The author utilizes recent sociological approaches to professionalism in order to develop a dynamic conceptual model of the history of Social Work. Professionalization is understood as a social movement or "collective mobility project" of the lower middle class which has been the dominant force in Social Work for a century. This social movement seeks control and expansion of professional markets for services and recognition and sanction from elites. In each period of history, however, Social Work professionalizers have had to struggle against popular unrest and elite criticism aimed at the field. Challenges to Social Work professionalizers and their basic paradigms emerge historically in different counter-segments within the profession which threaten the dominant segment (eg. the Settlement House Movement, the Rank and File Movement in Social Work in the 1930's and the Community Organization/Advocacy segment in the 1960's).

Analyzing the Progressive Period, the Depression years, and the 1960s-1970s, the author shows how in each period the casework professionalizers were challenged by counter-segments in the profession which reflected both client unrest and elite criticism. In each period, the profession moved to absorb the critiques and, on the surface, to embrace them. In turn, reformers themselves have generally abandoned their attacks on the profession and have become absorbed in the collective mobility project. However, the unity achieved is a "spurious" one. First because in each period professionalized casework actually triumphed over Reform segments, rather than merged with. Second, each period of history creates new fragmentations in the field in terms of employment, methodology, ideology, manner of organization and social class and status positions for its members. While the structural and ideological splits within the field are frequently bemoaned by many professional leaders, the author suggests fragmentation may not only be inevitable, but may be functional for the profession as a whole.

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