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Abstract

Inclusion from the social sciences to broaden the knowledge base of social work is an accepted fact. In the professions' experience with group practice such reliance is not new, and extends at least to the efforts of Coyle who saw the usefulness of the small group field in social psychology as early as 1930. More recently, Hartford's book provides a text which bridges small group theory and social work practice with groups. An examination of diverse conceptualizations of group practice reveals differential reliance upon small group findings.

As the small group is increasingly chosen as the context and means for change, it would appear that this one major knowledge source from the social sciences, namely, the small group field, should be examined critically. Scarcity of this knowledge is not at issue, but the extent to which it is directly usable in practice for such diverse purposes as: (1) a means for changing individual behaviors; (2) a social unit engaged in neighborhood and/or community development; (3) task units within organizational contexts may be at issue.

This article examines knowledge generated by the small group field within social psychology which should provide guidelines for continued use of findings, directions and cautions for research in social work, and a sociological perspective from which to view knowledge building efforts within social work. Critiques and consequences of practitioners drawing exclusively from psychoanalytic theory for explanations of phenomena and change strategies for diverse purposes are well known to those who primarily engage in dyadic interaction. Given this historical event, a look at the social psychology of the small group field is particularly timely as an initial attempt to develop a spirit of intellectual inquiry at least into one area of imported knowledge.

Using two sets of analytical concepts, the culture of the small group field is described. Findings are presented which suggest that the social context in which a researcher works interacts with and effects the results. Subsequently, certain socio-historical influences are extrapolated which appear to shape knowledge produced by the small group field. Two are selected; namely, the influence of wars and the influence of big business and industry. Relationships between these sociohistorical influences and knowledge building in the small group field are examined. Finally, implications are drawn for social work. It is assumed that the genesis of knowledge is socially conditioned, and, as Mannhe m suggested,the development of knowledge also is influenced by social processes.

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