture, and processes of other systems. The environment can affect the system only by causing it irritations or disruptions, but the system will have its own conditions for responding to these irritations. Luhmann argues that systems are autopoietic, meaning they are self-created and reproduced. As we write this in July 2013, we are thinking about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling (United States v. Windsor, 2013) regarding the Defense of Marriage Act, a ruling that found the act unconstitutional and determined that same-sex couples in recognized marriages could not be treated differently from other married couples in terms of federal benefits. Luhmann’s approach would suggest that the gay rights movement and changing public opinion about same-sex marriage were irritations in the judicial system, but the system used its own language and processes to come to a decision.

Photo 2.1  The pieces of this globe come together to form a unified whole—each part interacts and influences the other parts—but the pieces are interdependent, as suggested by the systems perspective.

© iStockphoto.com/VipinBabu

Other newer systems theories take other positions on the issue of boundaries. While Luhmann argues that boundaries between systems are clear and tight, some social work scholars (see DePoy& Gilson, 2012) suggest that social workers might benefit by considering fuzzy set theory developed in mathematics. Fuzzy set theory proposes that membership of a set is not binary—meaning you are either a member or you are not. You may be a member to a certain degree. In fuzzy sets, objects are assigned a number from 0 to 1 to indicate the degree to which the object belongs in the set. From this perspective, I am wondering what value we would give to Ruth McKinley’s estranged daughter in relation to the family system described in this story. Would you give her a value of 0 or 1, or would you say her membership lies somewhere between “member” and “not member”? Reisch and Jani (2012) suggest that social workers should consider such theories that recognize the blurring of system boundaries in complex societies. As DePoy and Gilson (2012) suggest, fuzzy set theory could be a useful way to think about issues such as group membership, including race and ethnicity; for example, where should Barack Obama fit in racial categories?

Other theories emphasize the openness of systems. Deep ecology has emerged with an emphasis on the notion of the total interconnectedness of all elements of the natural and physical world (Besthorn, 2012). Sociologist John Clammer (2009) suggests that deep ecology, with its addition of connections to the natural and physical worlds, can help to bridge Western and Eastern social science. The emerging globalization theories also emphasize the openness of systems, calling our attention to, among other things, how Stanley McKinley’s job opportunities are connected to the increasingly globalized economy (Giddens, 2000).

This is how the criteria for evaluating theory apply to the systems perspective:

  • Coherence and conceptual clarity. Although it has been popular over time, the systems perspective is often criticized as vague and somewhat ambiguous. Although consistency in use of terms has improved in recent theorizing, concepts in these theories remain highly abstract and often confusing in their generality. Chaos theory and complexity theory emerged in applied mathematics, and concepts from them are still being developed in the social sciences. Social work scholars have not yet stated or explained the concepts of these theories in the simplest and clearest way possible. An article by Mo Yee Lee (2008) made great progress in this area.
  • Testability and empirical support. Poorly defined and highly abstract concepts are difficult to translate into measurable variables for research. Nevertheless, a long tradition of research supporting a systems perspective can be found in anthropology and sociology (see White, Klein, & Martin, 2015a, for a discussion of the use of the systems perspective to study family systems). The systems perspective has been greatly strengthened in recent years with developments in neuroscience, epidemiology, and a rapidly expanding empirical literature on ecological risk and resilience. Research methods, such as lengthy time series analyses, have been developed in the natural and social sciences for studying concepts of chaos and complexity, but these methods are still rarely used in social work. Likewise, mathematicians have developed fuzzy logic systems for analyzing membership in fuzzy sets that are beginning to be used in the social as well as natural sciences but are not yet used by social work researchers.
  • Comprehensiveness. Clearly, the systems perspective is devoted to the ideal of comprehensiveness, or holism. It can, and has, incorporated the various dimensions of human systems as well as various dimensions of environmental systems, nonhuman as well as human. It does better than the other perspectives discussed here in accommodating rapid developments in neuroscience. Systems theorists recognize—even if they do not always make clear—the social, cultural, economic, and political environments of human behavior. They acknowledge the role of external influences and demands in creating and maintaining patterns of interaction within the system. Recent formulations have explicitly added a time dimension to accommodate both past and future influences on human behavior (see Bronfenbrenner, 2005). Certainly, chaos theory and complexity theory give implicit, if not always explicit, attention to time with their emphasis on dynamic change. Globalization theory calls attention to the impact of innovative and rapid communications on world systems.
  • Diversity and power. Although diversity is not addressed in most systems theorizing, recent versions of the systems perspective, with their attention to complexity and continuous dynamic change, open many possibilities for diversity. Furthermore, while most systems theorists do not address the role of power in systems transactions, some can accommodate the idea of power differentials better than others. Traditional systems theories influenced by functionalist sociology assumed that social systems are held together by social consensus and shared values. The emphasis on system stability can rightly be criticized as socially conservative and oppressive to those who lack power within the system. Contemporary systems theory has begun to recognize power and oppression; conflict is seen as necessary for change in chaos theory; and some versions of globalization theory call attention to how powerful nations exploit the cultures, economies, and political arrangements of less powerful nations (McMichael, 2012).
  • Usefulness for social work practice. The systems perspective is perhaps more useful for understanding human behavior than for directing social work interventions, but several social work practice textbooks were based on the systems perspective in the 1970s and 1980s. The risk and resilience approach is informative for both program and policy development, suggesting ways to reduce risk and increase protection. The greatest value of the systems perspective is that it can be used at any level of practice. It also has merit because it surpasses other perspectives in suggesting that we should widen the scope of assessment and intervention and expect better outcomes from multidimensional interventions. Chaos theory can be used by social workers to input information into a client system to facilitate rapid change, thereby enhancing possibilities for brief treatment; group process can be used as reverberating feedback to produce change. Social workers who work from a family systems perspective have for some time used methods such as family genograms, and other forms of feedback about the family, as information that can produce change as it reverberates through the family system. Mo Yee Lee (2008) provides a number of examples of how clinical social workers can use chaos and turbulence to help clients open to new ways of looking at and resolving problems.

