Disentangling social workers’ judgements and rationales: A study of the actual use of knowledge in diagnosis and treatment

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


One of the central assumptions of modernity is that the problems faced by society are best resolved through the use of scientific knowledge. Indeed, during the past century, the professions have both become certified and expected to base their work on this form of knowledge. In contemporary social work, this assumption is embedded in the notion of evidence-based practice, which has become the leading mode of practice. However, many scholars of social work maintain that practitioners are better guided in their work by practice-based wisdom than by research. Other researchers have noted that the space available for knowledge use in social work practice is limited, due to political and organizational regulations. This study proceeds from the idea that it is vital to move away from the seemingly interminable discussions about which knowledge could or should be used in social work and to start operating with definitions of knowledge use that lend themselves to empirical investigation. The overall aim of this study is to examine how knowledge is used in social work practice and what knowledge is used. Knowledge and knowledge use is operationalized as the structures and contents of social workers’ reasoning, i.e. their judgements and rationales. By employing such a definition, this project explores the actual use of knowledge, as expressed in the judgements and rationales that together constitute the central acts of professional practice. The study includes a rigorous comparative approach for analysing topical issues about knowledge use, including whether cognitive tools can be used to make knowledge use more comprehensive and/or explicit, whether knowledge use in group discussions differs from that in individual reasoning and whether there are any differences between the knowledge use of experts and novices. The presentation will include selected results of a formal analysis of the arguments (applying Stephen Toulmin’s model of the argument) embedded in the data generated by means of think aloud interviews and structured interviews conducted with 35 practitioners working in the social services in southern Sweden.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Work
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Nov 8
Publication categoryResearch
EventNORDPRO 2018: Magt, teknologi og mennesker - samtidige udfordringer for professionelle og borgere - Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 2018 Nov 82018 Nov 9


ConferenceNORDPRO 2018: Magt, teknologi og mennesker - samtidige udfordringer for professionelle og borgere