Paradigms Lost: Revisiting Ecological Theory in Social Work

By William Pelech and Sharon Pelech.

Published by The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social and Community Studies

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The ecological perspective in social work was the preeminent paradigm in social work theory in the 1980s. This theory was later successfully challenged by feminist and critical theorists who observed how it promoted adaptation and coping by those who were subject to oppression. These critiques, coupled with the rise of constructivism in social work, contributed to the general abandonment of theory building, and with it, further development of ecological theory in social work. Despite the lack of further development, ecological theory has remained a part of social work practice and education. Its enduring nature suggests that there is something of value that is deserving of support and development. We believe that formulation of complexity theory and its integration with ecological theory provides an opportunity for the renovation of ecological theory in a way that responds to previous critiques and promotes its further application in social work practice. This presentation will include a summary of the original formulation of ecological theory in social work entitled the life model, the various critiques which successfully challenged it, and a proposed reformulation utilizing complexity theory.

Keywords: Social Work, Sociological Theory, Complexity Theory, Theory Building

The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social and Community Studies, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.155-165. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 220.889KB).

Dr. William Pelech

Associate Professor, Social Work, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Dr. William Pelech currently holds an appointment as associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work in Calgary. He has conducted extensive research into interpersonal communication in treatment groups. His book, Dancing towards Wholeness: Interpersonal Coordination in a Treatment Group (2010), and related publications examined changing patterns of non-verbal behaviour over the life of a treatment group. He has continued to conduct research and practice group work in the Calgary area. He has also published several articles relating to the practitioner’s use of diversity in group work practice. He has been a co-principal investigator on a major CIHR grant relating to intergenerational trauma, as well as evaluative project that examined the impact of a community-based group mediation program upon the restoration of relationships between offenders and victims. He is currently a co-principal investigator for a province-wide research project funded by the Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research which evaluates the impact of enhanced practice standards for children who experience FASD. In addition, he has recently joined a tri-provincial research team that will examine the prevalence and promising practices for children and families with FASD.

Dr. Sharon Pelech

Instructor, Division of Teacher Preparation, Faculty of Education, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Sharon Pelech is a PhD Candidate from the Graduate Division of Educational Research at the University of Calgary, Canada and has recently accepted a position as Assistant Professor at Memorial University in St. John's Newfoundland. She has been a teacher and guidance counsellor in junior and senior high schools within a wide variety of communities. Her teaching career began in a First Nations community in the Northwest Territories, continued in a small oil-town in Northern Alberta and most recently in Calgary Alberta. Recently Sharon has taught in the Undergraduate Education program at the University of Calgary in science curriculum, inclusive education and field experience. Her research interests are in science curriculum, interpretive (hermeneutic) research, ecopedagogy and ecological learning theory.