CONFLICT PERSPECTIVE

As she thinks about the McKinley family, the hospice social worker is struck by Stanley and Marcia’s growing sense of powerlessness to manage the trajectories of their lives. A major theme in their story, like the stories of so many other families, is lack of power in both the labor market and the housing market. Worries about access to health care are another part of the story, and one is reminded of ongoing political debates about health care funding. As we write this in July 2013, it remains to be seen what impact the federal health insurance law passed in March 2010 will have on families like the McKinleys. While the systems perspective helps us think about how interdependent the family members are, you may be thinking that they have some competing interests in relation to scarce resources of time and money. The hospice social worker knows that communications can become tense in families facing similar situations of scarce resources, and she wants to know more about how the McKinley family negotiates competing interests. She is also curious about the history of gender roles in this family and how those have been affected by Stanley’s unemployment. These are some of the observations about the McKinley family suggested by the conflict perspective.

The conflict perspective has become popular over and over again throughout history, with roots that can be traced back to German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770–1831) and Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), and perhaps even further, drawing attention to conflict, dominance, and oppression in social life. The conflict perspective emphasizes conflicts that arise because of inequalities in the distribution of resources. It typically looks for sources of conflict in the economic and political arenas, and more recently in the cultural arena. Exhibit 2.2 provides a visual representation of the conflict perspective.

The roots of contemporary conflict theory are usually traced to the works of Karl Marx and his collaborator Friedrich Engels, as well as the works of Max Weber. Marx (1887/1967) and Engels (1884/1970) focused on economic structures, suggesting that the capitalist economic system is divided into capitalists and workers. Capitalists decide what is to be done and how to do it, and they own the products produced by the workers as well as the means of production. Capitalists pay workers as little as they can get away with, and they, not the workers, reap the benefits of exploiting natural resources. According to Marx, this system produces false consciousness: Neither capitalists nor workers are aware that the system is based on exploitation; workers think they are getting a fair day’s pay, and capitalists think workers are fairly rewarded. Marx proposed, however, that workers are capable of recognizing the exploitation and achieving class consciousness, but capitalists are incapable of recognizing the exploitation in the system.

Exhibit 2.2    Conflict Perspective

Photo 2.2  This homeless woman on a street in prosperous Beverly Hills, California, is one of many examples of unequal power in the global economy, a focus of the conflict perspective.

© Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Weber (1904–1905/1958) rejected this singular emphasis on economics in favor of a multidimensional perspective on social class that included prestige and power derived from sources other than economics. Contemporary conflict theory tends to favor Weber’s multidimensional perspective, calling attention to a confluence of social, economic, and political structures in the creation of inequality. Jürgen Habermas (1984, 1981/1987) and other critical theorists argue that as capitalism underwent change, people were more likely to be controlled by culture than by their work position. Our lives became dominated by the culture industry, which is controlled by mass media. Critical theorists suggest that the culture industry plays a major role in turning workers into consumers, calling attention to the role of the advertising industry in exploiting consumers. They suggest that in the contemporary world, workers work very hard, sometimes at second and third jobs, in order to consume. They describe the exploitation of consumers as a pleasant kind of control: People spend more and more time working to be able to shop, and shopping becomes the major form of recreation. Working and shopping leave little time for reflective or revolutionary thinking. George Ritzer (2013a) recently suggested that the same might be said about the time we spend on Facebook, Twitter, and the like. But he also notes that besides informing us about what our friend ate for breakfast, social media is also used to spread the word about injustice and organize social protest, as happened during the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011.

