The unreflective practitioner: A pilot study on functional stupidity and social work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This study’s aim was to operationalise and test a model of functional stupidity, a form of unreflective compliance, and explore its appropriateness for understanding how social workers comply with and motivate performing morally or professionally problematic tasks. A sample of 120 social workers from six municipalities in Sweden self-completed a questionnaire containing 20 Likert-type items denoting 10 ‘stupidity rationales’ within three reflective modes of compliance, and a measure of work satisfaction. Most functional stupidity items performed well, with social workers endorsing several rationales for being unreflective at work. Associations among items supported most elements of the model. Both being older and having more work experience were associated with endorsing the fun rationale, while being older was also associated with endorsing rationales within the despair mode. Endorsing cynical mode rationales was associated with lower work satisfaction, while endorsing the fun rationale was associated with higher work satisfaction. This is the first study to operationalise and empirically test the concept of functional stupidity using a quantitative approach. The results indicate that the model has value for understanding how social workers’ reflexivity about professional hardships can facilitate periods of unreflective performance that, for good and bad, helps them through the working day.


External organisations
  • Uppsala University
  • Dalarna University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Business Administration


  • Functional stupidity, compliance, organisations, reflexivity, social work
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Sep 10
Publication categoryResearch