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An exploration of the interactional field set up by social work intervention in community process Clugston, Peter Harold

Abstract

This study is the initiating phase of a long-range attempt to examine social work intervention in community life. It raises the question "Is it possible to identify both the theoretical concepts which accurately describe community interactions set up by social work intervention, and the variables which are operative in those interactions?" A good deal of attention has been given in recent years to social work attempts to enhance community life. Sociological and other material has been utilized to build social work theory and practice specifics related to community social change and development, but little precision has been achieved. There has been a preoccupation with theory-building itself, particularly in the area of conceptual models, and with social problems in community life, so that systematic observations of what happens when social workers intervene in communities are virtually non-existent. This study has a theory base which seeks to take account of the work that has been done in this area while bearing upon the concrete operations undertaken by actors in community interactions. The major concepts identified as useful for this purpose are: interactional field, action system, intervention, change agent, task and maintenance processes, horizontal and vertical linkages, social process, social structure, social change, and stimuli for social processes. The design of the study lends itself to a field study which can explore variables in observed interactions while making no specific attempt to explore the interactions between variables. An interview schedule is the data-collection instrument utilized. The study reached completion of the pre-test stage, where in two community action episodes involving social workers were studies. No effort was made to analyze data with reference to the variables themselves; the analysis was confined to the implications of the data for the utility and potential utility of the study formulation, design, and instrument. The conclusion drawn at this stage is that the study has potential for the discovery of the variables in interactional fields in community life, if it is modified and applied to an appropriate sample of action episodes. A series of recommendations for the revision of weak elements in the study are submitted for the use of persons interested in continuing the study. These recommendations embrace such issues as the sample size, data-collection revisions (language, explicitness, reliability), number of respondents in each action episode, continuity of data collection from study formulation, specific instructions for data-collection procedures, and the nature of general hypotheses that might be attempted. The study team are optimistic about the promise held out by this line of inquiry for the achievement of a better understanding of the genericity and specificity of social work operations which result from the interaction of method and field in community-oriented social work practice.

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