From Scientism to Science: How Contemporary Epistemology Can Inform Practice Research

Jeane W. Anastas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Fifty years ago, social work understood research as depicted by logical positivism and its successors, and an obsolete scientism still held sway. This paper will briefly trace the history of the epistemological debate that has taken place in social work in the last 30 years, which is directly related to the credibility of agency-based research and of qualitative methods as well as to issues in knowledge development about oppressed groups. Contemporary epistemologies-realism and pragmatism-offer frameworks that are compatible with what is needed for practice-relevant research and knowledge development: firm grounding for methodological pluralism, attention to the social and political nature of science, the embrace of theory, and an end to scientism without resort to relativism. If these changes in epistemological thinking can be fully embraced, the twentyfirst century can be a very productive one for agency-based and practice-relevant social work research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-165
Number of pages9
JournalClinical Social Work Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Critical theory
  • Epistemology
  • Practice research
  • Pragmatism
  • Realism
  • Social work research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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