Through a primary source historical analysis, this article discusses the emergence of a cultural discourse in the early cold war (1946-1963) social work literature. It traces the evolution of social work's cultural narrative in relation to social scientific perspectives, changing race relations, and increasing welfare caseloads. Social work scholars originally employed their cultural discourse to account for racial and ethnic difference and eventually came to examine class and poverty from this viewpoint as well. This cultural framework wrestled with internal contradictions. It simultaneously celebrated and problematized cultural difference and foreshadowed both latter twentieth century multiculturalism as well as neo-conservative thought.

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