Immanuel Wallerstein (2004) is a neo-Marxist who has focused on international inequality. He proposed that the capitalist world system is divided into three geographic areas with greatly different levels of power: A core of nations dominates the capitalist worldwide economy and exploits the natural resources and labor in other nations. The periphery includes nations that provide cheap raw materials and labor that are exploited to the advantage of the core. The semiperiphery includes nations that are newly industrializing; they benefit from the periphery but are exploited by the core.

Power relationships are a major focus of the conflict perspective. Some theorists in the conflict tradition limit their focus to the large-scale structure of power relationships, but many theorists, especially critical theorists, also look at the reactions and adaptations of individual members of nondominant groups. These theorists note that oppression of nondominant groups leads to their alienation, or a sense of indifference or hostility. Critical race theory was developed by legal scholars who wanted to draw attention to racial oppression in the law and society. They called attention to how microaggressions, brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages and insults to people of color or members of any other minority identity group, create alienation for members of the group (Cappicci, Chadha, Bi Lin, & Snyder, 2012).

Lewis Coser (1956) proposed a pluralistic theory of social conflict, which recognizes that more than one social conflict is going on at all times and that individuals hold cross-cutting and overlapping memberships in status groups. Social conflict exists between economic groups, racial groups, ethnic groups, religious groups, age groups, gender groups, and so forth. Thus, it seeks to understand life experience by looking at simultaneous memberships—for example, a White, Italian American, Protestant, heterosexual, male semiskilled worker, or a Black, African American, Catholic, lesbian, female professional worker. Feminist and critical race theorists have developed a pluralistic approach called intersectionality theory, which recognizes vectors of oppression and privilege, including not only gender but also class, race, global location, sexual orientation, and age (see Collins, 2012).

Although early social workers in the settlement house tradition recognized social conflict and structured inequality, and focused on eliminating oppression of immigrants, women, and children, most critics agree that social workers have not drawn consistently on the conflict perspective over time. Concepts of power and social conflict were revived in the social work literature in the 1960s. In the past 2 decades, with renewed commitment to social justice in its professional code of ethics and in its curriculum guidelines, social work has drawn more heavily on the conflict perspective to understand dynamics of privilege, or unearned advantage, as well as discrimination and oppression. Social workers have used the conflict perspective as a base to develop practice-oriented empowerment theories, which focus on processes that individuals and collectivities can use to recognize patterns of inequality and injustice and take action to increase their own power (e.g., Gutierrez, 1990, 1994; Lee, 2001; Rose, 1992, 1994; Solomon, 1976, 1987). Both in their renewed interest in domination and oppression and in their development of practice-oriented empowerment theories, social workers have been influenced by feminist theories, which focus on male domination of the major social institutions and present a vision of a just world based on gender equity. Feminist theories emphasize that people are socialized to see themselves through the eyes of powerful actors. Like Marx, most feminist theorists are not content to ask, “Why is it this way?” but also ask, “How can we change and improve the social world?”

Here is how the conflict perspective rates on the five criteria for evaluating social work theory:

