The application of this new perspective to social work practice is described by Blackwell (2005) as the ‘social work of place.’ Blackwell suggests that as the social work practitioner, social worker, and social work student come to understand the world, they begin to engage in actively interpreting and working with place. Blackwell argues that understanding place, being in place, and acting in place is at the core of any social work professional practice. This approach shifts the focus away from the idea of a context-free career as a goal, and towards a developing understanding of the nature of the social world, including people, the physical environment, and systems. This understanding will support the practice of social work by fostering the development of a conceptual base to understand the context of the social world. The social work of place is a method for developing the conceptual and intellectual foundations for social work practice as a reflective and dynamic process of interpretation, knowledge formation, and decision-making. This is a very different process from the traditional social work knowledge-building associated with the production of interventions and the gathering and reporting of data. This model would be in keeping with a contemporary understanding of social work as a profession that addresses the complexities of contemporary society and society’s relation to the natural environment (SCSW, 2007).
The concept of sustainable development has emerged as a global concern in relation to the human impact on the natural world. Issues of sustainability can be found in the work of planning and design to evaluate places (which is known as place-based planning), in the growth of the social sciences as they engage with sustainability as a concept or as a goal (Sawyer, 1997), and in the movement of environmental design to actively address sustainability concerns (Starhawk, 2005).
Environmental psychology, sociology, and sustainable design have developed theories of place-based planning with a shared understanding of the importance of context in understanding behaviour. These approaches should be applicable to the development of a social work perspective on the physical world and the people who live in it. These theoretical approaches can be adapted for use in social work practice. The management of change theory (Martinez, 2002) is one conceptual framework that may be of use.
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