Social work research - an urban desert?

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A search of two major social work databases suggests that contemporary published social work research in the English language may have had very little to say about the engagement of social work and urban life. The focus of this paper is on the illumination that an early historical episode throws on the nature and implications of the affinity of social work research and urban life. Frederick Thrasher's iconic 1920s study of Chicago gangs enables us to illustrate three general claims. First, it paints a probably unwitting picture of a community of civic and scholarly enterprise marked by mutual reciprocity and a sense of shared endeavour even if not agreed standpoints. Second, The Gang affords a record of urban research practice. Finally Thrasher's work, along with other sociological research in Chicago during the 1920s, included a welfare and interventionist mission. I draw conclusions regarding social work theorizing of urban life, the relationship between social work and sociology, and the possible implications for professional training in social work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-26
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Social Work
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • Chicago School
  • Urban Social Work
  • Urban Life
  • Social Work Research
  • Social Work History

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