  • Coherence and conceptual clarity. Most concepts of the conflict perspective are straightforward—conflict, power, domination, inequality—at least at the abstract level. Like all theoretical concepts, however, they become less straightforward when we begin to define them for the purpose of measurement. Across the various versions of the conflict perspective, concepts are not consistently used. One major source of variation is whether power and privilege are to be thought of as objective material circumstances, subjectively experienced situations, or both. In general, theories in the conflict tradition are expressed in language that is relatively accessible and clear. This is especially true of many of the practice-oriented empowerment theories developed by social workers. On the other hand, most recent conflict theorizing in the critical theory tradition is stated at a high level of abstraction.
  • Testability and empirical support. Conflict theory has developed, in the main, through attempts to codify persistent themes in history. The preferred research method is empirical research that looks at large-scale patterns of history (see McMichael, 2012; Skocpol& Williamson, 2012; Wallerstein, 2004). As with other methods of research, critics have attacked some interpretations of historical data from the conflict perspective, but the historical analyses of Theda Skocpol and Immanuel Wallerstein are some of the most influential works in contemporary sociology. In addition to historical analysis, conflict theorists have used experimental methods to study reactions to coercive power (see Zimbardo, 2007) and naturalistic inquiry to study social ranking through interaction rituals (Collins, 2004). Contemporary conflict theorists are also drawing on network analysis, which plots the relationships among people within groups, and are finding support for their propositions about power and domination. Family researchers have used conflict theory, specifically the concept of power, to study family violence (White et al., 2015b).
  • Comprehensiveness. Traditionally, the conflict perspective focused on large-scale social institutions and social structures, such as economic and political institutions. In the contemporary era, conflict theorists integrate conflict processes at the societal level with those at the community, small-group, and family levels. They suggest that we should recognize conflict as a central process in social life at all levels. Family theorists propose a conflict theory of families (White et al., 2015b). Traditional conflict theories propose that oppression of subordinate groups leads to a sense of alienation, and recent empowerment theories give considerable attention to individual perceptions of power. The conflict perspective does not explicitly address biology, but it has been used to examine racial and social class health disparities. Most conflict theories do consider dimensions of time. They are particularly noteworthy for recommending that the behavior of members of minority groups should be put in historical context, and indeed, as discussed, empirical historical research is the method many conflict theorists prefer.
  • Diversity and power. The conflict perspective is about inequality, power arrangements, and systems of oppression. It, more than any other perspective presented in this chapter, helps us look at group-based patterns of inequality. In that way, it also assists us in understanding diversity. Intersectionality theory, which recognizes that individuals have overlapping memberships in a variety of status groups, is particularly useful for considering human diversity. A major strength of the conflict perspective is that it discourages pathologizing members of minority groups by encouraging recognition of the historical, cultural, economic, and political context of their behavior. Empowerment theories guide practice interventions that build on the strengths of members of minority groups.
  • Usefulness for social work. Concepts from the conflict perspective have great value for understanding power dimensions in societal, organizational, community, group, family, and dyadic relationships, as well as the power differential between social worker and client. Clearly, the conflict perspective is crucial to social work because it shines a spotlight on how domination and oppression might be affecting human behavior; it illuminates processes by which people become estranged and discouraged; and it encourages social workers to consider the meaning of their power relationships with clients, particularly nonvoluntary clients. The conflict perspective is essential to the social justice mission of social work. In recent years, social workers have been in the forefront of developing practice-oriented empowerment theories, and the conflict perspective has become as useful for recommending particular practice strategies as for assisting in the assessment process. Empowerment theories provide guidelines for working at all system levels (e.g., individual, family, small group, community, and organization), but they put particular emphasis on group work because of the opportunities presented in small groups for solidarity and mutual support. With the addition of empowerment theories, the conflict perspective can not only help us to understand how the McKinley family came to feel powerless but also help us think about how we can assist individual family members, as well as the family as a whole, to feel empowered to improve their situation. Social movement theories (see Chapter 14), which are based in the conflict perspective, have implications for the mobilization of oppressed groups, but the conflict perspective in general provides little in the way of specific policy direction.

Critical Thinking Questions 2.1

Both the systems and the conflict perspectives pay attention to the environment external to individuals. It could be argued that the hospice social worker should only be focusing on Ruth McKinley’s personal needs and reactions. How would you argue in favor of that approach? How would you argue against it? To what extent do you see interactions within the family system to be important to meeting Ruth’s personal needs? Explain. To what extent are conflicts external to the McKinley family influencing the well-being of the family? Explain. How might situating the McKinley family in the context of those conflicts help the social worker think about how to be helpful to the family? How would it not be helpful?

EXCHANGE AND CHOICE PERSPECTIVE

Another way to think about the McKinley family is to focus on the resources each member brings to the ongoing life of the family and each member’s sense of fairness in the exchange of those resources. You might note that Ruth has diminishing resources to offer to the family, but the rest of the family seems to derive satisfaction, perhaps emotional energy, from caring for her. Marcia indicates that it is only fair that they care for her now because of the care Ruth provided to Bethany when she was a young child. Stanley’s ability to provide economic resources to the family has diminished, but his contributions as caregiver have increased. Marcia has gotten satisfaction over the years from her caregiving role in the family, and her ability to bring this resource to the family has been compromised. On the other hand, the economic resources she brings into the family have become more important since Stanley became unemployed. Bethany provides economic resources as well as caregiving resources, and there is no evidence that she considers her contributions to the family to be unfair. She is weighing the long-term rewards of education against the short-term costs of adding a rigorous educational program to an already overtaxed life. This way of thinking about the McKinley family is suggested by the exchange and choice perspective.

The various streams of the exchange and choice perspective, which has roots in behavioral psychology, economics, anthropology, philosophy, and sociology, share the common focus on the processes whereby individual and collective actors seek and exchange resources and the choices made in pursuit of those resources. Resources may be material or nonmaterial; for example, time, money, material goods, sex, affection, loyalty, social contacts. These ideas are visually represented in Exhibit 2.3.

Social exchange theory, originally proposed by George Homans (1958), considered social exchange, defined as an interaction in which resources are exchanged, as the core process in social life. Homans started with the basic premise that social exchange is based on the desire to maximize benefits and minimize costs, a basic belief that social relationships occur in a social marketplace in which people give in order to get. Homan focused on individual motivation in exchanges in dyadic relationships. He saw individuals as always calculating the rewards and costs of relationships and making choices based on those calculations.

(Hutchison 38-48)

Hutchison, Elizabeth D..Dimensions of Human Behavior: Person and Environment, 5th Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc, 10/2014. VitalBook file.

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